DO YOU WANT TO GET PAID?
On a mid-November morning of this year, 2012, I met by appointment with Detective *** of the Cambridge Police. Detective *** had rung me the day before and asked me to meet with him; the occasion was that I had rung the police about a week earlier, reporting my observation of two men who were quite obviously casing out the houses in my neighourhood with intention to burgle. I would not normally call the police, but not only were these men highly suspicious; they also personally threatened me in the street, advancing towards me maliciously and speaking confrontational words. They claimed to be salesman, but salesman don’t wear black and peer into windows and look over their shoulders, scanning the windows of the houses on the other side of the street. So I laid myself open to the professional curiosity of the police, and some days later received a call from Detective ***.
The purpose of his call was to invite me down to speak with him at more length about the burglars that I encountered. I obliged the Detective’s wishes to meet with him, and when he asked if I knew the location of the station, I said that in fact I did, having been arrested some months previously. The occasion of this arrest was at a student-organised protest against a big-time misogynist politician that I need not name here. Barring the details of my arrest and the subsequent dropping of the charge against me, I should say that if it is true that there exists a superior moral account-book of the history of mankind’s actions and reactions, (even if that account, as de Quincey says in his Confessions, is written in the indelible ink of personal experience upon the unfailing substrate of the human psyche; or as Babbage says in his Bridgewater Treatise, is inscribed into the ever-dissipating but ever-enduring physical wave-forms of the material universe), then I am sure that the list of unlawful acts of police violence would exceed the police’s own account by some unfathomably exponential degree.
Upon my arrival at the station, there were two reception windows showing back into the inner rooms of the station. A few meters behind the receptionists a man sort of floated in; immediately upon making eye contact with him he mouthed my name, gesturing his assurance of this query with a slight forward nod. I nodded politely in acknowledgement. Detective *** walked through a door to the left of the windows, shook hands with me in the foyer, led me through a door to the left, then immediately into a small room on the left of the hallway. The door was open as we went in; the walls were white, a brown table with a three deck dictaphone console, and barred window above us.
Detective *** led me into a private interview room, where straight away I was introduced to the circuitous and unrelenting plodding of his petty discourse. It filled much space with nothing, amazingly repetitious. He assured me that it wasn’t his intention for me to provide him with an official testimony. Though there were tape recorders present, no blank tapes were loaded into the decks. For all appearances, this talk was off the record. Furthermore, the Detective did not appear to have a notepad at the ready to take down whatever information I might provide. He did have before him some printed sheets of data, full of boxes and categorical separations, like a Babylonian algebraical problem text, the clay tablet already fired, offering up some spread of information about whose identity I did not think to ask, and of which I remain in the dark. His accent was typical of the locality, not aspirational, not acquired in some School.
Detective *** was not the detective that some of us had seen loitering on the margins of the student demonstrations in Cambridge over the last few years. Yet curiously, our interview took a rather speedy turn off its specified course, to matters wholly unrelated to burglary, which the Detective assured me, both on the phone and in person, was one of the most typical and problematic modes of criminal activity in Cambridge. I had arrived, granted, with a written testimony that I had made up immediately after my encounter with the burglars, describing the men and my encounter with them, and distributing it to my immediate neighbors, as an aid to their vigilance against break-ins. I gave this to the Detective before offering any spoken insights into my encounter, and upon reading my affidavit, the Detective expressed both his gratitude and his sense that my text contained all of the information he could hope to have asked me.
The Detective then appeared to change the subject, but as I detected something of the circuitous and indirect in his words, I interrupted him, commenting with some levity that I wished I had followed the burglars personally, multiplying in imaginable ways the richness of my encounter. To my great surprise, the Detective then turned the tables, proclaiming that such proactive cooperation with police business was exactly what he wished to discuss with me. He revealed at this point that, having been told by myself that I had been arrested, he had looked into my record and observed the circumstances of my arrest. He then asked me what my opinions were about working with the police. I told him that this, immediately to my mind, was only the second time I had called the police in my life: the first time being due to the discovery of a pistol inside a bag, sitting mysteriously upon the stoop of my house, just outside of my front door. By informing Detective *** of the number of those instances of my having called the police, I was attempting to make clear to him my almost complete disinclination to cooperate with police business, considering them, as I said to the Detective, a force whose primary employment was the protection of the private property of society’s upper classes, which conviction gave me cause to feel particularly uneasy with and contradicted about accepting the Detective’s invitation to speak with him. The Detective took all of this in stride, and proceeded to draw out his most painfully long-winded and roundabout discourse yet. He spoke indirectly but his intention was obvious.
