The New Commissioner’s In Tray

commissioner

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.

———————————————

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.

———————————————

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.

 

 

 

Policing Challenges in 2017

So here we are then, at the beginning of 2017.

And the multitude of challenges facing the police service in Britain are, it seems to me, greater than at any point since the end of the Second World War.

I.    Operational

There are the crime challenges:

  • Terrorism
  • Serious Violence – including Homicide, Domestic Abuse & Knife Crime
  • Sexual Offences – including Child Sexual Exploitation
  • Human Trafficking
  • Cyber Crime
  • Drug & Alcohol related criminality
  • Fraud (some of it on an industrial scale)
  • And so the list goes on.

And it’s not just crime:

  • Mental Health
  • Missing Persons
  • Roads Policing
  • Anti-Social Behaviour
  • And so the list goes on

Given the fact that everything can’t be a priority, there are any number of exceptionally difficult decisions to be made – not least in terms of the people, resources and money we invest in:

  • crime vs. everything else
  • short-term enforcement vs. long-term prevention
  • emergency response policing vs. neighbourhood policing
  • uniform policing vs. detective work
  • the investigation of historical crimes vs. those being committed now
  • police officer numbers vs. police staff numbers
  • core policing priorities vs. the needs of partner agencies
  • support and care provided for victims vs. the pursuit of offenders
  • And so the list goes on

We want to do it all. But the fact is that we’re not going to be able to. Which means that there are some very tough questions to be asked.

What are we going to do differently?

What are we going to do less of?

What are we going to have to stop doing altogether?

The easiest thing in the world is to recline in the comfort of an armchair and point out what policing is doing wrong – and what policing should be doing more of. But dealing with the reality and endless complexity of those challenges is a different proposition altogether.

For example we cannot, simultaneously, put more time, effort and resources into every emerging priority. There will have to be some give and take. If we want more of something, there will have to be less of something else. And we need to understand that, when it comes to making those decisions, there will be inevitable differences of opinion about what those ‘somethings’ should be.

It’s a whole lot easier to talk about policing than it is to be a police officer.

II.    Organisational 

The organisational challenges facing the service as a whole at the start of 2017 are eye-watering:

  • Economics: In an article published on January 4th, the Guardian reported that the Met, for example, still to needs to find c.£400M in savings. On top of those already made. The continuing financial challenge remains on a scale that is entirely without precedent.
  • Reform: Whilst change is a constant in policing, the current relentless pace of it – and the demands associated with it – are greater than at any other point in our history. Without denying the very evident need for reform in the service, it is not unusual to hear officers and staff expressing the view that too much is happening, too quickly – and that not all of it is for the better.
  • Governance: Policing has an accountability framework arguably more complex than any other. Chief Constables are answerable to – amongst others – Number 10, the Home Office, The Home Affairs Select Committee, the College of Policing, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Police & Crime Commissioners and the local communities they serve. That’s a lot of important people to please.
  • Legacy: We continue to be confronted with the deeply unsettling sins of our past – both distant and uncomfortably recent. No one to blame but ourselves of course – but they remain a heavy burden in the present.
  • Morale: The most recent survey conducted by the Police Federation (in the summer of 2016) provides a clear indication of the people challenges currently facing local forces. 45,000 officers took part, with 68% of them suggesting that they did not feel valued and 56% stating that their own morale was low. More than 90% of officers stated that morale in the service as a whole was low.

III.    Personal

In addition to the issue of morale, individual officers and staff face a number of personal challenges:

  • Physical: The Police Federation estimates that there are 23,000 assaults on officers in England & Wales every single year. That’s a heck of a number – and is accompanied by the stark realisation that each of them is an explicit terrorist target.
  • Health & Wellbeing: The recent report published by the Police Dependents Trust revealed that 81% of officers (almost 11,000 were surveyed) have suffered physical injury or mental ill health as a consequence of their work. I have my own scars – seen and unseen – and I know more good coppers working under more strain that any previous point in my career.
  • Financial: Every frontline police officer is feeling the pinch of austerity. Of course, they’re far from being unique in that respect – but it remains an immensely significant issue for them.

