Urgent Assistance

 

“Urgent Assistance”.

Two highly emotive words – instantly recognisable to police officers everywhere.

It’s a distress call.

It’s the distress call: the one radio transmission guaranteed to cut through the relentless background noise – to prompt any Copper within travelling distance (and some much further away) to drop whatever they’re doing and get to a colleague in trouble as fast as they can.

It’s a very powerful thing.

Earlier today, I posted a simple Tweet:

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That’s when the responses from police officers & staff – both serving and retired – started to come in. They offer an extraordinary insight into the working lives of the women & men who stand on the Thin Blue Line.

Here’s what they wrote:

@Supt_IanDS: almost 20 yrs ago, but recall it like it was yesterday!

@BriW74: 13 years ago at Charing Cross railway station. A rather large man had me on the floor and was using my head as a football.

@GrumblingCop: Man swinging sock with snooker ball in it at my head. Rather old-school weapon.

@WYP_1999HARMAN: The noise the radio makes still gives me shivers.

@BostinLad: Wrestling with a drunk male armed with a knife outside a nightclub, being egged on by a crowd of his drunk mates.

@JAJcCPA: Two youngsters upstairs. Angry father at front door coming at us with chainsaw. Sunny afternoon in posh part of Brixton!

@Dan_M6PBX: I still remember hearing it as a controller for the first time, feeling helpless waiting for an update… Trying to get people there yesterday.

@KelvinJRobbins: To the front office at Holborn Police Station, to a man battering his way through the glass partition with a destroyed chair.

@JulietBravo41: Chap with knife, Old Kent Road – in my probation on foot patrol.

@locky_loxton: Holding onto female rape victim who just jumped off roof of Tower block in W2. Had her by belt dangling 100ft up.

@StapleRun: 1 – male with knife, safely held ‘til heroes arrived! 2 – monster man, on my own again, struggled whilst 4 people watched.

@from_Paddington: Angel Town Estate, Brixton. Attacked by two families & kicked to the floor. Flying rugby tackle by L3 operator saved me.

@InspProvart: being throttled, pinned on the floor, detaining wanted man. No help nearby. Sirens approaching – wow that will stay with me.

@Mach2Jesse: Fresh off street duties, on my own on foot patrol, fighting with a crack dealer in Inverness Street, NW1. Hostile crowd.

@sgt_clare1734: 4 suspects, 1 with a baseball bat and 4 officers, after a long foot chase, back up 20 minutes away, felt like an eternity.

@CSCraigNaylor: A long time ago. Single crewed at mental health breakdown resulting in titanium pin to keep little finger together.

@welshsquizz: High St, fighting with a guy who damaged the police car, rolling around in middle of live traffic having been CS’d by my mate.

@mikejamessnell: 1st serial on scene to Lambeth ‘scumoween’ disorder. Petrol bombs/fire extinguishers launched at L3 officers from LFB HQ.

@PolicePEditor: Being shoved over railings on 2nd floor balcony, wonderful seeing car after car pull up while hanging on to washing line.

@coppersday: Footchase. Suspect with knife. Wrestled to floor, held in headlock. Passersby tried to help him! Longest 17 mins of my life.

@WYP_SBarberini: Me & PC, 1 very violent wanted male & 100+ youths. Resulted in us on the floor surrounded, getting a kicking. PC needed surgery.

@DIRobStaples: Bitten twice, head butted, bleeding, lost, being thrown around like a rag doll with no comms. The public summonsed our help.

@deltapapa11: Outnumbered in Soho, a Friday night on single patrol, tried to break up a fight, took an absolute shoeing, split side of my head/ ear open.

@RiddlezMeThis: Having a roll around in the middle of the night with a top 5 gang nominal on my own. He sprained my ankle in the process and I still had to cuff him and detain another.

@AgedBobby: Footchase, handgun levelled three times and once arrested, gaffer says ‘Don’t boot the arse out of the overtime’. ‪#welfare

@Rick_Mosley: In a fight, shouted for assistance.  My ear piece fell out. They didn’t know where I was. A PCSO found me and got back up.

@tonyoram: As 19-year-old probationer on patrol in Tulse Hill in 1988. Lured into a garage area and ambushed. Had the beating of a lifetime.

@InspBrettell: 13yrs ago attacked on bank holiday weekend. Still suffering and having surgery as a result now.

