There’s always been animosity between the two branches of the police: uniform and plain-clothes.
The job of the uniform branch is to prevent crime.
The job of the plain-clothes branch, the CID, is to investigate crime.
My dad was a sergeant in the uniform branch.
He gave me an example of this animosity, one that he was involved in.
During The Blitz, he was patrolling the streets after a night’s bombing.
His boss, the Inspector, had decided to come along.
Everything was destroyed, there was rubble everywhere, the streets were littered with the remains of people’s homes: broken furniture, smashed crockery, torn curtains.
As they walked the Inspector spotted a battered old trilby hat.
He picked it up and said “I’ll have that, it’ll do for gardening.”
And he took it with him.
A little while later the CID came to see the Inspector.
They said one of the uniformed officers had arrested a thief.
The thief was one of their informants and they told him to drop the charges.
The Inspector didn’t like being told what to do by the CID.
So they had a massive row and he refused to drop the charges.
The CID said he’d be sorry.
They began to investigate the Inspector, turning over every detail of his life.
Dad got pulled in by the CID.
They said “We have information that while you were patrolling with the Inspector he took a trilby hat that wasn’t his.”
Dad said he didn’t know anything about it.
The CID said “You’ll regret it if you don’t co-operate.”
Dad still said he didn’t know anything.
The CID said “Alright, but we won’t forget it.”
Later, they found the hat in the Inspector’s shed, and he was charged with “Stealing by finding.”
He was found guilty and he got six months in prison.
Now here’s where it gets really interesting.
Although he was imprisoned he was never dismissed from the police force.
So when he got out, his case was taken up by the Police Federation.
Because he’d never been dismissed, he stayed on as a policeman but was demoted to Constable.
I found it amazing that a serving policeman was an ex-convict.
My dad said that wasn’t all.
Dad then showed me the papers to prove he had passed his Inspector’s exam, three times.
Each time Dad’s name had been crossed off the list, and rejected.
It was just as the CID said: they didn’t forget it, and Dad did regret it.
That pretty much cost him his career.
And that regret stayed with Dad all his life.
Wondering how he could have handled it differently.
He would never have co-operated with the CID and informed on the Inspector.
He couldn’t grass someone else up just to save himself.
So what else could he have done?
I sometimes think about that.
I wonder what the smart move was, I still can’t see that he could have done anything differently.
But the regret and the uncertainty stayed with him all his life.
Wondering what the smart move was.
Maybe there isn’t always a smart move.