Transcribed below are brief conversations with the Police, asking the obvious questions, before the dragnet operation ended (they were wrapping their ‘operation’ up when I came by, so there was a sense of ‘shows over, on your way sir’ – which of course I took as an invitation to linger. After all, I am an Oyster Card carrying member of the great London public, innit).
Me: what’s all this then?
Cop A: we are looking for people without tickets, you’d be surprised how many we can arrest in a day.
Me: hmmm, why do you need so many police, isn’t this overpolicing?
Cop A: Most people around here welcome this.
Me: no, no, no, we all think its outrageous. You don’t need to do this, you should go catch some real crooks (corporate types, politicians, the Speaker of the House of Representatives….)
Me: why do you need so many Police to check tickets on one bus?
Cop A: This is a message to people, we are being noticed. You noticed.
Me: Even when just one ticket inspector gets on the bus we notice.
Stand around a bit, watch the slow process of a lad get a caution for riding his bicycle on the footpath:
Cop B: why are you riding on the footpath, its against the law.
Bikeboy: Its getting dark and my light is broken
… [some meaningless blather, bikeboy rides off]
Cop C to Cop B: They’ll make up anything round here.
I asked another cop who was in charge:
Me: who is the ranking officer?
Cop D: why, do you need something?
Me: I want to make a complaint?
Cop D: Why?
Me: I think this is overpolicing
Cop D: People think this is the free bus (the 436 aka the free bus).
Next to him, a female cop:
Cop E: You could talk to the sergeant.
Me: Him there?
Cop E: Yes, but he is busy now.
Me: He’s not that busy now?
Cope E: Just tap him on the shoulder.
Me: Surely that’s more your style than mine.
I meet the ranking officer:
Me: This is over-policing, how do I make a complaint?
Cop F: Where do you live?
Me: Why do you want to know?
Cop F: You can complain to the duty officer at your local station,
Me: Don’t you think this is overpolicing?
Cop F: Most people don’t think so.
Me: I disagree. Most people here probably don’t think this is a good thing.
Cop F: You are entitled to disagree.
Me: Not for long it seems [gesturing to the 25 uniformed cops hovering around the bus]
And so yet another micro moment of the creeping fascism of contemporary Englan’ passes at 6.05PM on a monday night on Lewisham Way. The University is filled with people who have a keen sense of history, but the putrid stench of 1933 was in the air.