Detective *** wanted me to provide information to the police about activities of activities of student demonstrators, of whom I was obviously connected, given my arrest earlier in the year. But I did not immediately intimate that I understood him to be making such an offer, which affordance was available to me given the fact of his beating around the bush, as it were. I was able therefore to let him elaborate his invitation, and in doing so he expressed that in addition to crimes such as burglary, (the Detective reminding me several times throughout the course of his proposition that he was extremely grateful for the information I provided on that very topic), there was the problem of criminal direct actions, such as have been undertaken in Cambridge by various political organisations. He named several such organisations, and to my surprise mentioned the English Defense League and UK Uncut, not only in the same clause, but immediately next to one another. I interrupted him at this point and noted to him that given the vast political and moral disparity between the EDL and UK Uncut, (the EDL being fascist racists who terrorise and pick fights with Muslims and non-whites, and UK Uncut staging peaceful interventions to raise awareness about large-scale tax avoidance among the nation’s wealthiest commercial entrepreneurs), I found it inappropriate for these two groups to be abstracted into the same family of criminal potentiality.
Detective *** politely side-stepped my qualification and proceeded to a significantly more straightforward invitation to collaborate with the police, by way of providing them with information regarding actions to be taken by political student groups in Cambridge. Several minutes earlier in our conversation, when I first suspected that Detective *** was attempting to use me as an informant (or to use the internal police terminology, as the Detective informed me, ‘contacts’), I was flushed with a powerful physical sensation, a mix of moral repulsion, dreamlike disbelief, and a kind of romantic excitement, as if I were in The Naked Lunch, a junky offered the operation of a lever, deep inside the police computer. My affected misunderstanding was a screen for my authentic speechlessness. I was at a loss for words. I could not think of how to respond. Faced with the weird opportunity to act as a police informant, and the power this would give me, (equally to blow the cover of student activists of whose ideals and practices I was largely in favour, or to purposefully feed misinformation to the police, with the intention of diverting them from the actual targets of activists), I was taken over with fantasies no doubt pathological, and my anxiety under the pressure of the unstoppable roar of imaginative machinery made my countenance basically unable to control. A subtle grin found its way to my face. It was time for me to respond to the Detective’s proposal.
It was hard to know what I was going to say. I hesitated, looking around the room, avoiding the earnest face of my interviewer. He could not have imagined what ridiculous schemes and choreographies of double-agency were running rampant through my mind. The Detective noted my smirk, perplexed. I admitted I was rather taken aback, and did not imagine I would be faced with such a proposal, considering the predetermined function of our meeting. Should not we focus on the issue of burglary, I asked? Might there not be more information I can provide to you, I suggested? The Detective felt that I had provided ample information on the topic of burglary, and then reiterated his bald interest in me as a valuable informant, given my supposed intimacy with student activists. (Let me interject here to say that this interview was entirely unromantic, the speech possessing nothing of that kind of the flamboyant stylistic display you will find among fellows at a College hall over endless bottles of wine after an elaborate meal. The banality was patent and thick.)
So he asked me what I thought of his proposal. He asked me to be honest. I did not have the nerve not to be. I told him that I thought providing the police with the kind of information he desired was morally disgusting, and that I was furthermore taken aback by his introduction of such a topic into an interview whose purpose was a different matter altogether. I told him that I felt extremely uncomfortable being faced with such an invitation, and I thought it best for me to leave. He seemed not to hear this last sentiment, then calmly apologised for offending me and proceeded to ask me to elaborate on my sense of outrage at his proposal. I had no choice but to declare that the activists under question were in many cases my friends, and that I was in sympathy was their aims and intentions. Therefore I could not be any help. At this point the Detective descended once again into that region of speech I had already heard him occupy, being a certain kind of spinning of discursive wheels, introducing no new information or sentiment, but by mere repetition and prolongation of his speech, succeeded in virtually returning our interview to an earlier stage of its development; namely, he once again asked me, as if he had not done so before, if I would be interested in working as a police informant.