@iofiv: Middleweight boxer. Just ko’d his girlfriend. Got one cuff on then trying to stop him lining me up. Help round corner. First attended: male trying to smash a female SCs head through a plate glass window. Stopped him.

@TheGilchrist: Single crewed, man comes at me with a 2 foot saw. Radio-no coverage. MoP calls 999 for me. Never been so glad to see blue!

@GrrlCop: Bystander on the radio pleading for help for 2 fallen brothers. Almost at 10 yr mark but I feel it just as strongly today.

@MentalHealthCop: I arrested a shopkeeper for stealing bread baskets! He was using them to display fruit and refused to give them back to the bakery guy. When I told him he’d be arrested he threw his fruit all over the main road and buses were swerving round the mangos and guavas. Then he fought and we ended up rolling about in the gutter. Calvary were most welcome!

@catfromgreece: I remember getting to one and not being able to find the officers. Nothing on the radio. Dreadful 5 minutes til we did.

@SuptMatShaer: Bloke armed with a knife suffering a MH crisis stabbing at cars and houses, in a village miles from anywhere.

@Rick_Mosely: No matter what you are doing, the second that shout goes out everyone stops and runs towards it. ‪#policefamily

@ChInsp_JimTyner: 1992, rural Lincolnshire, burglar disturbed who didn’t want to be arrested…help was 20 minutes away…

@MichaelFowler10: Turned up to a domestic with the Guv. 1 nicked & it all kicked off. Also my first proper taste of CS. Thanks Guv.

@TheBigHon: Leicester Square, Friday Night Shift, Single Patrol, fight outside Burger King.

@earlyyearscop: Colleague getting strangled. I was two days in. Pressed my button, remembered location & then floored the guy (a reasonable force flooring).

@ChSuptMcInulty: Chased wanted man through woods. Caught him, momentum took us both into river. OK, it was a deep stream. Both soaked through.

@YuglasDung: A Friday AM in Earls Ct – cornered in a hallway in a hostel with nowhere to go. Built like a BSH, 4 baton strikes. No effect.

@CathieJLawson: The canteen at CX emptying and a crowd of PCs running down Villiers St to Embankment tube ….

@WecopsCaroline: I remember my colleague being punched in the face – button pressed, jumped on him, first fight of my life. 19 yrs old!

@DannoReynolds: The entire control room holds collective breath every time an assistance alarm goes off. I want to run out to help… ‪#FIM

@west_response: Male covered in blood swinging a carving knife into a crowd.

@PFM1972: One of those “can you just” calls… Quiet Sat early shift.. Assaulted after trying to arrest male. My 1992 radio was useless.

@ChairWarkPolFed: attacked at domestic incident by man with knife. 1st day of my new posting. My saviour was a police dog that entered the house to help me.

@burnett_kim: Male attacked me and crew mate. I was knocked unconscious and had lanyard put round my neck till I came round to hit emergency button.

@SgtColinShead: And I’ve still got the knife mark to remind me. Never saw it coming.

@PolicemansLot: The sound of those sirens approaching was the single best sound I’ve ever heard.

@WYPDeeCollins: I still have a scar on the back of my left hand from being bitten during an arrest 29 years ago!

@MikeMacaroon: Off duty and off work after an operation. A bloke was getting robbed on Kentish Town Rd/Royal College St.

@ScotPoliceSupts: ‘Concern For’ job. Male armed with machete. Old radios and not sure msg received by control. So glad to see my colleagues!

@garys18285: getting my eyes pushed back into my head by a guy twice my size alone. The sound of sirens is amazing!

@m2mp_out: 4 years ago, a body builder coked up in Camden, raining punches down on me. Thankfully I covered my head! £100 fine…

@DCS_SimonParkes: Huge pub fight in Southend spilled out and drove us back into the sea. Know you’re in trouble when dog units shout for help.

@urbancop: Two months into the job, frozen on the spot, the shotgun pointing at me. The relief as I heard the sirens getting louder and closer.

@NIckDowningMPS: Rye Lane, New Year’s Eve, Insp bottled & unconscious, trying to protect him from baying mob whilst trying to keep hold of suspect.

@PCSmith93: Two weeks in the job male comes to a domestic armed with a knife. No taser, no CS. It was one long wait for back-up!

@patrolcop: After a Fail to Stop, drunk & drugged driver fighting me & colleague in pitch black. CS didn’t work, ran off. Located by air ops.