IV.    External

  • Global events, local impact: Police officers are called upon to respond to the consequences of events happening far beyond their immediate force boundaries: Brexit & the reported rise of hate crime, Syria & the consequences for radicalisation and terrorist activity to name but two.
  • Scrutiny: As I have suggested before, the current story being told about policing in this country is an insistently hostile and negative one. There is an urgent need for policing to be held to account – but there is an equally pressing need for balance in the narrative.
  • Public Sector Strain: Policing is, increasingly, being called upon to support partners under pressure – in the ambulance service, in mental health and adult social care services, even in prisons.
  • Public protest: When people take to the streets to exercise their democratic right to protest, it is the police who are diverted from other places to keep the peace.

Where from here?

Having joined the Met in 1992, I’ve been a proud police officer for almost a quarter of a century – and I believe that this is as challenging as I have ever known it.

But I also believe in the people I work alongside. I believe in:

  • their courage
  • their decency
  • their compassion
  • their humanity
  • their terrible sense of humour
  • their willingness to work all the hours to get the job done
  • their belief in that precious, old fashioned thing called duty

These are the things that haven’t changed. And these are the people who remain the everyday heroes and heroines who police our streets.

It’s people who answer emergency calls. It’s people who step into the middle of violent confrontations. It’s people who stand in the driving rain at the scenes of serious car crashes. It’s people who place an arm round the shoulder of someone in unimaginable pain. It’s people who search for missing children. It’s people who chase armed criminals. It’s people who deliver the news no one else wants to hear. It’s people who roll up their sleeves and get on with it. It’s people who pick themselves up, dust themselves down and go again.

More so now than ever before, we need to make damn sure that we’re not taking them for granted.

I don’t have all the answers to the challenges of this new year, but I know that any response has to begin with the care and regard we display for the men and women who stand on the thin blue line.

Everyday Heroism

 

A Copper’s Christmas

Allow me if you will to present a retelling of the traditional Christmas story, using detail drawn from a little known historical source – the archives of the Bethlehem Police Department.

One document in particular, the BPD Daily Crime Bulletin, offers a fascinating insight into the work of a hitherto unheralded group of women and men – whilst shining new light on an old tale.

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Bethlehem Police Department
Daily Crime Bulletin
(Date obscured – believed to be c.2000 years ago)

Late Turn (2pm-10pm)

Team Briefing

  • Day 5 of Operation Census
  • Substantial numbers of migrants arriving at border during past week
  • Low levels of community tension reported; no incidents of note in last 24 hrs
  • Large crowds expected in central Bethlehem this evening
  • No intelligence re: pre-planned disorder
  • Terrorism Threat Level remains at ‘Severe’ (an attack is highly likely)
  • 12 PCs on duty

(Handover note: Roads Policing chariot in for repairs – no replacement available).

14.00hrs

  • Start of shift
  • 2 PCs to fixed post at main Town Checkpoint
  • 2 PCs to ongoing crime scene at Caesar’s Nightclub
  • 2 PCs to constant watch in the cells
  • Remaining officers out on foot

15.00hrs

  • Routine patrols – High Street
  • Town Centre busy but peaceful

16.30hrs

  • Call to Civil Dispute in the foyer of the Judea Travelodge
  • Apparent misunderstanding regarding double booking of main suite
  • Situation deteriorated as it became apparent that there were no other rooms available – at the hotel or anywhere else in the town
  • Suspects became violent. Two arrests. Both now staying with us overnight.