Let me pause now and comment upon that word, ‘work’, as a segue into the next and more surprising stage of the interview. While there are numerous labours and services that I execute with no expectation of remuneration, (and I admit that money is something of which I would like to have more, though certainly in a lesser degree than many others), there is lingering in the back of my mind, more often than I would like to admit, the hope that I will be offered compensation in the form of financial reward for any of the various unpaid employments I might be engaged upon. And as I cycled to the police station this morning, I could not help but feel that distinct tickle of pecuniary desire, as if there should be a tax incurred upon the police by those individuals who voluntarily undertake labours otherwise reserved for the police themselves. Why should I cycle to the police station? I thought. Why should the Detective not cycle to me? Anyway, in good faith I made my appearance and offered up what unofficial testimony I had; of course I had no realistic expectation that I would be paid. But then, what was placed before me now, but a fresh opportunity for unpaid employment, and as a police informant no less. So at the renewed invitation of the Detective, my entrepreneurial predispositions (however weak and passive they may be), promoted themselves to the front of my mouth, and I found myself powerless to a sensation of total spinelessness, tempted by the prospect of a venality that I had never before imagined.
And so I asked the Detective, as one speculatively turning his back against principles he has just openly and even ostentatiously avowed, I asked the Detective if I could be paid for my assistance. To which, as if by forehand returning a volley in a vigorous game of tennis, the Detective immediately responded, to my earnest surprise, Do you want to be paid? I exclaimed honestly that I always wanted to be paid, and that practically speaking, I was desperate for money. At this point I was assured by Detective *** that I could be paid for my services; which is to say that the Cambridge police were offering me money to give them information on student protest actions. I was truly shocked that Detective *** took up my proposal, which in all truth I made only to test him and the limits of the business-as-usual he was no doubt working squarely within.
I ask: How many private informants conduct paid work for the police? At what rate are they paid and what percentage of that pay is taxable? In what form are they paid? I would suspect that they are paid in petty cash, but I cannot believe that powerful private individuals (that is to say, the rich) could not sway the police force into significantly higher rates. And finally, how much of the police budget is allocated to such remuneration? There are undoubtedly many more questions to be asked in light of the revelation that my venal pseudo-query prompted, though perhaps what I heard will come to some both as no kind of surprise and no cause for alarm. In which case this very account of my interview with Detective *** is paranoid and fanatical, really unnecessary and more telling of my own moral extremism than any abuse of authority and public funds.
Well, I was now openly mocking my interviewer with a look of mixed outrage and hilarious disbelief. He asked me to explain the response which was all over my face, and I lost control of my speech and admitted to him the fantasies I had been unable not to entertain, that I had never in my right mind imagined I would be asked to work as an agent for the police, and that I found it inexpressibly offensive to be offered money for the production of such information as was desired. The Detective then recognised rather immediately that he had been baited, and in my mind’s eye I have the distinct impression of an expression of rather open disgust that passed over his face at this moment, but for no more than a second or two, before it was consumed by the bland unintensity with which it was more typically composed. Accompanying this momentary transgression of his countenance, the Detective unconvincingly qualified his open-ended financial offer by stating that remuneration was more or less limited to expenses incurred in providing said information. I asked him what kind of expenses he meant. Phone bills, travel expenses. While I believe that the police would certainly make such reimbursement, I do not and cannot believe that this is the limit of the police’s potential financial investment in information. I repeat the Detective’s question in response to my query, which expression you will have noticed I have promoted as the title of this manifest: Do you want to get paid?
I could very well have harvested this interview, I believe, for the disclosure of numerous further illuminations: Detective *** seemed in no hurry to keep the interview short, and he succeeded several times in renewing to me his loose offer of employment. But it is not easy to keep a straight face and play fast at a game of strategic dissemblance. There was no question about my working for the police, either transparently or as a counterfeit. Accordingly, I told him that I would be entirely unable to collect the kind of information he desired. The Detective expressed once again his apology causing offense to my moral sensibility (though he did not, I must admit, make the same choice selections from the English lexicon as I have done on his behalf), and offered to me the standing opportunity to serve the police in the manner so specified. I was informed that I should feel free to call the Detective any time. And I knew as I left that I was not called in to talk about burglary.