@Scraggsy: Probationer colleague and I just broken up a fight, both had one each in handcuffs. 3rd came towards me wielding knife…

@RichKen2006: 12 youths attacked 2 in a park right in front of me, then turned on me. Baton drawn, 2 strikes…

@xam459: No memory of mine. Alone on shift in a market town, attacked by a group of 10. Unconscious when help arrived 25 mins later.1978.

@PhilDolbyWMP: On my own against a kebab shop full of drunken people, getting punched and kicked whilst defending serious assault victim.

@suptalunmorgan: Returning football supporters to a train station when rivals arrived – never been so grateful to hear mounted officers!

@K_v_nM: 1st few days on solo foot patrol in @SkemPolice drunk male ripped drain pipe off building & wanted to wrap round my head.

@WYP_IanWilliams: Me +12 holding line at BNP Bookshop march v 300 throwing house bricks for 10 mins. Could sense India99 & knew it was coming.

@dykesy1: Seeing my crew mate being strangled on a driveway even after we sprayed male. Baton to shoulder of offender to release.

@KobainUK: I remember it well. Single crewed a a group of no less than 20 fighting. I took a deep breath and waded in.

@jonsparta: Man sets himself on fire, drags me into a room laced with petrol. I used my baton to break free & get him to the floor. Saved by my mate who found a fire extinguisher. What a night.

@Ed8710: A pub full running out to open the car doors and release a prisoner… and then surround us with an injured officer on floor.

@manxboy: Woman tried to burn me to death.

@D_H1ll: Being attacked outside London pub. Recall people being pulled off me and a sea of blues. Dental problems still exist 23 years on.

@JoeJones1974: Chased a burglary suspect over several streets & garden fences, ended up catching him but he really didn’t want to come in.

@NathanConstable: Went to deal with a completely separate incident when an angry man came at me with a bike chain.

@gymfitnessuk: Feb 2001. Like it was yesterday.

@WYP_AidyWaugh: Me and colleague picked up by patient in MH hospital lift. One on each arm. Thrown around like rag dolls. Terrifying.

@Fergy5Rf: The sound a radio makes when a colleague hits their panic button is truly horrible.

@gkd000: Surrounded by 8 family members at a domestic. Single crewed. They turned on me instead of each other. 1st but not last!

@lizmead867: Man threatening to stab me with a carving knife in Luton, 1990. My protection was a female truncheon, a handbag & negotiation.

@SgtHarrisonWMP: Arresting a male on my own & being set on by his mates. I was kicked to the floor. MOP had his jaw broken helping me.

@smart86y: 20 mins into 1st shift as a sc. Separated from my colleague. Knife held to my throat. Never been so scared.

@MardySarge: Radio came off while getting pummelled by disqual/recall male. I just managed to hit the button – CCTV picked us up though.

@Rob_Flan: Don’t mind admitting – I still remember my first death/murder as a new recruit… Called for assistance, then called my mum.

@OakhamPolice: I think my first was in Melton where a chap who was much bigger than me on drink and drugs just shrugged me off and turned on me.

@MedsManPharm: I remember my husband telling me about his first call… Him & a colleague trying to restrain 2 guys going at them with knives.

@thefrontline1: First shift. Slough. Midnight. Guy so high he smashed his way out of the Vivaro Perspex. Had my crew mate by the throat.

@OfficerJxn: Single crewed, intervening to break up a fight involving 12 men. Emptied full can of CS at all of them.12 mins for back up.

@LPValentine: 2004, single crewed, the knife glanced off plates and embedded in vest cover. Member of public just watched.

@Pete_mcandie: First night in job. guy ran at me w/scissors, trying to stab. Didn’t hold button long enough. Thankfully old sweat with me knew what to do!

@T_ACCBedsPolice: For me, Section 18 search that went wrong, Packington Estate Islington 1993.

@CDINspRichard: Had my hand broken and nose burst by a violent drunk at a domestic incident as a young PC. Still locked him up though.

@WYP_TimKingsman: For me losing in a large fight outside pub in Keighley 26 years ago. Never been as glad to see colleagues come and rescue me!

@colinsutton: Saw large man beating girlfriend. Intervened & they turned on me. Foot chase elsewhere blocked radio, rescued by ND CID.

@SgtJDS: Arresting a chap outside a nightclub during which he broke my nose. Despite blood, snot + tears I still hung onto him, but stung like hell!

