Today a policeman’s lot is not a very happy one

Policemen were among our greatest heroes when I was a boy—not just the cops on the silver screen and radio (TV service was quite rudimentary back then), but those who patrolled the highways and byways of England’s villages and cities.

Like their American counterparts, they were tough guys—that goes without saying. But, except on embassy duty, English cops never toted firearms. They merely carried short wooden truncheons in a specially-stitched trouser pocket, but I cannot recall ever seeing one drawn in anger.

British bobbies (named after their founder, the mid-19th Century Prime Minister Sir Robert Peel) were immensely popular. They were highly respected for their integrity and their deep involvement in the community in our churches, civic organizations, youth clubs, and the like.

Our local cops were Sergeant George Roseblade and his sidekick, Police Constable Michael Tomlin. Between them, they handled everything in the way of crime, domestic disputes, and traffic control. They also found time to teach us, school kids, road safety.

It was rare that any of the cases they handled ended up in court. Their adjudication of the affairs that passed through their hands was considered fair, reasonable and, above all, charitable.

Juvenile offenders would get a clip on the ear and, in very serious cases, they would be taken home to their parents for for further punishment. Grown-ups were told to shake hands, make up, and behave like adults.

Their most frequent “collars” were folks like George Juggins and Tony Panta, inveterate poachers. George was once caught by Sgt. Roseblade with a young fawn over his shoulders.

“What have you got there, George,” asked the sergeant.

George, at that point, affected to notice the deer for the first time. “Yuck, eeek, yuck,” he screeched, affecting to brush it from his shoulders like bird droppings.

Tony, no less creative, usually had a gunny sack over his shoulder. “What’ve you got in that sack, Tony?” P.C. Tomlin once asked him.

“Just a few ’taters I’m taking home to Ma,” was the reply. “Pretty lively potatoes,” remarked the constable, “open it up.” Inside was a squirming piglet, certainly not the property of Tony or his mother.

“How did that piglet come to be in there?” P.C. Tomlin asked.

“Praise the Lord!” cried Tony, dropping to his knees, “A blessed miracle! Thanks be to God!”

Really serious criminals, however, were carted off to the lock-up in double quick time, of course. But there were very few of those in our village, thanks largely to the examples of Sgt. Roseblade, P.C. Tomlin, and their predecessors.

Half a century ago, there were literally thousands of counterparts of Messrs. Roseblade and Tomlin in police stations, urban and rural, throughout Britain and the United States. Today they are as a breed virtually extinct—sacrificed, ironically, on the altar of progress.

Courts and legislatures on both sides of the water have, in the name of justice reform, made policing immeasurably more difficult. This might be acceptable had the result been a more just, compassionate, and orderly society. But such is clearly not the case on either side of the Atlantic.

The anarchy that afflicts not just our cities, but also many of our rural areas, has vastly changed the nature of policing, opening police department rosters to a few bad apples.

But the remarkable thing is that—despite dangers and horrors that Sgt. Roseblade and P.C. Tomlin would never in their wildest nightmares have encountered—so many decent, compassionate and courageous people “put on the blue” to serve and protect the communities in which they live. We should cherish them. GPH✠

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