Somewhere Out There Today

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will tell you that there’s no other job that comes close to this one.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will save the life of a complete stranger. And they will risk their own life to do so.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will talk someone back from the edge. They will find the missing woman, they will confront the knife-wielding man and they will defend the vulnerable child. They will go where most wouldn’t and do what most couldn’t.

And they will show uncommon bravery.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will deal with the consequences of society’s addiction to violence. They will tell you that domestic violence is a disease of pandemic proportions – and that violent crime involving young people is one of the most urgent issues of our time.

Somewhere out there today, the call will come too late and a police officer will become the bearer of unbearable news.

Somewhere out there a police officer will suggest that people don’t often call us to say that they’re having a good day.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will explain that even those who hate us might one day need us. And they will reassure you that we will be there.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will make a critical, split-second decision – one that the rest of us will have forever to pick over. They will tell you that policing from the comfort of an office or an armchair – with the benefit of hindsight and all the time in the world – is just not the same as doing it for real.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will put up with all sorts of nonsense from someone who really ought to know better.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will get seriously hurt.

Somewhere out there today, a uniformed police officer will go into a supermarket to buy their lunch. And it really won’t be the stuff of headline news.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will tell you that the 4 things you need most to do this job are courage, compassion, the ability to communicate and a large helping of common sense.

And they will remind you that, actually, it’s still OK – essential in fact – to have a sense of humour. They will put boot polish round the rim of their colleague’s hat and empty the contents of a hole punch into the patrol car’s air conditioning system. Satisfied with their efforts so far, they will then add some creative illustrations to the inside pages of someone else’s pocket book.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will suggest that laughing or crying are sometimes the only real choices.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will do their level best to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will suggest that, if alcohol was invented now, it would be illegal.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will make a mistake. But they will tell you that, in the headlong rush to apportion blame, it can be difficult to admit to that mistake – never mind to learn from it. Somewhere out there today, a police officer will point out that it’s so much easier to point a finger than it is to offer a hand.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will close their eyes and remember. And they will tell themselves to stay strong.

Somewhere out there today, a police officer will tell you that this job can hurt sometimes. They will tell you their stories and show you their scars. And they will tell you that only those who have been there can ever truly know.

Somewhere out there today, I salute them all.

 

 

Yesterday in London

Yesterday in London, at about 11.25am, armed criminals attempted to rob a jewellery store in Piccadilly.

Members of the Flying Squad, carrying out an intelligence-led operation, moved in immediately to arrest them. All four suspects were detained, but not without a desperate struggle. Four officers were injured, one of them severely. He remains in hospital in a serious but stable condition. Two axes, a machete and a knife were recovered at the scene.

Yesterday in London, just after 6pm, a man was attacked on the Winstanley Estate.

Police officers attended the location and found a man in his thirties who had been stabbed. Despite their best efforts, he died at the scene. Two other men who had also been stabbed were found nearby and rushed to hospital. One witness, quoted in the Evening Standard newspaper, stated that there was “blood everywhere”.

Yesterday in London, just after 8pm, a van collided with a pedestrian on Regent Street.

Police officers, along with paramedics and colleagues from the Air Ambulance attended the scene but, despite all their best efforts, the man died at the side of the road. It was the desperately sad duty of the police to find and inform his next of kin.

Yesterday in London, at about 10.30pm, a woman was murdered and a number of other people were injured in a knife attack in Russell Square.

Police officers – including Armed Response Vehicles – raced to the location and were on scene in less than 6 minutes. With little or no thought for their own safety, they chased and detained a suspect. He remains in custody in a South London Police Station.

Yesterday in London, away from the headlines, police officers and their police staff colleagues went about their jobs. They searched for missing persons and they arrested domestic violence perpetrators. They investigated serious sexual offences and they searched knife crime suspects. They protected the vulnerable and they confronted the dangerous. And they did a thousand other things besides.

Yesterday in London, hidden from public view, police officers and their colleagues were investigating terrorism, organised crime, human trafficking, child abuse and every other form of human wickedness.

Yesterday in London, that’s what the police were doing.

In just one city.

