As part of the 'Big Society' idea, it will be expected that the public take more responsibility for keeping the streets safe. This will inevitably lead to groups being formed with the express intention of stalking the streets in cheap uniforms and no doubt causing many more problems than they solve. Does anyone remember the Guardian Angels? They had a presence in London in the mid 1990s, but haven't been seen since. When the Metropolitan Police was formed, officers were often attacked by a public who took exception to being ordered around. Hence the notion of policing by consent. Any formal attempt to 'empower' the public will only attract the sort of person you don't want doing the job in the first place.
I do have great admiration for members of the public who risk their safety to help others. I have written about them previously. As a police officer, I am expected to act even when off duty having completed a 'dynamic risk assessment'. This basically means can I do something without getting my head kicked in or making matters worse. I would be interested to know whether my readers would take matters into their own hands. If not, why not? For those who would act, I would like you to consider the following scenario, and consider at what point you feel it would be time to do something, and conversely, when it would be an inappropriate intrusion on someone else's privacy.
You are on a train. The only other passenger on the carriage is a woman in her thirties. Two male teenagers get on. The next stop is ten minutes away. There is no guard on the train, however there is an emergency stop system to alert the driver.
The youths are well-built. They sit together opposite the woman. One of the youths begins playing loud music on his mobile phone. This goes on for a few minutes. The woman glances at them, but says nothing. She looks at the sign on the window showing that you are all in the quiet coach.
One of the youths puts his feet on the seat opposite. He then lights a cigarette, and shares it with the other one. The woman starts to cough. She says, "Do you mind?" to the youths. They laugh, and carry on smoking. The woman informs them that they can't smoke on the train. One of the youths calls her a 'bitch' and tells her to 'fuck off.'
One of the youths goes and sits next to the woman. He starts to talk to her. You can see she is uncomfortable. She stands up and moves up the carriage towards you and sits down. They follow her, and sit each side of her. You notice one of them is drinking lager. One of them puts his arm around her shoulder. She shrugs him off, and tries to get up, but is pushed back down. He tries to kiss her, but she manages to fight him off. She breaks free, and runs down the train chased by the youths and out of your sight.
The train stops at the next station. You see the teenagers get off and run towards a nearby estate. You see the woman being led of the train by a man in a suit. He is using his mobile phone. She looks distressed. The train pulls away, and you go back to your paper.