17.15hrs

  • Suspect detained by staff at the Bethlehem Brasserie for theft of a jug of wine
  • Evidence consumed prior to police arrival
  • Suspect unfit for interview until tomorrow morning

18.00hrs

  • Reports of possible UFO sighting
  • Claims of a bright light – moving East to West at a height of several thousand feet
  • Area Search, No Trace
  • Possible Nuisance Call

18.30hrs

  • Multiple calls to disturbance on hillside a mile outside town
  • Reports of strobe lighting and loud music
  • Initial suspicions of an illegal rave in progress
  • On arrival, met by group of Shepherds and a large number of sheep
  • Shepherds claimed to have been visited by an angelic choir (as if we’d fall for that one). Sheep useless as witnesses.
  • But, despite lengthy enquiries and a thorough search of the area, no sound system or lighting equipment found – and no evidence recovered suggesting the use of mind-altering substances. Not so much as a spliff.
  • Shepherds initially threatened with arrest for wasting police time – but eventually given a Verbal Warning when they explained that they were leaving anyway.
  • Last seen running towards Bethlehem Town Centre.

19.30hrs

  • Call to an impromptu protest outside Bethlehem Town Hall
  • Discovered a small crowd carrying banners, chanting slogans and demanding Judean independence from the rule of Rome
  • Dispersed at request of officers without incident – though something tells me we haven’t seen or heard the last of them.

20.00hrs 

  • Call from our colleagues in the Judea Border Patrol
  • They have stopped a group of Travellers who claim to have come from ‘afar’ (Have yet to establish where this is)
  • The three who appear to be in charge are well dressed and claim to know something about the earlier UFO report
  • Search of luggage has revealed a quantity of gold and a container filled with an aromatic and suspicious looking resin
  • Enquiries ongoing re possible offences 

20.15hrs

  • Update from Border Patrol
  • Travellers able to prove ownership of gold – and the resin turns out to be something called Myrrh. Checks confirm this isn’t a Controlled Drug
  • Allowed on their way

21.00hrs 

  • Call to suspected Child Protection case
  • Allegation of a newborn baby being cared for in wholly unsuitable circumstances – apparently in a stable, surrounded by livestock and with no heating or running water
  • Unmarried teenage mother with no obvious means of support aside from an older man claiming – without documentation – to be her ‘betrothed’
  • On arrival, found earlier group of Shepherds in street outside
  • Initially threatened them with arrest for Obstructing Police – then saw expression on their faces
  • Decided to see for myself what was going on

 

  • Ma’am, I’ve walked this beat for almost 25 years and I’ve seen most things that this line of work puts your way – but I have no words to describe what I saw last night
  • No arrests necessary. No explanation adequate. But everything is different now
  • By the time you read this, I’ll have finished my shift. But if you have any questions about this report, you’ll find me back at the stable door.
  • If I may Ma’am – and if you have time – you really ought to come and see for yourself

 

Bulletin ends.

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Happy Christmas, one and all.

Guest Blog: A Copper’s Tale

Allow me to introduce you to a colleague of mine, PC Ben Forbes. He’s a remarkable man.

A couple of weeks back, he emailed me his story and asked what I thought of it.

I told him it was powerful stuff – and that people should read it.

He asked me if I’d be willing to publish it.

So here it is. Have a read.

(You can find Ben on Twitter – @BLF090)


 

A Copper’s Tale

ben-forbes

Every police officer has their story – one that is unique and special to them. I wanted to take this opportunity to tell my story – and to explain how it has an impact on everything I do as a Police Officer. I also want to take this opportunity to talk about the vital importance of Partnership work in reducing crime and diverting young people away from damaging lifestyles.

The Beginning

We all have our stories – of lives lived and choices made; of choices made and paths taken; of the people we meet and the impact they have on us.

My story began in the East End of London 27 years ago. I was born to good parents in a difficult neighbourhood – an only child of mixed Caribbean and British heritage.

If you’d told me at the beginning that I would end up as a police officer, I’m not sure I would have believed you. But for the last three years, that’s exactly what I’ve been. And I love my job.

The thing is though, it might all have turned out so very differently.