On just one day.

It’s what police officers are doing every single day – in every single part of the country.

And I for one am grateful.

At the End of the Day

At the end of the day… I will pause for a moment or two.

And I will remember the places I’ve been and the faces I’ve seen.

I will think of all the lives I’ve encountered – strangers and old friends, the lost and the used, the homeless and helpless, the scared and abused.

I will think of crime scenes and turmoil and broken homes, troubled streets and carnage and broken bones.

At the end of the day, I will explain that there are some things that stay with you forever.

At the end of the day, I will smile as I remember the people I serve alongside – as I think about their everyday humanity and heroism.

And I will remember the lives of those who have gone before – the brilliant and brave ones who paid the greatest price of all.

At the end of the day, I will count my blessings.

At the end of the day, I will head home to my family. Or head to work for the next night shift.

At the end of the day, I will work all the hours to get the job done.

I will remind myself that duty still matters – that what I do still matters.

At the end of the day, I will think about global events and the simple fact that I am a terrorist target.

At the end of the day, I will wonder what the world has become.

And I will take a deep breath and get ready to go again.

At the end of the day, I will despair at the nonsense being spoken by people who really ought to know better.

And I will remind myself that those who have never been there will never truly understand.

At the end of the day, I will know that I made a difference.

At the end of the day, I will say a silent prayer.

At the end of the day, I am a police officer.

Trying to Make Sense of the World

I don’t understand why a person armed with an axe would choose to board a train and attack a group of strangers.

But I do know that love is stronger than hate.

I don’t understand why a person would choose to drive a lorry into an innocent crowd, intending only to kill and destroy.

But I do know that light is stronger than darkness.

I don’t understand why a person would choose to take a gun into a nightclub and open fire.

But I do know that hope is stronger than fear.

I don’t understand why a person would corrupt a religion – any religion – and use it in an attempt to justify unimaginable harm.

But I do know of a person who taught us to love our neighbour.

I know of another who suggested that if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to one another.

And of another who told us that love was the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend.

And of still another who suggested that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

Perhaps I am too much of an idealist but, right now, those are about the only things that make any kind of sense to me.

Ten Thoughts About Leadership

 

I’ve been a police officer for 24 years. I’ve been a human being for 46.

I’ve seen and experienced plenty of brilliant leadership in that time. I’ve also seen and experienced the alternatives.

Here’s what I’ve learned so far.

 

I.     It’s people stupid

Right there. That’s the whole ball game.

People.

Leaders who don’t care about people aren’t leaders at all. They might be bad managers, but that’s really not the same thing.

People are precious and rare and extraordinary and brilliant and brave and creative and resourceful and kind. They are also thinking, breathing, feeling, bleeding, sometimes flawed souls who, every now and then, need a helping hand.

Great leaders understand these things. They understand people.

 

II.     Every contact leaves a trace

Edmond Locard was a French Forensic Scientist, born in the 19th Century, who gave his name to a law that remains fundamental to the investigation of crime in the 21st Century.

Locard’s Principle states simply that ‘every contact leaves a trace’.

Every time two objects come into contact with one another, an exchange takes place – fingerprints found at house that’s been burgled; microscopic fragments of broken glass found on the clothes of the burglar.

It’s a principle that explains how many crimes get solved: traces left by the suspect at the scene; traces from that scene carried by the suspect.

But it seems to me that Locard’s Principle also applies to every kind of human interaction, whether between lifelong friends or passing strangers.

Every time two people come into contact with one another, an exchange takes place. Spoken or unspoken, for better or for worse. We smile or we scowl, we encourage or we ignore, we appreciate or we dismiss, we hold out a hand or we withdraw it, we are angry or we forgive, we bless or we curse, we give or we take, we love or we hate.

Great leaders understand not only that what they do is important – but that how they do it is equally so.

Because every contact leaves a trace.

 

III.        Leadership is service

The first responsibility of a leader is to serve. Before anything else, to serve.

Colleagues and communities alike.

Leaders who put themselves first aren’t leaders at all.

