Issue 224 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published November 1998 Copyright © Socialist Review
The opening scene of BBC2's new drama The Cops shows a woman in a nightclub toilet snorting cocaine. In most police shows this would have her marked out from the start as a 'bad sort', sure to get into trouble. But as she runs from the club at 5am straight to work and enters the changing rooms to get into her uniform, it quickly becomes clear that she is one of the people who is supposed to deal with the 'had sorts'. Mel is a police officer.
Tony Garnett. executive producer of The Cops, is the man responsible for such programmes as Cathy Come Home, Law and Order and The Thin Blue Line. When The Thin Blue Line first appeared he said, 'The police know they've lost the confidence of even the middle class.' His new series shows that his opinion hasn't changed--if anything, the police we see in The Caps are even worse.
The Cops work in a suburb of Manchester called Stanton. They spend most of their time in Skeetsmoor, a grim working class estate. From the start we see what the police's attitudes are towards the people they are supposed to protect. 'Look at them. Breeding like rabbits,' says Roy, 'I'm sick of them all. They're dirty, lying, thieving scumbags.' Roy believes that a local man, Vince Graves, is responsible for the heart attack which killed Stanton's previous sergeant. So he confiscates drugs from a local small time dealer, plants them on Vince and then beats him up, bringing him into the station covered in blood to claim that Vince has been trying to assault him.
The astonishing thing about The Cops is how little crime actually occurs. The police officers we see are for the most part bored out of their minds looking for something to do or someone to harass. The big events in the first show included the theft of some flowers from a church, some graffiti, minor drug possession and the unreported death of a pensioner. It's hardly the murders, robberies and major drug dealing we see on most police shows.
The pensioner's death is the major story of the first episode. Mel, our coke snorting copper, who has by this time taken another line while on duty to keep awake, finds a body in a flat which has been there for weeks. It turns out that the dead, man's daughter, Thereto, has not reported it because she is addicted to her father's temazepan and is in such poverty she is claiming his pension. Despite the fact that it is clear to everyone that she did not kill he father, the CID officer in charge of the investigation is determined to pin the murder, on Therasa. He tells Mel to 'get her under pressure see what comes out.'
While The Cops shows us the appalling poverty that forces people to commit crimes, the problem is that it seems to have bought into the notion of an unpoliceable 'underclass'. The police are scum, sure, but they're dealing with scum.
It seems certain that with the level of anger and distrust that people feel at the police The Cops will be very popular. The police who helped with the show hate it already, saying they feel 'disappointment' at the portrayal of officers. A spokesman for the Greater Manchester Police said, 'We would hope the producers take a more morally and socially responsible attitude.'
The Cops is the most honest portrayal of the police ever seen on our television screens. It shows them as rotten, corrupt and anti working class. Watch this show. It's a refreshing change from the usual rubbish we're shown about the police on television, and with any luck. it's going to get even better.