The painful privilege of policing is to see all of life – in all its vivid, unedited extremes.
And, after any length of time in this line of work, there might be a danger that you start to lose the capacity to be shocked; that having seen and heard so much, you somehow become immune to it all.
But that just can’t be so – and working life continues to throw up circumstances that leave you almost speechless.
A couple of years back – during my time as Southwark Borough Commander – local officers responded to allegations of a serious sexual assault on a teenage boy. He had been confronted by a suspect armed with a knife, demanding his mobile. On discovering that he had no phone, the assailant then forced him into the stairwell of a nearby block of flats. And raped him.
It happened in a public space in the plain light of day.
Within a very short space of time – and after some outstanding police work – the suspect was identified. He was aged 14.
A 14 year old child. Accused of raping a 13 year old child.
In the same week, officers in my previous Borough – Camden – were called to reports of a double shooting. One of the victims was an 11 year old girl.
These are events that ought to stop us in our tracks. But, do they?
Experience suggests that, whilst stories like these might trigger a round of hand-wringing and hope-less headlines, the world will move on – attention taken by something else. Difficult to maintain long term interest in circumstances for which there are no obvious quick fixes.
Perhaps I’ve seen too much…
The walkway where two young men were murdered – just a few feet apart and within the space of three months
The victim of a shooting – struggling for life on the floor of the Lighthouse Fish Bar
The innocent man killed by a teenage car thief – his body, now covered with a red blanket, lying in the middle of the road
The charred and unrecognisable body of an old lady in the aftermath of a house fire
The car on its roof, halfway down the Wandsworth Bridge Rd
The domestic murder victim, face down on the hallway floor
The sound of gunshots just a street away and the hand on my shoulder to tell me that all is not well
The heart-broken families of those who have gone
The staggering drunks and shuffling junkies
The desperate man, coated in blood, sawing with a knife at his own head and neck
The family home, with faeces on the floor and no kind of love
The police officers sitting, ashen-faced, trying to come to terms with the things they’ve had to deal with
I could go on…
What kind of a world is this that we are making for ourselves?
One where boys go out and rape girls and other boys?
One where children are shot in their homes?
One where women are traded and disposed of?
One where the greatest aspiration for a relationship is ‘one where he doesn’t hit you’?
One where Dads walk out – if they ever walked in to begin with?
One where gangs take the place of families?
One where rights matter more than responsibilities?
One where I would rather cross the road than be involved?
One where my comfort and convenience matters more than your aching need?
One where freedom of expression matters more than the protection of the innocent?
One where corruption seems endemic?
One where wealth and power matter more than compassion and love?
For the avoidance of misunderstanding, I should make clear that I’m speaking as much to myself as I am to anyone else. And something just has to change.
I am my brother’s keeper.
My sister’s too.