Good Grief

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.

Good grief.

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?

Good grief.

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.

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23 thoughts on “Good Grief

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  1. Sir

    I’m now retired and on a brief exchange with the Taiwan Fire Brigade as part of a university degree I am undertaking. I explained your post to an officer in the Fire Brigade here and he and I exchanged thoughts on some of the tragedies we have experienced in our respective services and careers. Neither of us will ever reach the degree of eloquence that you bring to your writing, but it was obvious that despite working in different services on different continents we both felt the power of your words.

    I have read your posts for some while and can only commend you on your honesty and humanity. I never served with you before I left the Met for the counties, I suspect I would have found it a privilege to have done so.

    With genuine respect.

    Karl

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Well said sir. As soon as I read this on another website I suspected that it was authored by you. Very challenging and reflective piece. It reflects not only the reality of policing today but also the humanity and vulnerability of the officer, something that is all too often overlooked. I’m back in Scotland now but I still remember the FH days with affection. We were a good team under your leadership. All best wishes.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Perhaps you should get some counselling. And I mean that in a supportive manner, not as an insult.

    It’s clear that over a lifetime of policing you’ve seen the worst side of human nature. Of course, you have. Saying that a policeman has experienced some terrible things is almost like saying a gardener has seen a lot of plants.

    But please remember that (a) today’s world, at least in the UK, is no worse and actually a lot better than that of 50 years ago (I’m old enough to remember); and (b) the vast majority of people are good people, leading ordinary lives, caring for those around them everyday in a hundred different ways.

    And it’s because of people like you that they can do so.

    To you, and your fellow officers, I’d say… make a point of looking for the good things in life… You’ll soon find them.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Sir,

    Once again you have taken the enormous scope of tragedy and harshness which police officers experience and distilled it into an eloquent and powerful post. From a humble custody skipper, thanks for what you do.

    Best wishes.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. A very powerful piece, beautifully expressed. It would be so very sad though if it became all that a protector of out liberties could see. There are so many simple acts of human kindness out there as well as huge acts of heroism, not least amongst your ranks. Thank you for the work you do every day.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. Sir,

    I served at Camden with you as my borough commander. Because of your courage in writing this blog – telling it like it is – I decided to try my hand and gradually recount some of my own. I find it a useful way of expressing things that I can’t talk about very easily.

    Your post is especially apt this week. On Monday, we had a case where a male committed suicide with an angle grinder. On Friday, I had to split up a family and take a mother’s children into police protection – then arrest her. On Saturday, I attended a murder scene where the victim had been stabbed 20 times. Like you have done so many times, I watched him die on the floor of a supermarket right in front of me.

    I’ve seen suicides, arrested mothers and been to murders before, but each of these incidents has taken its toll on me this week. It’s a crushing emotional drain and I have to stay strong for my team, but this week its been hard to hold it together. I have to front up like everything is alright, but really it’s not underneath.

    Reading your blog reminds me that I’m not the only one who feels this way. Thankyou.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Please keep writing this important blog! Unless you do, people will never know what is it like – it is not the sort of thing that is allowed to be aired on TV without lots of scrutiny. Thank you for years of doing this important job too.

    Liked by 2 people

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