Fly-on-the-wall cop shows can dis­tort our view of the force, says the ex-po­lice chief

Daily Mail Weekend Magazine - - YOUR TV WEEK - GRA­HAM BARTLETT

Ev­ery six months dur­ing my time in Sus­sex Po­lice as chief su­per­in­ten­dent for Brighton and Hove, I was ap­proached by peo­ple keen to make TV doc­u­men­taries about the city’s po­lice. Nine times out of ten I’d turn them down.

The rea­son was sim­ple: the vast ma­jor­ity of the fly-on-the-wall pro­grammes I’ve seen about the po­lice give a sen­sa­tion­alised ac­count of the work they do, some­times to a dam­ag­ing de­gree.

For in­stance, any­one watch­ing BBC1’s Mo­tor­way Cops or Chan­nel 5’s Po­lice In­ter­cep­tors would think traf­fic cops spent all their time driv­ing about in fast cars chas­ing vil­lains. In fact, such of­fi­cers have to fol­low strict guide­lines dur­ing pur­suits and safety is para­mount.

Sim­i­larly, parts of the one fly-on-the-wall doc­u­men­tary I gave the go-ahead to, Chan­nel 5’s Brighton Beach Pa­trol in 2010, turned out very dif­fer­ently from what I en­vis­aged. The premise was to give an ac­cu­rate por­trait of the work po­lice of­fi­cers do on the seafront – but the end re­sult was clichéd, with many scenes show­ing lots of of­fi­cers run­ning around, fight­ing drunks in the street.

Shows such as these can be bad for polic­ing and harm re­la­tions be­tween the po­lice and the com­mu­nity. And although Brighton on a Satur­day night can be a lively place, much of Brighton Beach Pa­trol did the city a dis­ser­vice and I now wish I’d never given it the green light.

I un­der­stand that pro­gramme mak­ers want to make ex­cit­ing telly, but the way in which footage is of­ten put to­gether can give a dis­torted pic­ture of po­lice work. The dan­ger is that peo­ple watch­ing at home con­clude that you’re li­able to be jumped on by five or six cops if you mis­be­have – but in re­al­ity 95 per cent of be­ing a po­lice of­fi­cer is about per­sua­sion and em­pa­thy.

Thank­fully, some doc­u­men­taries do get it right. I was so pleased to see ITV’s Rook­ies – which shows what it’s like to be a new cop – re­cently re­turn for a sec­ond se­ries. The show dis­pels a lot of the myths and shows how of­fi­cers some­times strug­gle with the dilem­mas of their pro­fes­sion – for in­stance, in deal­ing with vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple or those strug­gling with ad­dic­tion.

Two other se­ries, both shown last year, got it right: ITV’s The Nick, about polic­ing in Brighton, and Chan­nel 4’s The Mur­der De­tec­tives, about a ma­jor crime unit in Bris­tol. They brought out the pro­fes­sion­al­ism that de­fines most of­fi­cers.

So please, let’s see more bal­anced, be­liev­able docs and fewer por­tray­als of cops as ro­botic hard­men. That’s not too much to ask, is it?

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