Coppers' confidential: Mired in paperwork, contemptuous of the public… A new TV show reveals what police officers really think
Even in Worksop they call it the ‘Gucci end of the job’. In policing circles, the work of the Armed Response Unit is regarded as the glamorous side of law enforcement. Or at least that’s what some of those who do it tell you.
Take ‘Jimbo’, a firearms officer with Nottinghamshire Police, who openly confesses that ‘shooting guns is great. It gives you a buzz.’
He signed up for the ARU because as a ‘bog-standard bobby’ he was jealous of his colleagues whizzing off to incidents, all guns blazing (metaphorically speaking, anyway).
Revealing: Coppers aims to show British policing as it really is
The reality, as a new documentary series shows, is often rather different. Jimbo was one of the officers followed in Coppers – a long-awaited British version of the US fly-on-the-wall series Cops.
But while some of the officers involved at first seem confused about which version they’re starring in – there is some memorable footage of the British officers singing Bad Boys, the theme from the US show, as they head out on patrol – the differences are soon laid bare. It is with a touch of regret that Jimbo admits Coppers is no Cops.
‘They’re in their Ferraris shooting at people, and we’re in our diesel Volvos. They can decide to smash up ten cars on an American highway, but if we chip a wing mirror we have reams of paperwork to fill in,’ he points out.
Coppers, which shows the police doing everything from trying to apprehend a child molester to Tazering drunks, aims to show British policing as it really is. One of the most startling facts to emerge from the programme on Nottinghamshire’s firearms unit is that, in its entire history, not a single shot has been fired on the street from a gun with live ammunition, and only two rounds have been fired from baton guns. Effective policing Absolutely.
Timely: Cameras were rolling last summer when riots erupted across the UK
But Miami Vice it certainly isn’t. And a good thing too, says Sgt Angie Cochrane, possibly the least gung-ho of the firearms unit officers featured, and – is this a coincidence – also the only woman. ‘All that stuff you see on TV – it’s just TV. It’s not normal day- to-day police work.’
So which TV programme does Angie think best represents what she does She laughs. ‘I would love to be able to say Heartbeat, because I quite fancy the idea of trundling round Yorkshire on a bicycle to be honest, but the truth is nothing on TV comes close. I don’t actually watch any police stuff on TV because I can’t relate to it. It’s about as far from what I do as is possible.’
It’s a timely series, given that the cameras were rolling last summer when seemingly the whole of the UK erupted in riots. Nottingham was no exception. ‘I wasn’t actually on duty that night, but things did get lively. I think the car with the camera in it had its windows smashed,’ says Sgt Cochrane. ‘Channel 4 told us they had to take out extra insurance for their crews.’
All that stuff you see on TV – it’s just TV. It’s not normal day- to-day police work…
Sgt Cochrane says she volunteered to take part in the programme – all police staff were given the option of whether to be followed by the cameras – to ‘give members of the public an idea of what we actually do’. But many of the officers involved appear not to have stepped straight from the pages of the police handbook.
DS Marcus Oldroyd is filmed indulging in typical banter as he arrives on the scene of a suicide. ‘I hate the smell of death,’ he complains. When it becomes clear his rookie colleague hasn’t dealt with a dead body before, he starts to take the mickey, pointing out ‘we’ve got a virgin here’. He openly confesses that if they could hear the banter that sometimes goes on, relatives of the deceased would ‘want to take your head off’.
As the series progresses, ‘glamorous’ becomes a word less and less likely to be used, and the picture that emerges of Britain – drunken, yobbish, feral – is truly depressing. Some officers – mired in paperwork, and exposed to a daily onslaught of open contempt – loudly despair about the hoops they have to jump through to secure convictions.
One CID officer says she doesn’t understand how defence solicitors sleep at night, and openly laments the fact policing today is nothing like Life On Mars, the 70s-set drama series where police brutality is the norm. Another fantasises about being able to use a lie detector test that administers an electric shock if people don’t tell the truth.
There are officers who have clearly seen too much, who utter – on camera – such sentences as ‘humanity has long since negated its right to existence’. Perhaps it isn’t all that surprising that an unfortunate officer who ends up dealing with a runaway snake doesn’t feel too unfortunate after all. ‘There are no awkward witnesses or people not telling you the truth,’ she says. ‘It’s just a snake.’
Coppers, Channel 4, Monday, 9pm.