The Motivation

Since I was a little boy, I have always been a huge fan of a TV series The Bill (I know right, how stereotypical can you get….). The production was filmed on my street for a number of years and, as a child, I used to love seeing police cars driving up and down and the mass number of people it would take to create.

It sparked my interest in becoming a Police Officer and, ever since those days, I have watched each episode of The Bill over and over again – much to the annoyance of my parents!

However, what I did not know whilst I was sitting at home watching Sergeant Smithy lead his troops into the field, was that one day, I would be a Police Officer in London and I would have the extraordinary responsibility of Protecting Life and Upholding the Law.

The Middle – the Flash Point

But the journey from then to now was far from straightforward. I struggled with life as a youngster in Inner London.

By the time I got to Secondary School, everything was up for grabs.

I didn’t have many friends starting with me – and no older brother or sister to walk and talk me through the change of environment and inevitable pressure that went with it.

So I decided to follow the kids who seemed to me to be the most popular. Standing in their shadows offered me a level of status and protection within the school but, in time, it would lead to all sorts of trouble – both with the school and with the police.

Throughout Years 7 to 9, I got into constant trouble with my teachers – ending up with a very high detention and exclusion rate. Following the malign example of some of the others, I started refusing to go to classes – and ended up being referred to the Inclusion and Behavioural Unit.

Choices and consequences. And I continued to make bad ones. I was repeatedly excluded and my increasingly aggressive behaviour prompted a referral to the Special Educational Needs Team.

I was offered numerous opportunities to go into educational and sport programmes – and the chance to get one-to-one support – but I turned them all down.

The reason for my refusal was twofold: fear and peer pressure. I had little or no self-belief and I feared that I wouldn’t have what it took to succeed. I also knew that if I willingly participated in these programmes, I would lose my standing within my chosen peer group and this would bring a wealth of problems for me in terms of protection, support and belonging.

Time passed and, one evening after school, I was told by one of my so-called friends to meet on a nearby road as they had issues with a gang of boys. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of a large group fight – one that might have ended in any number of ways.

The next day, the local Police Partnership Team came to our school and I was summoned to the Head Teacher’s Office. I was told I had been identified as one of the group involved in the fight.

I remember to this day the fact that the police officer took the right approach with me. He was calm and balanced, but firm too. He could see that I was vulnerable – and he recognised the fact that I needed support to get out of this lifestyle. Before it was too late.

But initially, I refused to engage with him – even to speak to him.  After a few minutes of silence; he said to me that he would be coming back to the school the next week to see how I was getting on.

The following day, I was approached by one of my teachers and offered the chance to go on an external sports project. I knew the Watersports Centre very well – it was local to me and I had been there a number of times with my friends.

For the first time, I agreed to take part in an opportunity being offered to me. I suppose it sparked my interest. The Centre was somewhere I really enjoyed going to – but this was the first time someone had recognised and understood what I loved doing.

And everything began to change.

Once there, I was mentored, trained and coached by the Kayak Staff. I was then given a rare opportunity to become a Trainee Instructor – and to develop this over a number of years after I left school.

So to the golden question – why did I finally change?

It had everything to do with people believing in me – seeing beyond my behaviour and recognising my potential.

I always had belief and support from my family but, for some reason, I was craving it from someone totally independent. I needed someone who would empower me, help me to recognise and believe I was good at something – someone I could look up to and aim to be like.

I started to pick up Kayaking very quickly and was progressing through the qualifications needed for me to be able to turn this sport into something which would allow me to make money, a career.

Over time, I progressed from total novice to a professional coach. Seeing, feeling and experiencing this progression gave me more motivation not to go back to my old ways and to keep on this new path.

As I got settled into my new career and found my feet, I discovered that the opportunity I had been given was all put together by the Police Officer from the Partnership Team – together with my teachers who put the leg work in to convince the local authority to offer me a chance. Without strong Partnership working between the numerous agencies, bodies and individuals, none of it would have been possible.

Partnership has been at the forefront of most successes I have ever witnessed or been involved in.

