Dorking Division 1965
1965: Dorking Division: Bob Bartlett: In the middle 1960s policing had not changed much since Victorian times. The principles were the same and but for the use of ... more motor vehicles, some with radios, the way of working would have been easily recognised by our predecessors.
In Dorking, there was a crime car working for about sixteen hours a day, and a divisional motorcyclist. The sergeant had a car if it was not being used as a substitute for the crime car, which frequently broke down or was being serviced, or even retained on duty because of an incident. There was a Criminal Investigation Department car, a couple of rural motorbikes and at one stage a Vespa scooter on Leith Hill and probably another for Ken Pugh on Box Hill.
There was always a sergeant on duty, an inspector most days and a chief inspector and superintendent who worked office hours. On each shift there were about four or five officers, one known as the station officer, who worked in the front office and gave out the work as it came in. Not that too much came in. Much of what we did was self-generated by stop checks or investigations.
A stolen vehicle check was almost impossible from the street until we were issued with personal radios. It had to be done on the telephone. First you had to contact the station officer, and so you had to be near a phone, and he would then telephone Scotland Yard. It often would take time to get through, and you knew that the manual card index system would take about twenty minutes for an answer.
This was not speeded up just because we had radios. In fact it probably made matters worse, as it was easier it is most likely that more checks were undertaken.
It was not until computers came on the scene in the early 1970s when the magical Police National Computer, or PNC, allowed for an answer within seconds. The first computer or Visual Display Unit (VDU) as it was known was installed in Surrey in February 1970, at the start of the implementation of the full PNC project. This was to be the first in the country and was to be linked to New Scotland Yard, Stolen Vehicle Index. As wonderful, if not seen at the time, as a magical innovation.
There was time to do the job properly. Dorking still had the Hillman Husky and the 500cc Triumph Speed Twin. The vehicles changed over the years to Morris 1000s, to a Hillman Hunter and even a Morris 1100 automatic. There was also the brown van. An old Comer, which was used to convey prisoners, stray dogs, lost bikes, etc., looked after and driven by a long retired PC who lived in Worthing.
The police station was essentially as it was built and remained the same until the end of the century and on into the twenty first century although a section house/club and some police houses had been added.
The main building had single men's quarters at the back where they all had their own small room. There were two semi-detached houses in the yard occupied by PC Robinson and PC Clements, and a larger detached house where DI Paddy Doyle lived with his family. This was later to become the administration and prosecutions office, and where the superintendent for a time had an office.
On moving to Dorking most single officers lived in the Section House, and at times in digs when space was needed for a recruit. Many officers' experience of digs was disastrous given the hours and lifestyle of a policeman.
The Section House was a part of the police station, and we were very comfortable. We had our own rooms and a TV Room, kitchen and dining room. There were about six or eight residents and we all got on. It was the early days on the beat that young men learnt the trade of a policeman.
There were many capable police officers and the time and requirement to get things done properly. Some of the sergeants were not the best, (though some were exceptional) and were frequently a cause of frustration. However there was a lot of fun; groups of young men living and playing together.
Duties followed no pattern as the duties sergeant would give out a time sheet with the duties set out for the coming week. They could be anything, including a stray night duty or two. Officers worked seven consecutive nights, followed by three weeks of "odds and sods" , mostly 6-2 pm, 2-10 pm, 8-4 pm or 4-12 midnight.
It was unusual but not unknown to be given 9-1 2-6, a shift that avoided the need for a meal break and so eight hours were worked not seven and a quarter. Frequently the shifts include what was termed a double quick turnover, 10 pm-6 am followed by 2-10 pm and then a 6 am-2 pm. Shattering! We did not work with the same sergeant or with the same group of men although if a part of a crew on J35 you worked with the same mate.
The policewomen were rare and worked day shifts, still concentrating on women and children related issues. Betty McCredie was one of the policewomen, a very intelligent Scottish lady who was very good at her job. The work had its pressures but was not particularly risky or dangerous, although it had its moments.
Violence against the police was unusual and would be dealt with severely by the magistrates. In one case the Chairman of the Bench, Mrs Dubison, told a lad charged with assault on police "How dare you assault one of my officers. You will go to prison for 6 months."
It was often only necessary to remind those intent on fighting during an arrest or at a disturbance that if they touched the police they would go away for six months. This usually was enough. If they took the police on, many of the officers were pretty tough, and rarely came off second best.
I started at Dorking as a reserve divisional motorcyclist in the late summer of 1965. This was an unusual move considering that I was a probationary constable. No test that I recall just a posting and the keys to a 500cc Triumph Speed Twin. A radio on the tank that threatened your manhood if you braked too sharply, and a windshield with "Police" written on, the only means of identification. No lights or sirens.
We wore a large mackintosh which came down to the calf and was secured by a huge belt, a crash helmet covering the top of the head and jodhpurs covered by highly polished black leather gaiters which was probably the same uniform for many a year.
The greatest difficulty was keeping hands warm. The issue gauntlets were of little use in the winter when we wore silk gloves that we bought as liners similar I was told, to the wartime bomber pilots, although they had little effect. Often when arriving at an incident my hands would be too cold to write, and sometimes we were so wet it was impossible to go into people's houses to undertake the job we had been sent to do.
I spent a lot of my time as a motorcyclist filling in for the more senior men when they were off, the remainder of my time was spent on the beat. The work was constant and the way to learn. The divisional motorcyclist undertook most of the paper enquiries, many of which came from other forces, mostly the Metropolitan Police; dealt with the sudden deaths; many of the road accidents and other incidents that came in.
If the crime car was committed it was only you, or possibly a traffic unit from the centre at Spital Heath. It was the freedom of the job that is difficult for those who have not experienced it to understand. No supervision, no one to say they did not want to go somewhere or do something. You used your initiative and got on with it.
Today they would say that the job required a "self-starter". This was certainly so. The work was varied, often involving serious matters for those involved, and as said before, constant.