@AyrshireSpeaker: First night as a sergeant in Castlemilk, Glasgow. Opened a bedroom door at a domestic and chap has a pick axe above his head…

@simonalborn: 10 mins into 7am shift. In kitchen of suspect fighting him. He pulls huge knife out of drawer. Can still hear the whoosh past my ear. That was 23 years ago – so no vest / baton / spray. Very pleased to see back door of house came off hinges as shift arrived.

@EssexChiefInsp: For me, disarming GBH suspect who pulled handgun upon arrest. Barrel by my face. 2002. Pre Airwave. A short, but violent struggle ensued…

@DIRobHuddleston: June 2008. Traffic stop. Sawn off shotgun pointed at my head and fired. With me like it was yesterday.

 

These are the kind of people I serve alongside. Bloody hell, I’m proud of them.

Next time you see a police officer, thank them for what they do…

 

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Don’t Go Changing

So much of the current talk in policing is of change.

Of the pressing need for reform.

And, truth be told, there is a great deal in this job that needs sorting out.

But, amongst all the conversations about things like modernisation and transformation, it seems to me that we’re in danger of missing something of fundamental importance.

Where is the talk about all that is precious in policing?

About the things that must never change? About the things you cannot put a price on, but that we cannot afford to be without?

Things like…

(1) The simple desire to make a difference

Ask most good Coppers why they joined and the answer will be a simple one. They just wanted to make a difference.

They still do.

It was never about money or status, recognition or reward. It was just about changing the world, one life at a time.

It still is.

(2) The privilege of public service

As the old wisdom suggests, ‘whoever wants to become great among you, must be your servant…’

That precious and old fashioned thing called duty. That willingness to spend yourself on behalf of a cause that truly matters.

(3) Discretionary Effort

Policing is built and sustained on the willingness of our best people – officers and staff – to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Endless unpaid hours, countless sleepless nights, unnumbered dawn starts and late, late finishes.

That willingness to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and go again. Even if you’ve only had a couple of hours’ sleep.

(4) Police Culture

I can’t remember the last public conversation about police culture that didn’t begin with a presumption of the negative – that it’s a bad thing, something to be done away with at all costs.

But here’s the thing… In my experience, 80-90% of what makes up police culture is deeply good.

It’s what persuades remarkable women and men to do extraordinary things.

Police culture is brave. Endlessly brave. It is patient and kind. It is compassionate. It pursues justice. It stands in harm’s way. It runs towards.

It is an admirable thing.

(5) The willingness to take on more

As if the day job weren’t challenging enough, there are so many in policing who offer themselves up for more.

Public Order officers are volunteers.

Hostage & Crisis Negotiators are volunteers.

Armed officers are volunteers.

They take on even greater risk and even greater responsibility – and all for no additional reward, save the satisfaction of knowing that they have given their all.

We would be in a whole world of trouble without them.

(6) When to act / When not to

Perhaps the most significant power given to any police officer is the power of discretion: the choice of when and how to act – without fear or favour.

Used wisely and well, it changes lives.

It’s a simple as that.

(7) GSOH

So much of policing is laugh or cry stuff.

And I have laughed longer and harder in the company of Coppers than perhaps anyone else.

God forbid they ever lose the smiles on their faces at the end of another long shift.

 

In all this inevitable talk of change, it seems to me that there are some things that we must never lose. Things that matter more than I can say.

Police Memorial

Nine Things I’m Learning

 

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I have a birthday this week. Not an especially significant one but, nonetheless, a prompt to pause and think for just a moment or two.  About work. About life. About the things that really matter.

Almost 47 years of life. Almost 25 years of policing.

And there are some things I’ve been learning along the way.

It’s People Stupid

I won’t tire of repeating this one.

People matter more than anything else. Those we serve and those we serve alongside.

People matter more than performance charts. They matter more than meetings. They matter more than deadlines – more than yesterday’s headlines. This Job is all about people. And they simply have to matter more.

Every contact leaves a trace.

Courage is not the Absence of Fear

You come across some astonishingly brave people in this line of work: men and women who have risked everything for the sake of both friends and strangers.

Then there are those who have paid the greatest price of all.

And here’s the thing. None of them was unafraid. But they responded to something that lies deeper than fear – that precious and old fashioned thing called duty.

So I will never grow tired of celebrating the everyday heroism of the people who do this job. While I’m writing this – while you’re reading this – they’re out there, doing what they do. And doing it with rare brilliance and bravery.

