Irish News readers have yet to receive community
permission to attend their local Community Police
Liaison Committee but no such restriction applies
in my neighbourhood. Unfortunately nobody seems to
have told the neighbours as only seven of us have
showed up for tonights quarterly CPLC meeting.
We sit facing three policemen - Officer A, Officer
B and Officer C - across a green-baize conference
table amid the stuffy Edwardian splendour of Portadown
Town Hall. Sitting by the far wall, beneath a not-that-bad
painting of the High Street, are the coffee and biscuits.
CPLC meeting Ive been to so far has followed
a strict protocol. First the residents complain about
crime, then the police complain about resources, then
everybody drinks the coffee and eats the biscuits.
We kick off with the traffic issue or as it might
be more accurately titled on the minutes, Why
cant I get out of my drive-way in the morning?
Officer B patiently notes down several dozen suggestions
for traffic lights, yellow boxes, double-yellow lines
and speed bumps then politely reminds us that this
is the DOEs department. Actually this is the
DRDs department but the point is that it isnt
Officer Bs department. Theres also some
anger over disabled parking spaces but that isnt
Officer Bs department either, nor have we had
any luck with the 3am horn-blowing taxi driver problem
as the police havent contacted the local taxi
firms yet - no wonder this country is falling apart.
The officers are more interested in the problem of
untaxed vehicles, although Im fairly sure thats
the DVLNIs department, but seizing the offending
vehicles has been difficult because they keep
on the agenda is the skateboarding menace. Portadowns
skateboarders are not a problem in themselves, being
generally decent kids who dont cause any bother.
The problem is that all the other kids in Portadown
keep beating them up. One resident suggests opening
school playgrounds in the evening so that the skateboarders
can have somewhere safe to go but Officer B says thats
the Education Boards department. They
do it in Holland, says the resident, so
why not here? I stupidly point out that you
can smoke joints in the street in Holland as well,
which proves to be something of a conversation stopper.
So we move on to the general problem of anti-social
behaviour and things really start heating up.
The truth is that my neighbourhood does not have a
serious problem with anti-social behaviour but the
sense of powerlessness in the face of isolated incidents
is a disaster waiting to happen. Last month some neighbours
from hell were evicted with the assistance of
the UVF which several of us highlight as an example
of how things are deteriorating. The police response
to this takes me by surprise. First they acknowledge
the loss of confidence to deal with things the
right way and say they recognise the temptation
to contact organisations. Then they point out
that residents groups in other parts of the town have
used just such contacts to deal successfully with
graffiti and vandalism.
Well Im not talking to terrorists!
I blurt out, having one of my occasional Jeffrey Donaldson
moments. The policemen stare pityingly at me across
the green baize.
So what would you like us to do? asks
Wed like more police patrols says
the head of our residents group.
I cant guarantee that says Officer
Well can you plan for extra patrols? I
Yes concedes Officer C suspiciously.
Can you guarantee to plan for extra patrols?
Youre being pedantic observes Officer
Well youre being defensive says
the residents group spokesman.
No Im not! shouts Officer C, you
dont understand! We dont have the man-power,
there are worse neighbourhoods than yours, we have
We shouldnt even be organising these meetings,
interrupts Officer B. You should be organising
them and inviting us - along with everyone else you
need to deal with.
an awkward pause before everybody jumps back in to
defuse the atmosphere with platitudes, invariably
beginning with The reality is
indeed reality is beginning to dawn. We thought we
were coming here to tell the police how to do their
job and instead the police are telling us how to do
our job. Much as I would like to stand aloof from
their ugly pragmatism it would achieve nothing bar
the preservation of my own self-righteousness. Everybody
talks to terrorists, and thats brought tangible
improvements to communities far more blighted than
mine. We dont have the luxury of splitting our
world into criminals and law-abiding
people divided by a thin blue line because that
line has been blurred by recent history then deliberately
blurred again to help undo recent history. This is
a society with a lot of problems to solve - too many,
certainly, for the police to handle on their own -
and it seems that in Portadown, at least for a little
while longer, well have to accept that some
things are still the UVFs department.
article was first published in the Irish News and
is carried here with permission from the author.
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