Why is common sense so lacking?

Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly trying to remonstrate with police in Belfast.
Sinn Fein's Gerry Kelly trying to remonstrate with police in Belfast.

I’m reluctant to comment on “Gerry on the jeep” or “The Shinner on the Saracen” (epithets by Allison Morris, Irish News) but it’s a perfect illustration of what’s wrong with policing, so here goes.

If you were having work done by tradesmen or tradeswomen which of these options would you prefer? Would you want workers so hidebound by rules and regulations that they aren’t allowed to speak to you but who have a huge oversight body and such an elaborate complaints procedure that it takes years for even simple matters to be dealt with? Or, would you want sensible tradesmen who can speak to you on the spot and resolve problems there and then?

After several reasonable attempts to speak to a supervisory officer at that incident in Belfast, Gerry Kelly did eventually get an officer to speak to him. The MLA was then told he could make a complaint to the Police Ombudsman. “I want it dealt with now,” replied the frustrated politician.

It was a perfect illustration of what’s wrong. Advanced retrospective accountability mechanisms and complaint procedures can’t in themselves put it right. These mechanisms can actually make officers on the ground more reluctant to rely on their own common sense. You need front line people with good attitudes and then expect them to think for themselves. I’m sorry to say I told you so, but I have written quite a few articles saying that.

Of course, no matter how frustrated Gerry Kelly got, you could argue he was wrong to hold on to the Land Rover, but the real solution was for the officers in the jeeps to bring common sense to the situation several steps earlier.

Here’s a little challenge for the PSNI. Your much rehearsed expression, “community policing” sounds grand. Could you tell us if it actually means anything in practice?