Of course, this Job – and this life – is not just about physical courage. It’s also about those with brave hearts – a willingness to stand up (and speak up) for what is right, regardless of the personal consequences of doing so.

My Wife is Extraordinary

She just is. Our girls are too.

I would be less than half the man I am without them.

The point here is that family and friends matter.

None of us could do what we do without the love and encouragement of those closest to us. They are part of the story too.

Leadership is Service

Leadership is not about rank or grade. It’s not about titles or braid. It’s not about status or position or attainment.

Leadership is about substance and character.

And the first job of a leader is to serve, not to be served.

By far the most important people in policing are the PCs and DCs. They are the face of the Job. In so many ways they are the Job. They are the first to respond and the first on scene. They are the ones working beyond the cordon tape. They are the ones standing in harm’s way.

The first responsibility that the rest of us have is to serve them – to give them our best in order that they can give their best out on the streets.

First & Second Things

Several decades ago, the author C.S. Lewis wrote a short essay entitled ‘First & Second Things’. In it he examined the question of priorities.

His simple contention was that, in any situation, things have to be done in the right order for them to succeed. And first things – the most important things – have to come first:

“You can’t get second things by putting them first; you can get second things only by putting first things first…. From which would follow the question, what is the first thing?”

In life and in work, we need to get our priorities in the right order. We need to understand what comes first.

Sticking Plasters & Real Solutions

Which leads to the inevitable distinction between symptoms and causes.

So much of policing involves putting sticking plasters over things that are only ever symptoms. Like General Booth’s vision of pulling drowning souls from the water.

The sheer volume and complexity of all that faces policing – together with a general sense of impatience that seems to exist in society – means that we are drawn, inevitably, towards the apparent quick fixes.

But quick fixes aren’t real solutions.

We aren’t going to fix Domestic Violence by Friday next week. Or Knife Crime. Or Human Trafficking. Or Child Abuse. Or any of the other great causes of harm in society.

It’s not the Critic who Counts

Coppers love the old Theodore Roosevelt quote. They are the men and women in the arena.

And there is no shortage of policing critics out there.

Sometimes, we deserve everything we get – with only ourselves to blame. But not always.

On September 21st 1992, I made a promise – to serve ‘without favour or affection’.

And it’s not the critic who counts.

Stillness & Silence

The world is moving at headlong pace. Policing is too.

And it’s not good for any of us.

It was Gandhi who said, ‘there is more to life than increasing its speed’, but I don’t think anyone was listening.

The fact is that we all need to be still sometimes. To rest. To listen. To learn. To ensure we don’t burn out.

The faster we go, the less we think. And that does no one any good at all.

Hope is a Good Thing

Here’s a line from my favourite film – The Shawshank Redemption:

‘Remember Red, hope is a good thing – maybe the best of things – and no good thing ever dies.’

The world can seem a pretty troubling places at times. Most of the time actually.

And that’s a reality amplified by policing – by a repeated invitation into the darkness and the recurring challenge to give up on hope.

But that must never be.

In work and in life, hope is a good thing. Maybe the best of things.

And no good thing ever dies.

 

 

 

 

 

The New Commissioner’s In Tray

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This week sees the final interviews for the job of Met Commissioner. There are some truly outstanding people in the running.

And what awaits the successful candidate? Simply, the honour and responsibility of leading the finest police service in the world. The Met has its faults and failings of course – some of them grave – but it remains an extraordinary institution.

More than the institution though, there are the people – as fine a group of women and men as you could ever hope to meet. Some of them fall short, but most of them are about as remarkable as people can be: the everyday heroes and heroines who police our streets. It seems to me that serving them is the greatest leadership privilege of all.

The new Boss is going to arrive to a set of eye-watering challenges – a combination of operational and organisational demands the like of which policing has not seen in a generation and more. And they are not unique to London – policing the length and breadth of the country is feeling the strain.

I’ve written before about the need for police leaders to make some really difficult choices – and to have difficult conversations, not least with the public, about what we are able to take on with the resources available to us.

The choices (and accompanying need for conversations) can, at times, seem endless:

Between Emergencies and Engagement

  • Those at risk of greatest harm – together with those guilty of causing it – must always have first call on our resources.
  • Whatever else we might face, we remain the agency of first and last resort. And that is exactly as it should be.
  • But as we hurtle from call to call with finite resources, there are consequences for the amount of time we are able to spend listening to and speaking with the people we serve.
  • There is a balance to be struck – not least between short-term fixes and long-term solutions – and it won’t be easy to find.

