Saturday, June 6, 2020

Sherlock Holmes and the police

One of the interesting issues that comes up when looking at current events through a Sherlockian lens is that of Sherlock Holmes's relationship with the official police force of London.

We're starting to see ideas come forth about how we've put too much on our police forces over time, how some places have tried using social workers to respond to calls that didn't need an armed response: Homeless people, drug addiction, certain non-violent domestic issues. The police are called for these things, just as they are for robberies, burglaries, etc., when they might be better saved for serious crime. And when we look at the role of the police in depth, it also gives us an opportunity to look at the role of that fellow Scotland Yard went to when they were baffled, Mr. Sherlock Holmes.

Think of how many times Sherlock Holmes was asked for help by his community in ways that had nothing to do with the police. "Should I take this governess job?" "What happened to the Red-Headed League and the money they were giving me?" "Why did my fiancee not show up at my wedding?" None of these were matters for the police, but they needed some insights from someone.

And that meant Sherlock Holmes. He did a little social work himself, we find.

What about Sherlock Holmes's attitude toward Scotland Yard and the London police? He loved to poke fun at the inspectors and was never thrilled with constables who let someone slip by. He was even buddies with one or two of them, like Lestrade who got to sleep on the couch at 221B at least once (and maybe more, if his wife got mad enough at him).

Overall, we can safely say that Sherlock Holmes seemed to think one thing about the police of his time: That they could do their job better. He had hopes for the promising young inspectors who showed signs of being good at their work. He depended upon them to clear up the Moriarty organization after he pointed them in the right direction. His methods have inspired investigators for a hundred years.

Sherlock Holmes was definitely not anti-police, even though he sometimes took the law into his own hands and worked around them. But what Sherlock Holmes was completely against was bullies. And there's where his attitudes tie to our current situation. When policework crosses the line from investigation and crime prevention to bullying, whether that bullying be from treating black folks worse just for the color of their skin, or tramping over a non-violent protest, we can be pretty sure that Sherlock Holmes would consider that NOT improving the work of the police.

If you step back and look, it's not hard to figure out how Sherlock Holmes would look at the police situation today. It's also not hard to see how some of the bully-ish members of the force would deal with a Sherlock Holmes in the modern day: "Oh, look, Mr. Smart-ass has some drugs in his sitting room! You're coming downtown, Mr. Sherlock Holmes." It probably wouldn't be pretty.

But Sherlock Holmes was good at talking himself out of many a situation where violence was threatened in his home, some of which where Watson was about to respond to violence with violence. Holmes was a very smart man. Not perfect, of course, but smart. And he worked toward making things better in his community, with everyone who came to his door.

As things get complicated, Sherlock Holmes is still a decent fellow to think about now and then. Even now.

No comments:

Post a Comment