My primary role as a leader is to enable you to do your job to the very best of your abilities. That means making things easier rather than harder for you, removing obstacles rather than putting them in your way, investing in your training and development and, on occasions, setting my own comfort and convenience to one side.

It can never be all about me.

If the pursuit of my own ambitions has become more important than the cause we all serve, then I have lost my way. If my promotion matters more than your progression, then I am in danger of losing myself.

As the ancient wisdom suggests,

‘Whoever wants to be great among you must become the servant of all…’

 

IV.     Everything can’t be a priority

If everything is a priority, then nothing is.

Leaders have to decide what matters more.

Take policing as an example.

Every crime matters to every victim. Understandably so.

But not all crimes are equal. Some cause infinitely greater harm than others. And those are the ones that have to matter more.

Domestic Violence has to matter more than shoplifting.

Youth Violence and Knife Crime have to matter more than the theft of a bicycle.

Any crime that has a child or vulnerable person as its victim has to matter more than one that doesn’t.

Leaders need to be absolutely clear about what’s most important – particularly in a world of limited resources.

And they have to be consistent about it. We can’t be changing our minds on the basis of this morning’s headlines or the latest round of heckling from the stalls.

 

V.     Two ears, one mouth

As a child, I was taught that we have two ears and one mouth – and that they are to be used in those proportions.

Great leaders are great listeners.

And they understand that there is a difference between listening and hearing – and between hearing and actually doing something about what’s been said.

 

VI.     Leadership requires bravery

Having courage doesn’t mean that you never feel afraid. It means feeling afraid and doing the right thing anyway.

It is both physical and moral.

Great leaders stand for what is right, even if it comes at personal cost.

Great leaders stand against what is wrong, even if it comes at personal risk.

Great leaders have difficult conversations (with people, not about people).

And they do these things constructively and positively and professionally – because bravery and bullying have nothing whatsoever in common with one another.

 

VII.      The difference between activity and progress

Being busy and making a difference are not the same thing.

I played a game in my younger days that involved placing my forehead on an upright broom handle and spinning round in rapid circles, before affording my  friends the opportunity to have a good laugh at my attempts to walk in a straight line.

Plenty of movement. No progress whatsoever.

I know a lot of busy, dizzy people.

 

VIII.     Leaders must be dealers in hope

Apparently, it was Napoleon who said that. I’m not sure he’d be my source of inspiration on too many things, but I’m with him on this one.

The more challenging the context, the greater the responsibility that leaders have to deal in hope – to tell the kinds of stories and to paint the kinds of pictures that get people up out of their seats and cause them to come, running.

It’s not the critic who counts.

 

IX.     Leadership is about character

It was the American General, Norman Schwarzkopf, who said:

‘Leadership is a potent combination of strategy and character. But, if you must be without one, be without the strategy.

Who I am matters. What I believe in and what I stand for matters.

Great leaders ask you to do as they say.

And as they do.

 

X.     Legacy

I’m indebted to a friend for pointing me towards a book about the All Blacks written by James Kerr. Called ‘Legacy’, it draws lessons on life and leadership from experience of the world’s greatest rugby team – perhaps the greatest team in any sport.

Amongst any number of compelling ideas in the book is the suggestion that, at the end of their time in the team, every All Black player has an obligation to pass their shirt on in a better condition than when they inherited it.

(There’s also the principle of ‘no dickheads’ in the team, but perhaps I’ll save that for another time.)

Great leaders provide the shoulders for others to stand on.

To adapt a quote from the journalist Walter Lippman:

‘The final test of a leader is that they leave behind them in others the conviction and the will to carry on.’

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Psychological Contracts for Dummies

Yesterday, I sat down and had a conversation with another Met PC who is thinking about moving on. He’s got seven years’ service and loads to offer, but he had tears in is eyes as he told me he’d reached the conclusion that his future lies elsewhere.

Not that long ago, I had similar but separate conversations with two other PCs – excellent officers from different Met Boroughs – who were leaving the Job long before their time. There was nothing I could do to change their minds.

And we need to read the signs.

I still think this is the best job in the world – and unequivocally one of the most important – but I also recognise that, in the view of many officers, all is not well with policing at the moment.