Between the Frontline and the Back Office

  •  There are further cuts to be made – with seemingly inevitable consequences for officer and staff numbers.
  • The Met has been able to maintain frontline officer numbers in recent years – but not without significant consequences for our police staff colleagues.
  • There is a balance to be struck – not least in avoiding the need for police officers to backfill roles previously performed by police staff – and it won’t be easy to find.

Between Uniform and CID

  • The demands for specialist investigative skills are growing all the time: homicide, counter-terrorism, child abuse, serious sexual offences, gun and knife crime – and so the list goes on. Then there is the whole new (and apparently limitless) world of cyber crime.
  • In times of financial constraint, every new investment in investigation becomes an abstraction from visible uniform policing.
  • There is a balance to be struck – not least in the resources allocated to dealing with high harm vs. high volume crime – and it won’t be easy to find.

Between the Past & the Present

  • The sins of our past have found us out. And there is no option but to confront them head on.
  • But – as others have said before me – every resource we invest in dealing with the past is one less available to invest in dealing with the present.
  • There should be no hiding from our failings, but there is a balance to be struck between then and now – and it won’t be easy to find.

Between Police Priorities and those of everyone else

  • I have never known a good police officer to turn their back on someone in need of help. I hope sincerely that I never will.
  • But, increasingly, policing appears to find itself picking up the pieces (or, more importantly, the lives) that have fallen through the gaps in the support that the state is able to provide: Mental Health services, Adult Social Care, Youth Services and even the Ambulance Service.
  • There is a balance to be struck between saying ‘no’ and yet never ignoring a person in trouble – and it won’t be easy to find.

Between People & Performance

  • We must never take for granted the enormous levels of discretionary effort – the endless ‘extra miles’ – that go into making policing work.
  • I’ve said this before, but it bears repeating: I know more good coppers working under significantly more strain than at any previous point in my career.
  • And we cannot just run people into the ground – with ever growing demands and ever greater workloads.
  • Morale has been raised as a growing concern for policing nationally – and we need to listen to the reasonable voices of concern.
  • In addition, the health and welfare of officers and staff is coming increasingly to the fore – the inevitable scars that result from a life in blue.
  • There is a balance to be struck between the professional demands of an endlessly complex day job and the personal needs of our most precious resource. We simply have to look after our people.

These are challenging times for policing. The new Commissioner will need – and deserve – our support in taking on arguably the most challenging job in British policing.

The current Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, hosts his retirement function at Scotland Yard later this week. I wish him well for the future. After almost 38 years of public service, he’s earned a break.

And I wish his successor equally well too.

It’s one heck of a job.

 

Taking its Toll

It seems to me that we, as a society, owe a remarkable debt to police officers and their civilian colleagues.

Pause for a moment to think about what we ask of the men and women in blue – what we expect of them.

Amongst the humdrum and the routine, we expect them to go where most wouldn’t and to do what most couldn’t:

  • Into the hurting places
  • Into the dangerous places
  • Into the damaged places
  • Into the violent places
  • Into the broken places
  • Into the frightening places
  • Into the confusing places, where nothing is quite as it seems
  • Into the distressing places
  • Into the thin spaces between life and death

And we expect them to deal with what they find there.

They don’t always get it right – sometimes they get it very wrong – but, mostly, they carry out their duties with immense courage, remarkable compassion and endless humanity. I, for one, am grateful to them.

And, alongside a debt of gratitude, we also owe them a far greater level of understanding about the impact that working life can have on them – about the scars that they carry, both seen and unseen.

Some of them are hurting you see.

I have my own story to tell – though I’ll save that for the pages of a book called ‘Blue’. For now, let me just suggest that there are any number of reasons why we need to be a whole lot more bothered about the health and wellbeing of coppers and their colleagues.

Simple Wear & Tear

There’s no other job that comes close to this one in terms of the simple wear and tear that officers and staff are subject to over the course of a policing life:

  • The inevitable realities of shift working
  • Extended hours worked over prolonged periods of time
  • Endless trauma
  • Extraordinary complexity
  • Relentless demand
  • The fact that very few people phone the police to say that they’re having a good day
  • The hostility that characterises so many encounters between the police and those they are called upon to deal with

And it would be strange if police officers didn’t absorb a little of the pain – a little of the strain – somewhere along the way.

Over time, it takes its toll.

