Every now and then, I stop to listen to what’s being said about policing in this country.
And, every now and then, it can start to sound a little like a variation on that tired old football chant:
‘You’re sh*t and you know you are…’
For some, it’s an accusation; for others a product of experience; for still others it’s a taunt.
In some instances, it’s just a lazy repetition of the noise of the crowd.
And the story becomes:
• The police are inept
• The police are racist
• The police are corrupt
• The police are untrustworthy
Well, sometimes we are – and some of us can be. Some of our failings have been catastrophic – and some of the consequences unthinkable.
Sometimes it’s an individual officer at fault; sometimes it’s the whole institution. And, either way, the responsibility for putting things right is ours and ours alone. We’ve still got a long way to go.
But it’s not the whole story. It’s not even most of the story.
There is more to be said.
In the vast majority of cases, the vast majority of the time, my experience of policing – and of the people who do this extraordinary job – bears little or no comparison with the sound coming from the terraces.
I am a Chief Superintendent, talking to one of the officers who was first on scene at Edgware Road on 7/7.
This is just a small piece of his story.
On that desperate morning, he was part of a three-man armed team, patrolling Central London.
The calls started coming thick and fast, to a number of locations – but with no clarity or certainty about what on earth was happening. The officers put up on the radio and volunteered to respond – but their offer was declined. They were told to continue with their pre-assigned duties.
That just didn’t feel right – and something told them that they should go all the same.
They arrived at the tube station and saw a deserted ambulance – back doors wide open – parked in the middle of the road. Then, dozens of members of the public, stumbling out of the station entrance, filthy and bleeding.
Whilst his two colleagues began immediate first aid with the people in front of them, this officer went in – went down onto the platform; down into the tunnel; down into hell.
He kept going through the darkness – until he found the blown out shell of the train.
Amongst all the carnage, he could hear someone moaning – one passenger who was still alive, amongst the bodies of those who didn’t make it.
The PC went no further. Here was a life to be saved. And he did his duty – in circumstances that are beyond imagining.
He improvised bandages from torn strips of clothing and, together with others, did what he could until further help arrived.
When later asked at the Inquest why he had gone down into the tunnels that day, he replied simply,
‘Because I was there’.
I doubt you’d recognise his name – and his story won’t have been told in too many places. But he is a hero of our time.
And he is one of many.
I’m a Chief Inspector at Hammersmith.
I’m talking to members of our Crime Squad – officers who have saved the life of a critically injured drug dealer.
Responding to a call, they find him lying in the street, bleeding heavily. He has been stabbed through the femoral artery and is in a very bad way.
But he is also a violent and dangerous man – and, unbelievably, he wants to fight with the very people who are trying to save his life.
It’s all he knows.
The officers do their duty and do it well. One of the PCs actually puts his foot right into the man’s groin in a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding.
The dealer survives. He lives to fight another day.
And he never says thank you.
I am the Borough Commander at Camden – privileged to be awarding Commendations to officers who were on duty during the London riots of 2011.
This is the story of just one of the teams – as told to me by their Inspector.
They were in a marked carrier – one of the hastily constituted ‘Reserve Serials’ being despatched across the Capital as the disorder worsened and spread. They get the call to go to Hackney.
An elderly lady has collapsed in the street – seen, I think, by the police helicopter hovering overhead. It’s all going off in the surrounding area – and she clearly needs urgent help.
Police carriers are usually lively places – full of banter and silliness. This one is silent, eyes fixed straight ahead. The instruction is passed from the Inspector to the driver:
‘Whatever you do, don’t stop moving’.
Feeling fear, but doing your duty all the same. Now that’s courage.
The old lady’s son goes out into the street to assist her – but is hit on the head by a missile thrown from who knows where.
Two innocent members of the public down.
The carrier gets through and the officers jump out to form a protective shield around the injured. Somehow – God knows how – they get the injured out of there without taking any casualties themselves.
Everyone can breathe again. Before they go again.
I am the Borough Commander at Southwark – talking to a PC who is being awarded an Assistant Commissioner’s Commendation.
This is why…
He and his colleague take a routine call to a disturbance at an address – the type of incident that, invariably, gets resolved without a second thought – on multiple occasions, every single day.
But this one is different.
On their arrival, the suspect turns violent. Astonishingly so.
He punches my PC so hard in the face that he breaks his jaw and knocks him out cold. As he regains consciousness, he sees that his colleague is also down – and that the suspect is now standing over her.
Not good. Not good at all.
In spite of horrendous injuries – and levels of pain that don’t bear thinking about – he picks himself up of the floor and hurls himself at the assailant. Somehow, the two officers hang on until the help arrives.
And, talking to him now, my words are wholly inadequate in recognisingwhat the two of them did that day
I could tell you endless stories…
And let me tell you what I see.
If you stand on the thin blue line, I’m talking to you.
You are brave and you are brilliant. You are capable and you are compassionate. You are fearless and you are funny. You are patient and you are professional. You are long-suffering and you are loyal. You are humble and you are humane. You are inspiring. You are extraordinary. You are the Everyday Heroes and Heroines who police our streets.
And I want you to know you are.