Or, perhaps the title should read, ‘The State of the Police’…
We need to talk about morale.
A couple of weeks back, I wandered into the canteen at Scotland Yard and spotted a former colleague from one of my old Boroughs. He was tucked away in the far corner – over by the drinks machines – staring intently at a weighty-looking book that was open on the table in front of him.
Studying for promotion maybe.
I walked over to say hello and have a catch up. I don’t know him well, but he’s one of the good guys – now working in a specialist unit at the Yard.
He was well in himself – but, evidently, all was not well with work.
And he wasn’t cramming for an exam or an interview board. He was reading a plumbing manual.
With a rueful smile, he told me that he was thinking seriously about moving on. The problem wasn’t his current role. The problem was policing.
He just wasn’t sure it was for him any more.
We talked about how things seem to be at the moment. We agreed that all is not well.
And we need to read the signs.
Earlier this year, the Police Federation published the results of its latest staff survey – based on responses from more than 32,000 police officers. The numbers aren’t pretty.
Over 96% of officers stated that morale in policing is low.
Now, Coppers have always liked to have a good moan – have always been inclined to find the grey wisp of cloud in an otherwise clear, blue sky. There’s a phrase that’s been doing the rounds for as long as any of us can remember. If you’ll pardon the vernacular, it goes like this:
‘The Job’s F***ed’
I heard it in my first few weeks as a PC. I suspect they were saying it in 1829.
Truth is, most of the moaners really love what they do – and wouldn’t dream of doing anything else. This is, after all, the best job in the world – and they are the heroes and heroines who police our streets.
Something feels markedly different at this particular moment in time – certainly different to anything I’ve experienced in the last two decades and more.
It is now our very best people who are speaking up: discreetly, professionally, constructively – but with immense concern. These are the people who care deeply about policing – about the public we serve and those we serve alongside. These are the people who are saying that all is not well.
I am saying that all is not well.
No one in society benefits when a critical public service has got its head down.
In a recent newspaper article, Will Hutton drew a current parallel between policing and the medical & teaching professions. He spoke about,
‘A collapse in morale… a storm warning that should be heeded.’
And we need to read the signs.
But why is this important?
Because we are – and always will be – the agency of first and last resort. We are – and always will be – found amongst the broken glass, the broken lives, the broken limbs and the broken homes. We are – and always will be – the thin blue line.
Who else are you going to call?
And there are other reasons why it’s important – not least of which is the impact all of this is having on police officers themselves. I know of more people operating under significantly more pressure and strain than at any previous point in my career. These are my colleagues. These are my friends.
All of the best of us have, over the course of our policing lives, worked endless hours that we’ve not been paid for; have come in on our rest days to get things done; have taken leave instead of going sick; have missed countless family occasions; have found ways to make the Job work; have determined to do our duty and do it well.
But everyone has their limits. And everyone has their breaking point.
This is becoming more and more apparent in a context of challenge and change that is entirely without precedent. Chief Constables and Commissioners are speaking out. Officers on the frontline have been doing so for some time.
And we need to listen.
Because policing still matters more than I can say…
– for the wounded victim
– for the grieving mother
– for the missing child
– for the fearful survivor
– for the sister seeking justice
– for the drowning man
– for the desperate and the stumbling
– for the endless lost souls
– for any one of us at any moment in time
And it still matters to those of us who do it.
It is still – and always will be – the best job in the world. It is privilege to do what we do: to stand in the hurting places and to make a difference – sometimes all the difference in the world. And I will never give up on hope.
But we need to read the signs.
The ones telling us that all is not well.