Faces & Places

Beyond the general wear and tear, every police officer will be able to tell you about the individual faces and places that leave a deeper mark than any other:

  • The blood soaked murder scenes
  • The fatal crashes
  • The cot deaths
  • The armed and violent men
  • The troubled, haunted children
  • The sobbing mothers
  • The carnage that happens beyond the sight of most of us
  • The unavoidable horror of it all

As a society, I don’t think we’ve even begun to understand the compound impact on police officers and staff of the repeated exposure to extreme trauma.

The Demands of Today

Whilst remembering all that has gone before, there are also the unavoidable demands of today:

  • Punishing workloads
  • Relentless deadlines
  • Covering for colleagues who are struggling
  • Encounters with bad management
  • The complex consequences of austerity
  • The endless hostile commentary about policing offered by anyone with an armchair and an opinion

And that tension that exists for all of us between work and life.

A Life Story

Because it can’t all be just about the job. Everyone has their own life story too. And, amongst all that is wonderful, there are:

  • The demands of life
  • The challenges of life
  • The sorrows of life
  • The flat out pace of life

And the natural, normal, human thing is to feel, to grieve, to hurt sometimes.

Closing Remarks

That last observation is true of all of us of course.

But not all of us are police officers.

Not all of us have been in the places they’ve been.

Not all of us have seen the things that they’ve seen.

Not all of us have confronted, time and again, the very worst that human beings are capable of.

Not all of us have sat in the silence at the end of a shift and played it over and over in our minds.

Not all of us have struggled to make some kind of sense of it all.

Where police officers suffer – physically, emotionally, psychologically, in any kind of way – as a consequence of their service, the rest of us have an absolute responsibility to look after them.

A duty even.

Because they are the everyday heroes and heroines who police our streets – and, every now and then, they need a helping hand.

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Heroes of our Time

On Tuesday 24th January 2017, whilst scrolling through my Twitter feed, I came across the stories of three very remarkable men.

Stories of quite astonishing courage.

But, aside from a passing mention in a couple of newspapers they seem, largely, to have been overlooked by the mainstream media – and that doesn’t seem right to me.

So I want to tell you the stories of Nathan Lucy, Andrew Wright and Martin Finney – some of the finest and bravest people you could ever hope to meet.

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PC Nathan Lucy QGM is a Hampshire Police Dog Handler.

In April 2014, a vulnerable woman jumped into the sea at Cowes on the Isle of Wight. PC Lucy responded and, as she drifted on the current, he ran ahead of her on three separate occasions, calling for her to come in.

She didn’t respond.

At that point, PC Lucy made a simple choice.

He risked his own life in order to save the life of a complete stranger.

He grabbed a life ring and jumped into the sea. He swam out to the woman and, as he approached her, she kicked him in the chest. He managed to grab hold of her and she pushed him under the water.

As he resurfaced, he pulled her towards him again and took hold of the ring. At that moment, a member of the public began to pull them both in.

The woman continued to resist until appearing to lose consciousness. PC Lucy kept her head above the water and managed to get her to shore, where she received emergency treatment before being taken to hospital.

PC Lucy has been awarded the Queens Gallantry Medal for his exemplary act of bravery.

I’ve never had the privilege of meeting him, but I salute him.

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PS Andrew Wright QGM is a Sergeant with the Police Service of Northern Ireland.

In February 2012, Sergeant Wright and two colleagues responded to a violent domestic disturbance call. A suspect had locked himself inside an address with two young children and was described as being ‘dangerously out of control’.

As the officers were about to force entry, the suspect – armed with two knives – attacked Sergeant Wright, causing him serious head injuries.

Despite his severe wounds, the officer continued to wrestle with the suspect – who managed to struggle free and began to attack one of the other officers present.

At that point, Sergeant Wright made a simple choice.

He risked his own life to save the life of his colleague – and to protect the two children.

He tackled the suspect to the ground and, between them, the three officers managed to restrain and handcuff him.

Sergeant Wright has been awarded the Queens Gallantry Medal for his exemplary act of bravery.

I’ve never had the privilege of meeting him, but I salute him.

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Martin Finney GM is a Firearms Officer with the National Crime Agency.

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In May 2014, Martin was taking part in an armed surveillance operation in North London. At the end of the evening, he and his colleagues were stood down and he made his way back to his car.

He was alone and not wearing body armour.

As he was walking to his vehicle, an armed criminal – Sedat Meric – fired a handgun four times into a crowded pool hall across the street.

