When I was a PC


When I started out as a PC in the early 1990s, things were a little different to the way they are now.

I handwrote my first crime reports on large sheets of colour-coded paper and filed them in binders in the CID office.

I prepared my warrant applications on an antique typewriter – one of those dusty old machines with raised keys and a carriage return lever.

I had a pair of chain link handcuffs.

There were fewer specialists and more officers on response teams.

There was less driving and more walking. I learned my beats and discovered where the best tea holes were.

There was a lot more overtime – with many more people willing and available to work it. In fact, it was names in the hat pretty much every time.

There was less bureaucracy and, outside of the Control Room, not a computer in sight.

Cybercrime was just a made up word.

I wasn’t faced with a succession of performance targets that made little sense – and almost no difference to the lives of those we served. I was simply expected to work hard.

Whilst the IRA was still active on the mainland – with sometimes devastating consequences – I wasn’t an explicit target for international terrorists intent on mass murder.

9/11 hadn’t happened. 7/7 hadn’t happened. Syria hadn’t happened. Paris and Nice hadn’t happened. The globalisation of terror was still to come.

There was no 24-hour rolling news and no constant second guessing of operational decision-making from the comfort of a television studio.

I was well paid, with an assortment of allowances that topped up my salary and helped to make ends meet. I had regular pay rises and, by the time I’d finished my first two years, plenty of future promotion opportunities.

I was able to buy my first flat – a two bed place on the edge of Brixton – for £65,000. It was expensive but, provided I was careful with my money, it was affordable on a PC’s wage.

My pension was secure and guaranteed.

There was a balance to be found between duty and downtime. Some of us were even given time to play job sport during working hours.

I loved it.

But, before I’m accused of a selective rewriting of history, I ought to point out that it wasn’t all sepia-tinged perfection.

I had no body armour. Nobody had ever heard of CS spray or Taser. My wooden stick was useful only for breaking windows when someone had collapsed behind a locked front door. And there was no emergency button on my personal radio.

We were still faced with criminals capable of unimaginable wickedness and human sorrow of every kind.

The Met itself had any number of serious faults and flaws. It was less open, less accountable and less tolerant. I was a victim of homophobia inside the police station during my probation.

And we were still to be found out by the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry.

Some changes in the last twenty-five years have been very much for the better (and we’re not done yet).

But still, policing seemed simpler when I started out. Life in general seemed to be a little more straightforward.

There was no internet. No mobile phones. No anonymous vitriol on social media. No global financial crisis or new economics of austerity. No so-called Islamic State.

And perhaps there are occasions when those of us in positions of leadership and responsibility need to be reminded that, these days, life as a PC or DC is not quite as we remember it.

The fundamental nature of the job hasn’t changed in the best part of 200 years: it’s still about saving lives and finding the lost and protecting the vulnerable and confronting the dangerous.

But, in endless other ways, things aren’t quite what they used to be.







13 thoughts on “When I was a PC

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  1. When I joined in the noughties stab vests were optional and Taser was a word none of us had heard of.

    9/11 had not long happened but the spectre of radical Islamic terrorism had yet to reach out shores.

    Response teams were flush with Bobbies and you actually got to be proactive.

    In 14 years we have seen consecutive governments gut the world’s greatest Police Force……but we, the thin blue line soldier on.

    We will continue, and things will get better. I have to believe that otherwise what’s the point.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Fascinating blog entry, John. I am not a police officer, but I follow your blog with interest.

    I think all of us, whatever our job, can be guilty of looking at the past through rose-tinted glasses. Some things were better in the past within certain roles, other things were not. One can apply that to life, too. Some folk may talk about a time when certain things were better – i.e. job security and opportunities to get on the housing ladder – but there are some things which were worse decades ago, i.e. certain illnesses couldn’t be treated as well, air travel was for the rich, etc.

    No decade, and no job, has a monopoly on being all good or all bad.

    Glad you don’t use typewriters, though. Annoying things (but they had a certain charm!).

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There are other more detrimental changes John. Among them:
    The dominance of managers over natural leaders.
    The complete loss of empathy and consideration of welfare for the troops.
    The emergence of bullying as the principal method of securing complance.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Sir you have a way with words better than many who try to encapsulate what the British police service stands for.
    I enjoy your words of wisdom and true leadership qualities you must be a joy to work for.Please keep your views coming they are a vital factor in replenishing my soul to continue working in the criminal justice system. Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Mrs Thatcher had only just started the transition to a corporate-led deregulated free-trade society intended to benefit the few at the top, so yes, I imagine that change has trickled down into all corners of life by now (unlike wealth), including the police – so less public guardians, more careerists/suits.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Very poignant John

    What I can remember of being a PC in DODG days! (Lamp swinging out of control)

    I joined the “Force” in the early 60s and things were a lot different. There were still PC War Reserves pounding the beat.

    Uniformed officers were not allowed anywhere near a crime book and only admitted to the smoke filled darkened CID office on invitation (security purposes!). PCs barely wrote anything except in pencil in their pocket books. When even the most minor of crime was reported to a PC he would respectfully present himself to the 1st Class Detective Sergeant (yes it was the Met) who would sit magisterially at his desk and record the details, with much flourishing of his fountain pen, in the huge crime book. Woe betide you if any points were not covered and if you lacked a bit of instantaneous imagination you’d be sent out again to establish the required details.

