Scotland’s top policeman gets drunk at lunchtime and is almost sick into his hat before he has to talk to journalists, a briefing he forgets in his addled state, although he can’t be too far gone because he remembers to sneak the £700 restaurant bill through force expenses.
The Chief Commissioner defends the use of drones and phone-tapping, claiming this isn’t snooping but the perfectly permissible ‘Scumwatch’. He goes out for lunch again, gets drunk again, and promotes his unpublished crime fiction over that of Ian Rankin, the latter’s bestsellers being “riddled with procedural errors”. Then he admits to a “frisson of satisfaction” at finding himself on a list of terrorist targets, especially since he’s been identified as a bigger prize than the actor Gerald Butler (though not quite as big as the Falkirk Wheel).
Fiction, of course. The TV comedy Scot Squad, one of the funniest to come out of BBC Scotland. Nevertheless, Police Scotland must have winced when the show began to poke fun at all the bobby-bungling that can happen from “Thurso to Traquair – it’s a big beat” because wouldn’t you know, the real merged force was at that point having serious credibility problems.
But Scot Squad may be as good as it gets for our beleagured cops. Yes, the man at the top might be a blithering idiot, a bumptious clown, a self-aggrandising berk. But the dedication and hard work of those under his command almost make up for his failings of ego and incompetence. Isn’t that often the way of the boss-worker dynamic?
Scot Squad features quiet heroism in the face of aggro, abuse, time-wasting and suburban naturism. Most of the hassle comes the way of a volunteer officer who presumably won’t have the same wonderful pension as the full-time police, enabling him to put his Doc Martened-feet up at 55. He’s groped by randy ladettes and is required to attend community council meetings, to be asked how he’s going to put a stop to immigration and all that rubbish about “global warning”. This reminds you how the polis are supposed to have an answer for everything, rarely get any thanks and are viewed with cynicism and suspicion. One recent survey has it that 54 per cent of the population feel a “deep malaise” at the “competence and procedures of the police”.
The quietest and most heroic of the Scot Squadders is Karen Ann Miller, the desk sergeant, who’s formed a touching relationship with regular caller Bobby Muir. She has no choice; Bobby visits every few hours. He’s very public-spirited but also a bampot, once handing in a bag of “offensive weapons” found in Glasgow’s city centre, unaware he’d just robbed a juggler whose Aladdin-style shoes should have confirmed his occupation.
But Karen has the patience of a saint. If you’ve despaired of ever seeing a beat constable again, of ever hearing a wailing siren, she’s about the best advert the police could get.
Just about, because I’ve discovered an even better one: the Twitter feed for Levenmouth Police. If you use social media possibly you like to get despatches from established comedians. Some may follow a new guy on the scene, President Trump. But none of them is funnier than the uncredited wit, or wits, behind the Methil messages about “lods” and “doughballs” and the capers which keep the fuzz busy, described in the local vernacular. A typical one would be: “Heroin and pills worth approx £1300 found in Leven. Misplaced them? Don’t worry they’re here for you!” The tone is couthie and kindly. Levenmouth may be part of the great big unified force but that’s no reason for its men and women to be boringly blunt and dully impersonal.
Under-fire policemen need arrest figures to boast about; in this corner of Fife they want to keep folk out of their “dungeons” and often flash up photos of the no-mod-cons facilities. The hashtags are brilliant: #JustDinnae, #TeltHunnersOfTimes, #NoColdSideOfThePillowHere.
My favourite, though, followed a recent domestic disturbance. “Hoose party ended prematurely efter the host plus 2 chose to chill for the weekend wi us instead!” ran the bulletin, followed by: #YerNoChadHoganPal. This will only make sense if you know the work of stand-up Kevin Bridges, whose best skit concerns youthful parties, where he celebrates the west of Scotland’s absent-parents bacchanal known as the “empty” and ridicules America’s “spring break”. But evoking the name of Bridges’ plonker frat-boy Hogan is comedy class.
Around the UK, Twitter sites run by other cop shops have been praised for changing public perceptions. Scotland currently boasts the police’s top tweeters, the Lochaber and Skye division winning the prize for the best use of social media in 2016. Their site is lively but frankly not a patch on Levenmouth, whose officers had to be content with being named No 1 in the East Fife Mail’s annual list of 40 individuals and organisations who’d “made a difference” to Kingdom life.
Maybe that’s the greater honour. Recognition from the public that police can be both human and humorous, and that local identity hasn’t entirely been swallowed up by the merger. The long arm of the law features a funny bone and it’s used to great effect. I like Scot Squad but tweets from Levenmouth are funnier. They’re funnier than if PC Murdoch, Rikki Fulton’s Supercop and Hamish Macbeth were all working out of the same station. As another of the hashtags puts it: #MonTheMethilPolis!