Thursday 4 December 2008

Watching The Detectives

So I was coming home from work tonight, and Merseyrail was having one of its infrequent ticketing blitzes at Birkenhead Park.  Usually this consists of half a dozen ticket inspectors loitering round the bottom of the rank.  Half a dozen, because while two do the inspecting, the other four have to do the important job of standing around and discussing what they're having for tea.

Tonight was different, though, because there was only one ticket inspector.  Accompanying him on the platform, though, were two policemen, who barked, "Tickets ready PLEASE!" like Captain Mainwaring.  The commuters were filed past the harassed inspector, his uniform cap parked on the back of his head.  He was too busy fending off a man who insisted that his Shotton to Chester ticket entitled him to alight at Birkenhead Park, with ever increasing volume.

As I climbed the ramp/steps to the exit, I realised something odd was going on in the ticket hall.  My usual exit door was closed shut, and a uniformed policeman stood at the top of the ramp.  In fact there were half a dozen of them.  The ticket hall was filled with police men and women, all of a garish glow in the dark yellow and anti stab vests, proudly standing around their latest toy: a metal detector.

Now, like all good, law abiding citizens, I immediately start looking guilty whenever a policeman appears in my peripheral vision.  My guilty look became even more panic stricken when I saw the metal detector, as my pockets were absolutely filled with bits of spare change, while my ManBag contained a bottle opener (always handy in beer emergencies) and a stainless steel tube map (a much cherished birthday gift).  In short, when I arrived in the ticket hall, I had a look on my face like a zebra caught on safari, with half a kilo of heroin in his back pocket, and in the middle of shagging the lead hunter's wife.  

But they let me through.  I didn't even have to put my bag through the metal detector.  No-one did.  Everyone walked past the detector, while the police people smiled and eyeballed and watched us pass.  So my question is, what the heck was the point of that?  It was a strangely impotent show of force, a point that was rammed home to me once I emerged from the station building.  

Twenty yards away, outside the 4 in 1 Takeaway over the road, a gang of lads hovered threateningly, dark hoodies pulled up round their ears, a mangy greyhound reaching at the leash.  I felt more threatened by them on the other side of the road than I did by six policemen and a metal detector, yet the policemen were locked away on the inside.  I wondered what would happen if those lads had crossed the street and accosted me, or the pretty girl in the short skirt who got off the same train: would the policemen have rushed out of the station to our aid?  Or would they have remained in patrol round their piece of machinery, letting it do the policing for them?

(And yes, I do like Elvis Costello a lot).


Mister Roy said...

But...why? Was the detector like an airport one, or like those people looking for roman coins on beaches have?

Scott Willison said...

It was an airport style one: it looked like a portable version they could fold up into the back of a Panda car. I presume they were checking for knives and guns, though as I say, no-one who got off my train was checked. That part of Birkenhead isn't the most salubrious of areas (I live on the other side of the park, I hasten to add!).

The police presence has ramped up in the area since they opened Marleys (a shop for cannabis parephanalia!) across the road. Unless this is a part of the War On Terror (TM), and Birkenhead is a hotbed of terrorism and I never knew...

Robert said...

I've seen the metal detectors set up a few times at Central and Moorfields but I always just get waved through. I must have a trustworthy face, even though I too get incredibly nervous when there's a police presence.

I'm not sure how much effect this sort of thing has, as it doesn't prevent the scrotes who board at the other 60+ stations while the Plod are singling out one for special treatment. I think it's more a PR exercise - being seen to be doing something, even if that something is not terribly effective.

Scott Willison said...

Absolutely: the emphasis is far more on "look at what we're doing" rather than "look at what we've achieved". I don't think that the knife carrying thugs of Birkenhead North are necessarily commuters. The sheer number of police involved in standing at the station - around eight - is also ludicrous: split those eight police officers into four teams of two, and stick them on some actual trains instead...