This was extremely impactive on me. It was like a lightbulb being switched on. After starting out at the Watersports Centre, my behaviour, interests, passions and ambitions totally changed. With support of my new colleagues and family, I made the decision to change my ways and my friendship circles completely. This afforded me the opportunity to start afresh and build a respectable and professional career and lifestyle.

The Challenges

Of course, it hasn’t all been easy or straightforward. There have been all sorts of challenges along the way:

  • Core Skills – It was very clear that due to my behaviour in school, I was not up to the educational standards I needed to be – in terms of reading and writing and general ability and knowledge. I was supported by my previous Youth Worker, Support Worker and Teachers in self-learning the core fundamental skills I needed in order to be successful in the transition from a teenager to a professional.
  • Belief – At times some of my colleagues would ask me about my previous experience (lacking) and my background (negative) and they would brandish me with a failure brush. It is very hard to keep positive and motivated when people seem not to believe in you, even if it is only a select few.
  • Temptation – Even after removing myself from my previous circle, my old friends would not easily let me go. Why would they, when they had someone who used to do what they wanted at a click of a finger. It was very challenging not to give in to the temptation of returning to my old ways and getting involved in criminality – not least because of the offer of easy money.
  • Having Faith – For me, this was the hardest challenge to overcome. I had a lot of self-doubt and always questioned: “Am I good enough?”, “Am I doing a good job?” and “Am I accepted?”

Partnership

The message within this blog, within my story – and the key piece of the puzzle to any success I have achieved – is Partnership.

If it wasn’t for the partnership of the Police, School, Local Authority, Youth Centre, Watersports Centre and, most importantly; each person involved in my journey, then I would hate to think where I would be now.

Well, truthfully, I do know. I would be partaking of Her Majesty’s hospitality. Or worse.

Partnership is not just a phrase we use in the Police. It is a belief, a passion and – most importantly – it is a collective of people coming together for one goal.

The challenge with Partnership, especially within the Police Service, is recording collating and promoting your successes and work. It’s easy to record arrests, interviews, stop and searches and seizures. The same could not be said for Partnership work. How would you correctly record the work you do when you’re meeting a young person to discuss their life choices? How would you record the meetings and strategic planning involved in diverting that young person into a meaningful career path and away from their criminal culture? In short, you can’t easily – but it is important to me that we get the message out there about how Partnership can change lives.

About how it changed my life.

And Now….

I have been able to overcome some pretty big challenges in my life – with help from some great people. And I have been able to achieve all sorts of things as a consequence:

  • Becoming a senior Cadet volunteer and playing a part in launching the YOU London Project – a unique partnership of 10 experienced uniformed youth organisations sponsored by HRH Prince of Wales.
  • Being awarded the Jack Petchey Foundation Leaders Award for my contribution to working with young people across London.
  • Working with numerous young people, playing a part in seeing them grow and develop into professional young adults.
  • Meeting Her Majesty The Queen at a Youth Engagement function for London and Essex.
  • Achieving my Duke of Edinburgh Award Assessor Status and leading a group of young people through to their Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards.

But most importantly, I am a Police Officer within the Metropolitan Police Service. I work within Trident Partnership and I am one of the luckiest officers in the Met.

Why?

Because I’m able to use my story, my journey and my mistakes, to connect and make a real difference to young people and adults across London as a whole.

I work within every borough across London to support, develop and coach officers on how to build and incorporate Preventative and Diversionary work into their daily policing duties.

 

One of the Nine Principles of Policing set out by Sir Robert Peel stated that the police are the public and that the public are the police. This remains true to this day and I have embedded the principle into everything I do as a Police Officer.

I am the public and I serve the public.

My final message is this: Don’t give up on a young person or adult if they turn down your offer of help. Remember that each person will have their own story – one that lies behind their choices and current lifestyle.

Keep the faith and keep trying to make a difference to their life – because, as I hope this Copper’s tale shows, it can and does work.