Booze and the Police

Attitudes to drinking on duty have changed beyond all recognition to what they were when I joined the Metropolitan Police in 1981

In the few years I was a uniform police constable I don’t recall one occasion when any of the relief officers drank on duty. It just didn’t happen. I did it once as a young PC when my supervisory sergeant took me to the conservative club opposite Wood Green Crown Court during the lunch break, but that’s another story altogether. Unfortunately the same couldn’t be said for CID officers and I can remember numerous occasions when I needed to brief a CID officer about an incident or arrest I had made, only to find the CID officer smelling of booze. Any young officer reading this account might think that I’m talking BS, but back in the 80’s it wasn’t unusually to be required to knock before entering the CID office. CID officers were given a lot more latitude than their uniform colleagues, because quite simply the senior CID officers permitted it and were often seen drinking with the office detectives.

Back in those bad old days every detective would have a bottle of whisky in their bottom draw and that bottle would surface around 8 pm for a couple of drinks before finishing the late shift at 10pm which would then see the same detectives nipping into a local pub.

If you looked in a young detective bottom draw today you are more likely to find a bottle of mineral water alongside a box of muesli or some health supplements. Different breed of officer to what we were, and probably a whole lot fitter as a consequence.

I never quite understood why the bottle of booze was always whisky. I have never been that keen on whisky and if I had a choice I would have probably picked rum, but you wasn’t given a choice. The obligatory bottle of whisky was a much a part of being a detective as was your handcuffs and notebook. If you didn’t own a bottle of whisky or partake in a drink when the bottle came out your colleagues would want to know if you were on the wagon, on a diet or otherwise make some comment.

It might sound like BS but I can remember a lecture on my junior CID course concerning corruption and signs to look out for if you suspected a colleague of being corrupt. One of those signs was a colleague being isolate and not joining you for a drink. Sounds unbelievable when you read it but not going drinking with your colleagues was frowned upon.

A bottle of whisky was also the standard fine for a CID officer for any in-house misdemeanour and bottles were regularly gifted to the DI’s and DCI at Christmas or any other appropriate occasion.

Drinking on duty was ingrained into the culture of being a CID officer and Friday afternoons were dedicated as a social event.

Night duty CID enviably included taking the occasional inebriated colleague or supervisor home and that’s just how it was. There was however one unwritten rule and that rule was that no matter how much you had drunk the night before you must turn up for work on time the next day. There was no latitude in this rule and failing to turn up because of drink would have been a cardinal sin.


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