Soldiering and Coppering are not the same thing – though there are certain common threads that might be drawn from the lives of police officers and military personnel. Beginning with the courage, compassion and simple humanity that characterises the best of them.

Soldiers (and sailors and the men and women of the RAF) are heroes – regarded as such by the vast majority of decent, law-abiding people.

They are recognised and celebrated as men and women who are prepared to risk their lives in the service of their country – and who, on far too many occasions, pay that greatest price.

Those who make it home from foreign fields are honoured and admired as men and women who carry their scars – seen and unseen – and to whom we owe a very considerable debt of gratitude.

We roar our support for injured veterans at the Invictus Games and we understand better than ever before that the incomprehensible trauma of the battlefield can leave wounds of a kind that won’t be fixed with bandages and surgery.

In the last decade or so, visible and vocal support for ‘our boys and girls’ has grown very significantly, not least through the work of remarkable charities such as Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion.

And this is despite the fact that, in recent years, those same boys and girls have fought in arguably the two most unpopular wars in modern history.

It is also in spite of the alleged failings – past and present – of the military as an institution: allegations of racism and sexism, of bullying and organisational incompetence.

It is also in spite of the alleged failings of certain individual soldiers: accusations of serious criminality and all manner of personal misconduct.

Despite these troubling realities (and without, in any sense, backing away from them), the balance of the public story told about the military remains overwhelmingly positive.

And that is exactly as it should be.

Because the vast majority of them are heroes, who should never be defined solely by the sins (past or present) of the minority – or of the institution to which they belong.

Goodness knows where we’d be without them.


Police Officers are heroes too.

They are men and women prepared to risk their lives in the service of their communities and who – on occasions – pay that greatest price.

They are men and women who carry their scars – seen and unseen – and to whom we owe a very considerable debt of gratitude.

And yet, as a society, we don’t seem to regard them in the same way that we (quite rightly) regard the heroes of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The story being told about policing in this country is a very different one.

As I have suggested before, there are times as a serving police officer in this country when I just want to bury my head in my hands: Stephen Lawrence, Hillsborough, G20, Plebgate – and every other case that has caused even good people to question us.

And we have no one to blame but ourselves.

But we do a spectacular disservice to the vast majority of our police officers and staff if we allow these to remain the only stories being told – if we fail to correct the imbalance in the narrative.

Because not all police officers are racist. Or corrupt. Or incompetent.

In fact, the vast majority of those I’ve worked with – for almost a quarter of a century now – are anything but. They are undeniably human and they make all sorts of mistakes, but most of them are heroes.

There are all sorts of reasons why we might view soldiers and coppers differently.

Wars are fought in faraway places – far beyond the view and experience of most of us. Policing happens right in front of us. The need to deploy into war zones is never constant – but the need to patrol the streets is. Few, if any, of us have encountered a soldier in an operational setting, but most of us will have a first or second-hand story to tell involving a police officer. We don’t tend to read major news stories about the military every single day, but policing is rarely out of the headlines – and the reporting is rarely positive. And, of course, Police Officers don’t generally face the daily threat of roadside bombs in unknown lands. But each of them is now an explicit terrorist target.

Soldiering and Coppering are not the same thing. And I wouldn’t dream of suggesting they were.

But it seems to me that there is much to learn from the way that we, as a society, regard our military personnel.

Because Police Officers are heroes too. And we need to be a whole lot more proud of the remarkable men and women who stand on the thin blue line.



When I was a PC


When I started out as a PC in the early 1990s, things were a little different to the way they are now.

I handwrote my first crime reports on large sheets of colour-coded paper and filed them in binders in the CID office.

I prepared my warrant applications on an antique typewriter – one of those dusty old machines with raised keys and a carriage return lever.

I had a pair of chain link handcuffs.

There were fewer specialists and more officers on response teams.

There was less driving and more walking. I learned my beats and discovered where the best tea holes were.

There was a lot more overtime – with many more people willing and available to work it. In fact, it was names in the hat pretty much every time.

There was less bureaucracy and, outside of the Control Room, not a computer in sight.

Cybercrime was just a made up word.

I wasn’t faced with a succession of performance targets that made little sense – and almost no difference to the lives of those we served. I was simply expected to work hard.

