Yesterday, I sat down and had a conversation with another Met PC who is thinking about moving on. He’s got seven years’ service and loads to offer, but he had tears in is eyes as he told me he’d reached the conclusion that his future lies elsewhere.
Not that long ago, I had similar but separate conversations with two other PCs – excellent officers from different Met Boroughs – who were leaving the Job long before their time. There was nothing I could do to change their minds.
And we need to read the signs.
I still think this is the best job in the world – and unequivocally one of the most important – but I also recognise that, in the view of many officers, all is not well with policing at the moment.
It’s not that they have stopped caring (completely the opposite in fact), it’s just that many of them are wrestling with how the Job seems to be – at least, from where they’re standing.
It’s the result of a collision of circumstances, the compound effect of a succession of challenges. The list is a familiar one: pay and pensions and promotion opportunities and operational demand and hostile criticism and endless change that doesn’t always appear to be for the better. No one is asking for sympathy (these are first world problems after all), but there needs to be an acknowledgement that these things have an impact on our people in a thousand different ways.
Policing is, for me, an affair of the heart and the soul – more art than a science; an imperfect response to an imperfect world.
But it matters.
Dear God, it matters.
Earlier this year, a PC in Sheffield was repeatedly attacked by a suspect armed with an axe. She suffered a fractured skull, a broken leg and lost a finger in the frenzied assault. The following day, a Met PC had his leg shattered as he attempted to deal with a suspect vehicle. A few days earlier, a friend and colleague of mine was chasing a man who pulled a gun on him and opened fire. The suspect missed and the officer survived.
And still their colleagues take the calls.
We need to understand why Police Officers do what they do – the thing that clever people refer to as the psychological contract that exists between them and the rest of us.
When officers went down into the tunnels on 7/7, they didn’t do it because we paid them to. They did it because duty compelled them to.
When officers confront the armed and the dangerous, it isn’t because we tell them to. They do it because courage demands they do.
When officers sit and comfort the broken and the grieving, it isn’t because performance targets require them to. They do it because compassion urges them to.
When officers risk everything to save the life of a complete stranger, it isn’t in the expectation of thanks or reward. They do it because simple humanity would never have it otherwise.
When officers take a deep breath, dust themselves down and go again; when they put themselves in harm’s way; when they work every hour in impossible circumstances; when they confront the unthinkable and face up to the unimaginable…
…They do it for reasons that you could never put a price on – but that we cannot, under any circumstances, afford to be without.
Policing needs reforming – in endless different ways. But any and every change has got to be founded on the best of what – or, rather, who – we are.
Because the best of who we are is the best that people can be.