On Sunday 4th October 2015, PC Dave Phillips booked on for his final shift.
Back at home earlier on, he had said goodbye to his wife and two young daughters as he headed off into the night.
Before dawn the following morning, he was killed in the line of duty – mown down by the driver of a stolen vehicle.
On Sunday 11th October 2015, Garda Anthony Golden booked on for his final shift.
Back at home earlier on, he had said goodbye to his wife and three young children as he headed off into the unknown.
A handful of hours later, he was killed in the line of duty – gunned down at the scene of a domestic disturbance.
Twice in the space of seven days.
How can you even begin to comprehend, much less explain,
– the deathly knock on the door of a family home
– the whispered words to an unsuspecting wife
– the unfolding agony of unimagined grief
– the innocent faces of little lives changed forever
– the shattering effects on helpless colleagues
– the waking realisation of each subsequent morning
– the rolling waves of sadness that continue long after the world’s attention has moved on.
How can you even begin to describe the depth of their sacrifice.
I never had the privilege of meeting Dave Phillips or Anthony Golden. But I will always count it a privilege to have been their fellow officer.
There really is no other job that comes remotely close to policing.
There’s no other job – in this country at least – that comes close in terms of the everyday level of threat faced by frontline staff. Every single day, there are more than 60 assaults on police officers in England & Wales – somewhere in the region of 23,000 attacks every year. And each one of them remains an explicit terrorist target.
There’s no other job that comes close in terms of the everyday trauma that frontline staff are exposed to. Murder scenes and cot deaths; fatal accidents and terrorist executions; child abuse and domestic violence; decaying corpses and house fires. And so it goes on – police officers venturing where most wouldn’t and doing what most couldn’t.
There’s no other job that comes close in terms of the context in which police officers operate: at the margins of society; in the hurting places; in the face of confrontation and hostility and conflict; in the spaces between life and death; in defence of those who don’t want us, but still need us; in amongst the gangs and the troubled homes; in the streets where extreme poverty is a neighbour to extraordinary wealth. And something like 80% of calls to the police are about something other than crime.
There’s no other job that comes close in terms of the complexity that police officers are faced with: neighbourhoods with 200 mother tongue languages; demographic movement and change on an extraordinary scale – in a shrinking world, where global events have immediate local impacts; technological change at a headlong pace – and the endlessly shifting patterns of crime that follow. All in an age of austerity – with savings required on a scale without precedent.
There’s no other job that comes close in terms of the scrutiny that police officers are subject to: from politicians, from the media, from the IPCC, from the public we come into contact with – and from anyone with an opinion. It is absolutely right that we should be accountable – and absolutely right that we should be held to a higher standard. But the relentless hostility and uninformed agendas that characterise so much of the public conversation about policing can be breathtaking.
None of us is asking for sympathy. Just for some understanding.
Because we are all you have.
And we will not step back.
We will not shy away.
We will act to protect the most vulnerable.
We will pursue the most dangerous.
We will place ourselves in harm’s way.
We will do our duty.
And some of us, like PC Dave Phillips and Garda Anthony Golden, will pay the greatest price of all.
They are giants on whose shoulders we stand.
Rest peacefully mighty men.