Police were of course a key partner for probation officers. They could be objects of hostility against whom our clients needed to be defended and every probation officer would be regaled by their clients with hard luck stories or complaints about the behaviour of the police. Mutual suspicion was very much the norm in cities at the early stage of my career, with police dominated by a rather hard nosed and sometimes unhealthy culture, male, moralistic and at times unfortunately also corrupt. At one time, the provision of bars in police stations and the tribal quality of police relationships reinforced in some places an alcohol fuelled self righteousness. (In more rural or small town communities, the atmosphere was different and more collaborative, in my experience at least.) Probation in contrast was inclined to imagine it held the moral high ground, protected as we were from the realities that a police officer would have to face at 11pm on a wet Friday night. We were often all to ready to conceive of our caseload as comprising unfortunate victimised people, who were coping with aggressive policing techniques. We were no doubt as ‘tribal’ as the police in our own way, without the same justification.
One of the striking changes through the second half of my career has been the breakdown of this perception of police and of its counterpart in the police that probation officers were simply gullible and making excuses for bad people. I will say more about this partnership later on, but in the context of the current discussion, the tension between our agencies was fed by the different cultural patterns in each agency. Again to over-simplify, the probation service had a reflective culture and the police a task centred or action oriented culture. Police also operated a much more hierarchical system – identifying the right level at which to make contact was more crucial. A good relationship with the appropriate senior officer was essential in a way that was not the case in other helping agencies. We had to learn to turn these differences to advantage.