At that point, Martin Finney made a simple choice.

He risked his own life to confront an exceptionally dangerous man.

He identified himself, drew his own gun and shouted at Meric to drop his weapon.

Meric responded by running at him and opening fire.

With no back up, Martin returned fire and took the decision to chase his attacker – believing that it was quite possible that someone had been killed or seriously injured in the pool hall.

He maintained his pursuit until Meric ran out of bullets, put down his gun and surrendered. Martin detained him until help arrived.

He had been fired at a total of seven times.

Martin Finney has been awarded the George Medal for his actions that day. This is an even higher form of recognition than the QGM – presented only for acts of great bravery.

I’ve never had the privilege of meeting him, but I salute him.

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As I write this, I find myself feeling the most extraordinary sense of pride in the actions of three men I don’t know but who are, somehow, family.

They characterise so much of what is extraordinary about law enforcement in this country – so much of what is remarkable about the men and women I have served alongside for the last 25 years.

And what is courage?

It is something priceless and precious and rare.

Courage is what led officers down into the tunnels on 7/7.

Courage is what caused armed officers to confront the killers of Lee Rigby.

Courage is what urges officers towards the hurting places – towards broken homes and crime scenes and car crashes.

Courage is what compels officers to pick themselves up, dust themselves down and go again.

Courage is what persuades officers to put up a hand and ask for help when they are struggling to cope with it all.

Courage is what took a Hampshire PC into the water.

Courage is what took a PSNI Sergeant into the violence.

Courage is what took an NCA officer into the line of fire.

Courage is something we can take for granted sometimes.

Courage is something we ought to be celebrating with every breath we have.

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In a world that can, on occasions, seem short of people to look up to, I give you Nathan Lucy QGM, Andrew Wright QGM and Martin Finney GM.

Heroes of our time.

 

 

Addicted to Violence

Violence.

Society is addicted to it.

In homes. On streets. Outside pubs and clubs on a Friday night. After the football. On TV. In the cinema. On games consoles. On the web. In fact and in fiction.

We pursue it. We portray it. We glamourise it. We normalise it. We show it in slow motion replay. And we present it as entertainment.

I’m not about to come over all ‘Mary Whitehouse’ on you, but I am troubled by the consequences of it all.

Roll up, roll up for:

  • The serial killings
  • The gang rapes
  • The extremist executions
  • The teenage stabbings
  • The 24-hour news loops with scenes of atrocity playing on repeat

Is it any wonder that some of us are becoming desensitised; that some of us are losing the capacity to be shocked; that some of our young people in particular have lost sight of the consequences of their very real acts of violence; that some of us fail to give the most recent manifestation of terror anything more than a passing glance.

  • The murder of Kodjo Yenga
  • The latest killing game
  • The murder of Ben Kinsella
  • The latest torture flick
  • The murder of Milad Golmakani
  • The latest offering of horror porn
  • The murder of Dogan Ismail

Reality and fiction blurring.

And policing deals with the reality:

  • The domestic murders
  • The brutal sexual assaults
  • The shootings
  • The shankings
  • The street fights between strangers
  • The endless blood soaked scenes

I have stood in the places where violence happens – where the horror and terror are real.

Every police officer has.

So let me make a simple observation about some of the violent young men I have encountered during the course of my career: young men who have stabbed and shot and taken life, just like that.

The overwhelming majority of them grew up in homes where violence was a daily reality – where their mums and sisters were battered senseless whilst they looked helplessly on. The trauma caused in those haunted childhoods is beyond comprehension.

And it is that same trauma that becomes – in my experience – the primary cause of violence in later adolescence and adulthood.

But, alongside the terrifying reality, there are plenty of other influences on these young lives that are making things worse, not better.

These same young men are playing violent video games. They are watching violent films. They are viewing violent pornography. And the combination of these things does astonishing harm.

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Are we surprised then, that some of them develop and maintain an entirely screwed up view of the world? Are we surprised that some of them end up holding a knife?

To be clear, I would never for one moment seek to excuse the behaviour of those who cause harm – but we do have a responsibility to try to understand what on earth is going on.

Is violence in society increasing? Is it getting worse? Those are questions that are almost impossible to answer – not least given the significant levels of under-reporting that we know exist. But certain things are clear. Violence has become more visible. More accessible. More normal even.

We, as a society, are letting those things happen. We are complicit in it all.