Not Helping This City

What is a police officer’s job? Call me old-fashioned, but I thought it was to catch and deter criminals. How naïve can you get!

Indeed, this afternoon my naivety was the subject of some determined remedial action on behalf of Her Majesty’s constabulary. 

I was sitting in a café doing some work when a police officer came in and loudly inquired as to the owner of the bicycle resting on the wall outside. I indicated that the bike was mine, whereupon the officer strode over to my table and declared: ‘your bike is not secured’.

I replied politely: ‘yes it is; there is a lock on the wheel’. As far as I’m concerned, this was ample security in the circumstances. I go to this same café nearly every day, and, each time, I leave my immobilised bike in exactly the same place, where I can see it through the window, five yards away, on a busy pedestrian thoroughfare in a small and pleasant provincial British city in broad daylight. At other times and in other places, no doubt, it would be sensible to lock a bike to an immovable fixture. But on this occasion there was really no need.

The officer, however, saw things differently, legalistically, as it were: ‘your bike is not secured to a fixed point; you need to secure your bike properly’.

At this moment, I confess, a gremlin of irritation began leaping around in my breast. My voice shaking very slightly, I responded: ‘My bike is perfectly fine as it is’.

Sensing my irritation, the officer decided to up the ante by attempting to boss me around: ‘Go outside and secure your bike properly, please!’.

There was only one way to respond to this.


And with that, I theatrically turned my eyes back to the book I was reading.

Alas, the officer had no intention of withdrawing so easily; she was now quite indignant herself. She barked: ‘Excuse me, I’m talking to you. I’m asking you to go outside and secure your bike properly, otherwise you’ll come running to us when it gets stolen’.   

‘And I’m asking you to leave me alone and do your job properly’, I retorted.

This remark clearly hit a nerve. The officer proceeded to implore me to ‘work with her’, because she was part of a ‘task force’ aiming to ‘reduce theft in our area’. I pointed out the obvious: ‘you’re not reducing theft; you’re hassling me’ (an activity which she probably assumed would be easier than real policing).  

By now, almost everyone in the café was listening in on our conversation. It was time for a finale of sorts. The police officer attempted to make one last flailing bid for the moral high ground, to secure one thing if nothing else, namely, the pre-eminence of an insidious collectivist ideology according to which crime is always the responsibility of everyone; perhaps she had learned this ideology in police school.

‘You’re not helping this city!’, she intoned.

Then she stormed out in a huff. Not helping this city, indeed!

Ben Irvine is author of 'Einstein and the Art of Mindful Cycling', 'Scapegoated Capitalism' and 'Mindfulness and the Big Questions'. @BenIrvineAuthor

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