Nothing is more likely to trigger The Daily Mail Headline policy than the thought of a complaint against police. In fact, an incident log need only reference in passing that the caller is minutely displeased with the service they are getting, to result in a flurry of priority-setting and diversion of resources.
Senior (and some junior) police officers react this way because they fear headlines like this, which damage the reputation of the police.
As a sergeant, a complaint from a caller is probably bottom of my list of reasons to prioritise a case. That's not me being contrary. Not that I can't be contrary too.
When I am sitting behind the duty sergeant's desk at Blandmore nick, scanning the Incident Control System to decide which of the five pages of outstanding jobs to send my one available officer to, I have a checklist. Is anyone in danger? Could anyone be in danger very shortly if we don't attend? Is someone very worried, scared or vulnerable? Is it a serious crime? Is there evidence to gather that could be lost? Are they waiting in an inconvenient location for us to attend? Beyond that I might consider how close the available officer is, how long each job might take and whether he/she could attend a few if done in a certain order. If the caller could come to the police station later, then maybe a restricted officer (injured, pregnant etc) could deal with them, thus making best use of resources. I then prioritise the jobs regardless of whether the caller agrees with my conclusions. The angry caller isn't sitting in front of the same screen as I am.
Don't let the above make you think I don't sympathise with a burglary victim who has waited in all morning for us, desperate to clean up and change the locks. If I have to ring them to apologise, I will even encourage them to make a complaint, to their MP or the Chief Constable, to highlight our lack of resources.
But I also have to take a view. The nature of policing is unlike any other customer-based business. If you run an IT company or retail business, all your decisions will be aimed at pleasing as many people as possible, and providing everyone a good service. In the police, sometimes you have to make a choice between pleasing one person or another. In spite of the way we often refer to them, criminals are not our "customers", they are our targets. And in the grey areas of neighbourhood or family disputes, and youth crime, it's not always obvious who the target should be. Is it both sides, or neither? I've had cases where a victim has complained about one of my officers for carrying out a slow investigation in which a suspect ultimately got acquitted at court, and had the suspect for the same case complain that they were locked up and charged with something they claim not to have done. Which complaint should be upheld, or neither?
Tomorrow, I will no doubt sit through another morning meeting where the Superintendent In Charge of Being In Charge will tell me to make sure someone is convicted for a case where there is no evidence, or throw all my resources into finding someone who got drunk and stayed out all night with another man/woman, because their partner is a local Councillor and will complain if we don't investigate their missing person report.
And I will nod and agree, and continue to do my duty in exactly the same way as before. Because the day we let the fear of complaints tell us how we should be policing, is the day I hang up my boots and leave the job of police work for the politicians.
'Diary of an On-Call Girl' is available in some bookstores and online.