Following publication of my first ‘Police State’ blog yesterday, one reader challenged me – not unreasonably – to suggest what I think should be done in response to my concerns about the state we’re in.
What might be done about police morale?
What might be done about police reform?
What might be done to ensure that we are able to serve our communities to the very best of our abilities?
Here are a handful of thoughts.
They represent very much a personal view – so feel free to add any of your own at the bottom of the page…
(1) A relentless and unashamed celebration of the everyday heroism of the people who police our streets.
Most Police Officers are extraordinary.
Extraordinary people doing extraordinary things.
Police Officers save people’s lives every single day: victims of crime; drivers of cars; sufferers of heart attacks; drowners in rivers; those on the edge.
Police Officers put themselves in harm’s way every single day: confronting men of violence; pursuing gun-wielders and those carrying knives; entering burning buildings; stepping into the hurting places.
Some pay the greatest price of all.
Police Officers catch criminals every single day: murderers; rapists; traffickers of women; abusers of children; perpetrators of domestic violence; exploiters of the elderly; dealers in wickedness of every kind.
Police Officers make the difference every single day.
And we should celebrate them with every breath we have.
Not long ago, I had a conversation with a prominent national journalist and was struck by a question they posed:
‘Who is standing up for policing in this country?’
It was rhetorical. But their belief was clear…
No one is.
Actually, I think there are some good people prepared to stand up for us – inside and outside ‘the Job’ – but I understand the point made. Theirs aren’t the voices that tend to be heard – and the prevailing public narrative about policing remains hostile.
So it falls to us to tell the stories of our colleagues: stories of breathtaking courage; stories of endless compassion; stories to make you laugh and make you cry.
I for one will never grow tired of telling the tales of the remarkable people who serve on the thin blue line.
(2) It’s people, stupid
People need to be front and centre in absolutely everything we do.
The people we serve – and the people we serve alongside.
The rest is just noise.
(3) A time for honest, grown up conversations
We need to have an honest, grown up conversation about priorities.
There are some things we will always do – the things that have to matter most. And our decisions have to be based on risk & harm: protecting the most vulnerable and confronting the most dangerous.
But there are many things we will have to do differently – and there are some things we will have to stop doing altogether.
Because everything can’t be a priority.
Then we need to have an honest, grown up conversation about what might be called ‘the disease of short-termism’.
Policing operates at the margins of society. Most of what we deal with is neither simple nor straightforward.
Terrorism; Violence in the Home; Gangs; Knife Crime; Trafficking; Missing Persons; Mental Health.
The list goes on.
None of these is going to be resolved in the space of the next twelve months. Professional experience suggests that nothing of significance ever will.
But that isn’t how it seems to play out in practice. For all our best intentions, in this relentless world of ours, the endless demands for a solution by next April (or, better, by next Friday) mitigate against any kind of sustained, effective intervention on the issues that count.
As I overheard someone saying not too long ago,
“Doing the wrong thing faster won’t get the right thing done”
And we need to have honest, grown up conversations about crime.
Reported crime has been falling for some time.
But it’s the unreported that bothers me – the hidden horrors beyond common view.
My professional experience is that, the more vulnerable a victim, the more likely it is that a crime will go unreported.
These are the things that ought to keep us awake at night.
(4) An acceptance of the fact that the police service might just benefit from some reform
Not all reform is bad reform.
Actually, I would describe myself as a reformer.
By which I mean:
(a) I care passionately about policing and about its role in society;
(b) I care passionately about the people who do the job;
(c) I care passionately about the public we serve.
I want us to be the best that we can be.
And, we would have to accept that we have made any number of mistakes – some of them catastrophic – and that there are some things we’ve just not been very good at.
I’ve never met a right-minded cop who thinks we’re fine just as we are.
But we also need to understand – and be honest about – the new economics of austerity.
Saving money and reforming policing are not necessarily the same thing.
(5) Rethinking Training
Police training should be the very best there is.
It should be innovative, dynamic, inspiring and rooted in operational realities.
It needs to be seen as an investment, not a cost.
There is a desperate need for us to reinvest in our most important resource – our people.
(6) Less Management, more Leadership
Actually, you need both.
But now is the time for Leaders – at every level of policing. Because we are facing challenges the like of which we haven’t seen for more than half a century.
Of all people, it was Napoleon who said:
‘Leaders should be dealers in hope.’
For some, that hope has seemed in short supply of late.
(7) Understanding Culture
Talk of police culture tends to end up as a conversation about the negative. And there are undoubtedly things that need challenging and changing.
But, generally, my experience is of something other.
My experience is of the things you cannot put a price on – but that we cannot be without: things like that precious and old fashioned thing called duty…
There is so much more that might be said – and so much more that should be done.
But we need to start somewhere.