The Poll Card for the election of a local Police Commissioner has been pinned up on my hall noticeboard for weeks, but I've hardly given it a thought, and the day for casting my vote - if I wish to - is tomorrow. I'm not going to bother.
I don't normally pass up an opportunity to vote on who fills a public office, or on a national issue in a referendum. The right to vote is precious. But in this case, I am unmoved, uninspired, have no opinion to express, and to be honest have no clear idea what I'd be voting for. Is that my fault, or just a reflection on how low-profile the role of the Police Commissioner is, and has always been, ever since the position was introduced only a few years ago (I'm vague even on when, and I'm usually very good with dates).
I have a conviction that the man or woman appointed will be simply another functionary, a part of the public-relations machine, and will work - or seem to be working - hand in glove with the police force in Sussex. I really don't imagine that he or she will be a truly independent, alert and restless reviewer of how the Sussex police tackle crime, a nagging thorn in the force's side, and its nemesis if it oversteps the mark. But supposing the Commissioner is all of those things, and has adequate powers to call on, then the position still does not fire my imagination. It was just something proposed by the government of the day, and I'm not sure what need it really met, or meets now.
I might feel differently if I had a lot of full-on contact with the police. But I don't. I very rarely call on the police for anything serious, such as informing them of an accident, or a crime I've been victim of. My last visit to a police station was in late 2009, when calling to collect my Dad's personal effects, routinely taken into police charge after he was found dead at home, having suffered a fatal cardiac arrest. I had to prove my identity and sign a receipt. I was dealt with courteously and sympathetically.
More frequently, I may have casual conversations with the police. For instance, when in Swansea last autumn, when part of the town centre was cordoned off. Curious to know why, I went up to a friendly-looking policewoman and asked her whether she could tell me. She explained that she couldn't - which enabled me to guess anyway what the reason might be - and the transaction was feel-good, because her response, though firm, was smiling and polite. A model response, in fact. And in similar situations, once or twice a year, really everywhere that I've been, all my casual encounters with various police forces - Sussex included - have been pleasant, and not in any way brusque or bruising.
But let's face it, anybody who looks like a responsible British-born citizen with a good attitude - as I surely do - is going to get a polite and helpful reception.
Those who don't fit that image might fare less well. Anybody who, by their very appearance, seems to be source of contention and provocation, is likely to get a wary, defensive response if they should approach the police. I dare say the police everywhere have become cheesed off with the local troublemakers, the folk who turn up to demonstrate and riot for the hell of it, and those who seem to be at war with them on principle. And yet in some cases this defensiveness will be quite unfair.
I'm thinking that anyone who has come up against unhelpfulness, lack of concern and prejudice in their encounters with the police will be (or should be) much more interested in electing some kind of local champion who might protect their rights, and intervene in cases of frank injustice. A veritable ombudsman. On the other hand, they might think the entire process is just a charade to make them feel better, and will alter nothing.
Well, I too think it's all rather a charade, a case of just going through the motions, without any likely achievement in view. I'm probably mistaken; I'm probably a person who simply hasn't appreciated the real role of the Commissioner. But, whoever is to blame for my error, the role looks irrelevant to everyday life, and I feel completely indifferent to the the outcome of this local election.