It’s not that they have stopped caring (completely the opposite in fact), it’s just that many of them are wrestling with how the Job seems to be – at least, from where they’re standing.

It’s the result of a collision of circumstances, the compound effect of a succession of challenges. The list is a familiar one: pay and pensions and promotion opportunities and operational demand and hostile criticism and endless change that doesn’t always appear to be for the better. No one is asking for sympathy (these are first world problems after all), but there needs to be an acknowledgement that these things have an impact on our people in a thousand different ways.

Policing is, for me, an affair of the heart and the soul – more art than a science; an imperfect response to an imperfect world.

But it matters.

Dear God, it matters.

Earlier this year, a PC in Sheffield was repeatedly attacked by a suspect armed with an axe. She suffered a fractured skull, a broken leg and lost a finger in the frenzied assault. The following day, a Met PC had his leg shattered as he attempted to deal with a suspect vehicle. A few days earlier, a friend and colleague of mine was chasing a man who pulled a gun on him and opened fire. The suspect missed and the officer survived.

And still their colleagues take the calls.

We need to understand why Police Officers do what they do – the thing that clever people refer to as the psychological contract that exists between them and the rest of us.

When officers went down into the tunnels on 7/7, they didn’t do it because we paid them to. They did it because duty compelled them to.

When officers confront the armed and the dangerous, it isn’t because we tell them to. They do it because courage demands they do.

When officers sit and comfort the broken and the grieving, it isn’t because performance targets require them to. They do it because compassion urges them to.

When officers risk everything to save the life of a complete stranger, it isn’t in the expectation of thanks or reward. They do it because simple humanity would never have it otherwise.

When officers take a deep breath, dust themselves down and go again; when they put themselves in harm’s way; when they work every hour in impossible circumstances; when they confront the unthinkable and face up to the unimaginable…

…They do it for reasons that you could never put a price on – but that we cannot, under any circumstances, afford to be without.

Policing needs reforming – in endless different ways. But any and every change has got to be founded on the best of what – or, rather, who – we are.

Because the best of who we are is the best that people can be.

 

Hillsborough: a Personal Perspective

 

Every last detail of the Hillsborough story breaks my heart – as a police officer; as a lifelong Liverpool supporter; as a human being.

As a human catastrophe, it is amongst the most vivid and terrible of my lifetime – in this country at least. It is the story of ninety-six people who went to see a football match and didn’t come home. It is the story of hundreds more who were injured; of thousands more who were there. And it is the story of a group of families faced with a kind of grief – drawn out over decades – that is beyond the experience or imagining of most of us.

As a British policing catastrophe, it is right down there amongst the worst of them. The headlines of recent days offer deeply uncomfortable reading for any police officer: evidence of individual deception and institutional collusion – compounded over years and perpetuated by the very people who are supposed to protect us. It is no wonder that even good people begin to doubt us.

Society has every right to expect higher standards of police officers than they do of anyone else. That is because of the promise each of us made – to serve without fear or favour – and the powers each of us has been given. Where we betray that promise or abuse those powers, it is absolutely right that we are held to account. No right thinking Copper would argue otherwise.

But there’s another reason why Hillsborough breaks my heart – and that is the impact it has had (and will continue to have) for every good police officer in this country.

There are tens of thousands of them – and they have been dragged into the mire by the reported actions of their colleagues.

I don’t doubt that there were good police officers on duty that fateful Sheffield afternoon – people who remain haunted by what happened there. And I don’t doubt that there are good police officers on duty in South Yorkshire today.

It was only last month that a Sheffield PC came within moments and millimetres of losing her life as she confronted an axe wielding maniac. She was there because she had answered a call for help from a member of the public. And she is a hero of our time.

Policing finds itself in a deeply difficult place.

There can be no avoiding the sins of the past – and, indeed, those of the present – and there can be no avoiding the urgent need to confront them head on.

But, as we acknowledge these painful realities, we need also to remember the officers who are out there right now: saving lives, finding the lost, protecting the vulnerable, confronting the violent, pursuing the dangerous.

Because the best of them are the best of us all.