(Originally published in Policing Insight and reproduced here for wider enjoyment)
If there’s something strange in your neighbourhood, who you gonna call? ……Well despite only 25-30% of calls for service actually being crime related the answer in the UK would seem to be the police.
Last week an article in the Telegraph informed us of the latest ‘big cat’ sighting. Not one of those morbidly obese felines, being cradled by a small child, which goes viral on YouTube – but rather one of the non-indigenous variety that terrify the residents of a peaceful Bedfordshire village.
No wonder they were worried. Local Silsoe resident, and keen cocker spaniel-walker, Rob Terry clocked the beast and said “it would have a Labrador for lunch!’” Now as a cop I find that a curious account. It’s a bit like me obtaining a witness description of: “the offender was female and looked like she ate a lot of chips.”
In the 60’s and 70’s big cats were a popular fashion accessories and could even be purchased in Harrods. But in 1976 a change in the law meant that keeping big cats was illegal – which drove some exotic cat owners to dump their prized pets in the wild where they naturally bred. Now there are so many big cats out there that these days we hardly ever get a ‘big mouse’ sighting!
The only indigenous wild species of cat in the UK is the British Wildcat, which is a native of Scotland. The Wildcat is small in stature but a very feral, aggressive creature which hates to cross the border and is often affectionately nicknamed the Sturgeon.
Run Deborah run…
Further corroborative evidence that 8 out of 10 big cats prefer to live in Bedfordshire was provided by 62 year old Silsoe lass Deborah Hamill. Her terrifying account told how she believed that last year, she and her sister were chased by a panther, saying “we legged it, and only just made it back to the car”.
No offence Mrs Hamill but unless you and your sis are veteran triathletes and it was an aging, one-eyed, asthmatic panther on crutches then it would have probably caught you if it had wanted to.
A typical middle-class response to such sightings would normally be to storm the local Parish Council meeting insisting on giant cat litter bins in a bid to retain the Best Kept Village Award. However Silsoe residents were genuinely concerned – because the location is a popular children’s play area, and to the discerning panther palette middle-England posh kids make an occasional culinary treat. (Rather like Northerner’s picking something from the Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference range)
Ian Kelly, from the Parish Council sprang into action and after a frantic phone call announced, “the man from the RSPCA said not to feed it!”
There is evidence to suggest that the animal is quite able to feed itself judging by the odd savaged sheep carcass discovery. If you do find a dead sheep on your doorstep it’s always worth remembering that from the big cat’s perspective it’s just bringing you a little present.
Ian went on to say: “We have asked police what we should do and they haven’t come back to us”.
Now we see where this article is going. It’s another ‘police failed to act’ story isn’t it? Even the last line of the article reads: ‘Bedfordshire Police did not respond to requests for comment’.
Well please allow me to respond. Firstly by apologising (because that’s what we always do first) and secondly by saying that we can’t really top the advice that the RSPCA have already provided. We could only follow it up with “don’t tickle its tummy and don’t stroke its fur the wrong way”.
I don’t know what police response you were expecting Ian: “We’ll put it on ASBO conditions not to eat sheep?”
I feel it’s important to manage The Public’s expectations by respectfully suggesting that they don’t get too excited in anticipation of a police response – which will likely be the well-worn log clearance classic: ‘Words of Reassurance’.
‘Big Cat Contingency Policy’
Yes I know that we can all remember the days when the police were more proactive as an organisation. When the old village bobby would just spring out of the shadows and give the big cat a clip around its furry ear. And if the big cat went back to his lair, and told his big cat dad, he’d probably get another one…. but those days are over.
The village bobby has long gone, along with the other 20,000 cops that were ‘surplus to requirements’. We could maybe muster a Police Community Support Officer, wearing a Davy Crockett hat, who’s done the College of Policing distance learning ‘Big Cat Whispering Course’. But even if they did spend a couple of weeks tracking the animal (for time due not overtime), once they were face-to-face the PCSOs would only have the power to detain big cats for periods of up to 30 minutes.
Don’t take this as official protocol, by the way, I’m sure some Bedfordshire Temporary Inspector on the Chief’s corridor will have knocked up a formal ‘Big Cat Contingency Policy’ document in their keenness to evidence ‘innovative risk management thinking’ for the promotion board.
Intergalactic public disorder
The British Police Service are good. So good in fact that people ring us for everything. People will even ring us to ask us who they should ring – we’re like Google with flashing blue lights!
Anything from found hamsters to alien sightings, people always contact the police. Although when it comes to alien sightings surely we’re the last people to ring given that our record is not great at dealing with ethnic minority groups. Inappropriately tasering a Martian could easily lead to all sorts of intergalactic public disorder.
On a serious note, if you do see a big cat the answer to: ‘who you gonna call?’ should be the police, as we’re pretty good at managing risk. If it takes a while to answer the call it’s only because we’re working our way through the other 70-75% of non-crime related incidents.
In the meantime I would ask the public to assist by taking personal responsibility for their own simple risk assessment i.e. if there are big cat sightings in an area – don’t walk your dogs or let your kids play there (or at least not your favourite one).