Jake O'Kane: When 'calling the cops' adds insult to injury...

I could spend pages relating tales of being stopped and harassed by the police both as a boy and man. I'm aware not all police were the same, but I didn't meet any of the nice ones growing up on New Lodge Road in the 1970s...

There are still a few reminders that the PSNI are no 'ordinary' police force
Jake O'Kane

BY MODERNISING their uniform, the PSNI have broken one of the last vestiges with the old RUC. All that remains are armoured Land Rovers, fortified police stations and a few malcontents who continue to believe they can speak to people in whatever fashion they choose.

I experienced the latter during a rather unpleasant phone call during the week with someone who'll need to adapt quickly to fit in with the PSNI ethos of 'building a partnership' between police and the community.

I'd been left a note to phone the police about an incident at my business premises just before Christmas. This was the first time in my 30 years of running it that I'd needed to call the police – not a bad record in north Belfast.

I checked online to find the 101 non-emergency number and made the call. Somehow, I found myself transferred onto the emergency line. I explained to the operator that it wasn't an emergency and was transferred.

The person who answered my call asked the case number, which I gave, the date of the incident, which I gave, my name, which I gave, my date of birth, which I gave and then my home address. I queried why this was needed – and from that point the phone call went rapidly downhill.

Obviously irritated that I'd have the audacity to refuse to answer all his questions, my inquisitor spent most of the call talking over me. I was told my home address was needed to verify my identity. I said that having given all the other details asked surely should suffice for identification, and that I wasn't comfortable giving out my home address. He curtly replied that if I didn't want to give it, I didn't have to.

Irked, he then began to give me a stern lecture about having called on the wrong number, clarifying the emergency number was exclusively for emergencies. I restrained from sarcastically repeating, "emergency calls only for emergencies, God, who knew?". I could tell he was on a roll – I could almost hear his chest expand as he luxuriated in pressing home my mistake.

Eventually, I interrupted his censorious sermon to explain I'd looked up the 101 non-emergency number online, that it was still on my computer screen and that's what I'd called.

Dismissively, I was informed that was 'impossible' and that I'd used the wrong number: in other words, I was now either an idiot or a liar.

Being careful not to get angry or raise my voice, I said I hadn't called to argue and asked his name.

He told me his first name. "And what's your surname?", I enquired.

"You don't need to know that."

I pointed out that this seemed unfair considering I'd given him not only my full name but also my date of birth. I doubt he heard this as he'd started talking over me yet again.

It was at this point I ended the call. Some may judge my hanging up as rude – I believed it the best course of action as I didn't want to say something I'd later regret.

To put this into context, like many of my generation, I've spent years adjusting to the potentiality of a new police force. Growing up, I was acutely aware the RUC weren't 'my' police force; by dint of my religion, name and place of birth, I was viewed by them with at best suspicion, at worst contempt.

I could spend pages relating tales of being stopped and harassed by the police both as a boy and man. I'm aware not all police were the same, but I didn't meet any of the nice ones growing up on New Lodge Road in the 1970s.

And so, I've tried to leave the past in the past and buy into the possibility of a new force willing to serve without fear or favour. And, over the last 20 years, my few interactions with police officers have left me both pleasantly surprised and hopeful.

Every interaction between the police and public does one of two things: it builds either a bridge or a wall. I've worked hard to pull down my wall of suspicion regarding the police and won't allow a fool like this one to add a new brick.

For those who argue he's probably a call centre employee, I don't care – it's the police who employ him, so they're responsible.

And to the others who told me to complain: well, I just have.

Enjoy reading the Irish News?

Subscribe now to get full access