Yesterday I wrote a story for Londonist, in a slightly sneering fashion, about the introduction of extra police onto the suburban rail network. Rail crime is already pretty low; will 50 extra police across the entire system really make any difference? Um. Yes, as it turns out. But not the difference intended.

Arriving at Hither Green station this morning, I was met by the sight of seven coppers milling about and a knife arch that was slowly gathering cobwebs (this is the second time I've been past a knife arch and not been made to walk through; clearly teeny white women are not worth bothering with. Bet it'd have been a different story had I been a black male 'youth'). And, for the first time ever, I had to show my ticket to one of three station staff standing at the entrance to platform 5.

Me [pulling off glove with teeth]: This is a first, isn't it?
Man from Southeastern: Yeah.
Me [through glove]: Anything to do with all the police?
MfS [would clearly rather be in the office, in the warm]: Heh, something like that…

So, what's the upshot of Boris's new Neighbourhood Policing teams? Delays getting onto platforms (god only knows what would happen if tickets start being checked manually during rush hour), cold staff, bored police and probably some poor kid feeling racially harassed. And I certainly didn't feel 'reassured' by the presence of the police – my first reaction was 'god, has something happened?' before I remembered the 'initiative'. And if I hadn't written about it, or caught it on BBC News last night, I would have been seriously concerned that I was walking into the middle of a criminal shakedown. There's no signs to let the commuting public know about this sudden explosion of police presence and to warn us that occasionally we'll see a bevy of plods.

In fact, it's only now that I realise there's a 'hub' at Lewisham station – which explains why, over the last few months, I've sometimes seen a trio of police in high-vis jackets standing around. I'd always thought I'd stumbled across the aftermath of an arrest which made me feel a bit alarmed. Apparently they were just there to reassure the public. Clearly, it's not working quite so well as they'd have hoped…


6 responses to “Hubris

  1. Tom January 7, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    Sometimes they do manually check tickets in rush hour. As you said, it creates chaos. Especially as they like to close all the exits bar one, funneling hundreds of commuters past loads of inspectors, only a few of whom are needed to check tickets at one exit..
    Anyhow, I’ve met the metal detecting thingy a few times before at Lewisham, but when I saw two police vans outside Hither Green I, too, assumed that something awful had happened. Had no idea this was a BoJo policy. And what a massive waste of police time – especially as they didn’t seem to be actually scanning anybody.

  2. Kate January 8, 2009 at 9:47 am

    Heh, that explains the cops at London Bridge last night. I thought there was a Millwall match on – that’s the only time I usually see them around the station!

  3. Rachel January 8, 2009 at 10:19 am

    ‘Zactly. The only thing the cops are doing is making everyone a bit jumpy and getting bored…
    I must have been lucky to always miss the rush hour inspections. When I had a job I’d get the 8.56 train, so maybe they’d given up by then?! Went back into town last night and they were checking tickets again – I asked the Man from Southeastern if this was going to be a regular occurence and he cast a dark look at the police larking about on platform 1 and said ‘Looks like it. Perk of the job’.

  4. Pete January 8, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    The reason they probably jump at the chance to perform ticket checks when the police are around is because ticket collectors don’t have any legal powers to detain or search anyone found without a ticket.
    It’s a fairly pointless job if anyone they can catch can just walk off. The reason ticket inspectors do it in a gaggle is so they can physically bar your way and claim an assault charge if you try to push past.

  5. Tom January 9, 2009 at 1:15 pm

    The inspections seem to come in bursts, but they’re usually at HG in the evening. That said, I’m also on the 8.56 and that’s where I met the arch and its flourescent-coated friends this week.
    Pete – that’s interesting, and makes a lot of sense. Good to know, also, as I once had a slightly unpleasant encounter with a ticket inspector at HG (I had a ticket, but his Oyster reader wasn’t picking it up, and he wasn’t in the mood for a discussion) – I ended up wondering whether to get out my camera, voice recorder, notepad etc to document the whole thing just in case, or simply to walk off. I suppose if I’d walked I would have “assaulted” someone.

  6. Pete January 9, 2009 at 4:25 pm

    It can occasionally be quite funny too – I remember watching a ticket inspector on a stalled night bus standing next to his prey for twenty minutes after putting a call through to the police and waiting for them to arrive.
    Had he known his rights the ticketless offender could probably have chosen to get up and get off the bus at any point…

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