Whilst the IRA was still active on the mainland – with sometimes devastating consequences – I wasn’t an explicit target for international terrorists intent on mass murder.

9/11 hadn’t happened. 7/7 hadn’t happened. Syria hadn’t happened. Paris and Nice hadn’t happened. The globalisation of terror was still to come.

There was no 24-hour rolling news and no constant second guessing of operational decision-making from the comfort of a television studio.

I was well paid, with an assortment of allowances that topped up my salary and helped to make ends meet. I had regular pay rises and, by the time I’d finished my first two years, plenty of future promotion opportunities.

I was able to buy my first flat – a two bed place on the edge of Brixton – for £65,000. It was expensive but, provided I was careful with my money, it was affordable on a PC’s wage.

My pension was secure and guaranteed.

There was a balance to be found between duty and downtime. Some of us were even given time to play job sport during working hours.

I loved it.

But, before I’m accused of a selective rewriting of history, I ought to point out that it wasn’t all sepia-tinged perfection.

I had no body armour. Nobody had ever heard of CS spray or Taser. My wooden stick was useful only for breaking windows when someone had collapsed behind a locked front door. And there was no emergency button on my personal radio.

We were still faced with criminals capable of unimaginable wickedness and human sorrow of every kind.

The Met itself had any number of serious faults and flaws. It was less open, less accountable and less tolerant. I was a victim of homophobia inside the police station during my probation.

And we were still to be found out by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.

Some changes in the last twenty-five years have been very much for the better (and we’re not done yet).

But still, policing seemed simpler when I started out. Life in general seemed to be a little more straightforward.

There was no internet. No mobile phones. No anonymous vitriol on social media. No global financial crisis or new economics of austerity. No so-called Islamic State.

And perhaps there are occasions when those of us in positions of leadership and responsibility need to be reminded that, these days, life as a PC or DC is not quite as we remember it.

The fundamental nature of the job hasn’t changed in the best part of 200 years: it’s still about saving lives and finding the lost and protecting the vulnerable and confronting the dangerous.

But, in endless other ways, things aren’t quite what they used to be.






Spitting Feathers

I’m not an expert on Spit Hoods.

In fact, even as a serving officer, I was completely unaware of them until relatively recently.

If I’m honest – and this is very much a personal view – I think they look pretty alarming. And so do a lot of other people if the debate of the last couple of days is anything to go by.

I understand that. And I understand any desire on the part of the Mayor’s Office to seek a wider set of views.

But I also understand the strength of feeling expressed by many frontline officers about the issue.

I guess it’s important to try to understand what spit hoods are designed for – why on earth they might be required in the first place – and the exceptional circumstances in which they might be used.

I have been a police officer for twenty-four years and, in that time, have worked alongside some fairly extraordinary people.

I have served with officers who have disarmed gunmen and those wielding swords and knives. I have worked alongside a PC who, a couple of years before, had been shot and left for dead by a drug dealer.

I have cradled the head of an officer who had been mown down by a stolen car.

I have served with officers who have suffered broken bones and who could show you any number of scars.

I have been hospitalised – needing stitches in my mouth – following an assault on duty.

I have worked with officers who have been spat at and who have faced the risk (and the fear) of serious illness as a consequence. I was taken to St Thomas’s for emergency treatment on the day a drug addict’s used hypodermic went into the palm of my hand. I understand the horrible – and seemingly interminable – wait for test results.

Some have suggested that this violence and the associated trauma is ‘just a part of the job’.

But that can never be so.

Thousands of police officers get assaulted in this country every single year. Some pay the greatest price of all. And that is just wrong. Deeply wrong.

I have said often that policing is the best job in the world. And it is. But it is also one of the most challenging.

God forbid that we ever take for granted the risks that officers face on our behalf.

Which brings me back to spit hoods.

It strikes me that, in life, it is so much easier to declare what we are against than it is to explain what we are for.

Those protesting against the use of spit hoods are absolutely within their rights to do so. In fact, I would defend passionately their right to do so.

But, alongside the exercise of that right, those same people also have a responsibility: to suggest credible and viable alternatives – and, in doing so, make clear that spitting blood, phlegm and goodness knows what else at police officers has no place in a civilised society.

The police service in this country has any number of faults and flaws. But it is made up of some of the finest and bravest people you could ever hope to meet.

More so now than ever, they need and deserve our support.


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.