Police Conduct Now and Then

I am reading “A Thief in the Night“, a Dr. Thorndyke mystery novel written by Richard Freeman. There was an exchange between one of the characters and a police officer that struck me as an example of how different the police interact with the populace today.

To set the scene, the police are executing a search warrant as part of a murder investigation. I will blank out the names to prevent spoiling the plot for those who wish to read this novel.

“I must thank you, name,” said he, “for the help you have given us and
for the kind and reasonable spirit in which you have accepted a
disagreeable necessity. I assure you that we do not usually meet with so
much consideration. A search of this kind is always an unpleasant duty to
carry out and it is not made any more pleasant by a hostile attitude on
the part of the persons concerned.”

“I can understand that,” replied name; “but really the thanks are due
from me for the very courteous and considerate way in which you have
discharged what I am sure must be a most disagreeable duty. And of
course, it had to be; and I am glad that it has been done so thoroughly.
I never supposed that you would find what you are seeking in this house.
But it was necessary that the search should be made here if only to prove
that you must look for it somewhere else.”

“Quite so, name,” the superintendent returned, a little drily; “and now
I will wish you good afternoon and hope that we shall have no further
occasion to trouble you.”

A few caveats are in order. First, the action takes place in London. Second, the book was published in 1928.

Now, it is clear that the superintendent has collected evidence that possibly points to the perpetrator of the murder. Also, name is well aware of this. Yet notice that courtesy and decorum are maintained by both parties throughout this verbal exchange. Additionally, although not mentioned in this passage, the police were careful not to tear the house apart during a thorough search. Disturbed items were returned to their original conditions.

Compare and contrast this scene to modern day America where the militarized police revel in terrorizing citizens. This in turn engenders distrust and contempt among the citizenry. It is difficult to remember that the current extreme levels of antagonism between police and the citizenry did not always exist.

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