    Typewriters were in existence but only used by PCs when completing prisoner’s forms (74) although at quiet times that was done by a PC Gaoler. Warrant applications were a definite no no for “helmets.” Handcuffs were in real short supply and rarely needed in any event.

    There were barely any “specialists” apart from CID, Mounted and Women Police at stations. All others at Scotland Yard. The response team was a 3 man Area car, driver, RT operator and plain clothed observer strictly prohibited to anyone under 2 years service except on big occasions “up town” like Churchill’s funeral. Any back up was supplied by a van, collecting beat PCs en route, the General Purpose Hillman vehicle (when not commandeered by the Supt) and the Inspector’s (Duty Officer) Hillman. Although I did get rescued once with a violent prisoner by the Div Surgeon driving his Jaguar and aided by the Section Sergeant.

    There was no driving just walking and in a nine week beat posting you got to know all the nooks crannies and hidey holes plus all the criminals who you would pester, often by just talking nicely to them, causing much curtain twitching. Criminals hated receiving mysterious summonses through the post citing traffic offences by vehicles they’d park a distance from their dens.

    There was little bureaucracy and most calls to police, many dealt with via a flashing police box, were “disturbances” which were later recorded as AQOA NCPA (work that one out).


    Problems on your beat were recorded in a ‘Parade Book’ (red book 40) and read out appropriately enough on Parade which started 15 minutes BEFORE your duty started (later abolished after Pol Fed complaints). When I joined, the Station Superintendent (who was all powerful but not quite so influential as the DI) told me “If you see anybody doing anything wrong on the streets bring them into the station. My Sgts have instructions to charge them” Prisoners were dealt with very quickly and with little ceremony. Bail was only granted once strict home address enquiries had been done. There was huge emphasis on a police presence on the street and although the Area Car may have had a prisoner, one of the crew always kept a ‘radio watch.’ Personal radios were not in existence and the truncheon always remained secure in my pocket although the odd PC was a bit ‘stick happy!’

    There was no terrorism until late 60s. The war had only finished 20 years before and there was a prevailing sense of peace with a compliant supportive population who were rewarded with the coin of self esteem when they saw their criminal neighbours being robustly dealt with by police and courts.

    We were poorly paid until the mid 70s but life in a Section House as a single man amply met my needs. Overtime was readily available and virtually compulsory in the form of ARDs There was a pecking order though and probationers were at the bottom of it.

    Most of the rest is the same. Gay officers kept a low profile and there were quite a few. One of the best street cops I ever worked with was hounded out of the force by young PCs on my relief in the early 70s which was disgraceful.

    I only see policing from the outside now although I do have serving friends who tell me things which make me cringe. I part with John on the 200 years assertion. There has been much more change in the last 50 years than previously and I believe that there needs to be a massive rethink about what police are for.

    There is a huge absence of uniformed foot police on the streets and a huge dearth of police patrols and ‘traffic’ cars on major as well as minor roads. Govt blindly passes legislation which police are not able to enforce.

    With due deference to John who clearly has much respect and admiration from the ‘troops’ leadership in the police appears to be a dead duck. We had a joined up top down leadership whereby the Supt kicked the arses of the Inspectors and onwards to Sgts and PCs (in the nicest possible way!) I was frequently met on my beat by a Section Sergeant who would guide advise cajole and remonstrate accordingly. You would often see the Duty Officer on patrol either in his Hillman or very often on foot, so it was unwise to stray too far from your beat.

    To my mind there is too much emphasis on academia and not enough on practical policing. Too many senior officers, I am told, are too busy planning their career moves and covering their backs to concern themselves with what the public want and I am sure most cops want and that is more dialogue and Peelite exchange. It is a fallacy to say that boots on the ground are a waste of time and resources and the intrusion into people’s freedom of speech and social engineering is reprehensible and not what police are intended for.

    I have huge respect and admiration for much maligned modern day cops who work in a goldfish bowl being pulled from pillar to post and damned if they do and damned if they don’t, especially by insidious hacks and sententious politicians. Yes we got stick from the press and a small minority of politicos but that was generally for being too harsh with criminal prisoners.

    The streets were safe to walk though.

    Evenin’ all!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Sorry to keep swinging the lamp John but I meant to include the fact that as a probationer PC you would often find yourself in court the day after the arrest, defendant pleaded Not Guilty and you prosecuted, conducting cross examination.etc. Fantastic experience and confidence building.

    My info is that PCs today are terrified of going to court and giving evidence and are poor witnesses. I saw it myself recently at Coroner’s Court, probably the most relaxed of forums, where a PC with 5 years service, never given evidence before, told me he was terrified and demonstrated it when more or less just reading a statement and then answering straight forward questions.

    And as for the CPS!!! I really do struggle to see how things have got better in many areas especially when it’s clear that police are tying themselves in knots with political correctness.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. i think youlll find that the PC agenda is neither wanted nor appreciated, and if the police (and all other public services for that matter) are accepting/promoting/endorsing it then it is under duress from threat of what will happen if you fail to toe the PC line, rather than any sort of notion that it is intrinsically some sort of good idea for the benefit of society at large


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