Soldiering and Coppering are not the same thing – though there are certain common threads that might be drawn from the lives of police officers and military personnel. Beginning with the courage, compassion and simple humanity that characterises the best of them.
Soldiers (and sailors and the men and women of the RAF) are heroes – regarded as such by the vast majority of decent, law-abiding people.
They are recognised and celebrated as men and women who are prepared to risk their lives in the service of their country – and who, on far too many occasions, pay that greatest price.
Those who make it home from foreign fields are honoured and admired as men and women who carry their scars – seen and unseen – and to whom we owe a very considerable debt of gratitude.
We roar our support for injured veterans at the Invictus Games and we understand better than ever before that the incomprehensible trauma of the battlefield can leave wounds of a kind that won’t be fixed with bandages and surgery.
In the last decade or so, visible and vocal support for ‘our boys and girls’ has grown very significantly, not least through the work of remarkable charities such as Help for Heroes and the Royal British Legion.
And this is despite the fact that, in recent years, those same boys and girls have fought in arguably the two most unpopular wars in modern history.
It is also in spite of the alleged failings – past and present – of the military as an institution: allegations of racism and sexism, of bullying and organisational incompetence.
It is also in spite of the alleged failings of certain individual soldiers: accusations of serious criminality and all manner of personal misconduct.
Despite these troubling realities (and without, in any sense, backing away from them), the balance of the public story told about the military remains overwhelmingly positive.
And that is exactly as it should be.
Because the vast majority of them are heroes, who should never be defined solely by the sins (past or present) of the minority – or of the institution to which they belong.
Goodness knows where we’d be without them.
Police Officers are heroes too.
They are men and women prepared to risk their lives in the service of their communities and who – on occasions – pay that greatest price.
They are men and women who carry their scars – seen and unseen – and to whom we owe a very considerable debt of gratitude.
And yet, as a society, we don’t seem to regard them in the same way that we (quite rightly) regard the heroes of the Army, Navy and Air Force. The story being told about policing in this country is a very different one.
As I have suggested before, there are times as a serving police officer in this country when I just want to bury my head in my hands: Stephen Lawrence, Hillsborough, G20, Plebgate – and every other case that has caused even good people to question us.
And we have no one to blame but ourselves.
But we do a spectacular disservice to the vast majority of our police officers and staff if we allow these to remain the only stories being told – if we fail to correct the imbalance in the narrative.
Because not all police officers are racist. Or corrupt. Or incompetent.
In fact, the vast majority of those I’ve worked with – for almost a quarter of a century now – are anything but. They are undeniably human and they make all sorts of mistakes, but most of them are heroes.
There are all sorts of reasons why we might view soldiers and coppers differently.
Wars are fought in faraway places – far beyond the view and experience of most of us. Policing happens right in front of us. The need to deploy into war zones is never constant – but the need to patrol the streets is. Few, if any, of us have encountered a soldier in an operational setting, but most of us will have a first or second-hand story to tell involving a police officer. We don’t tend to read major news stories about the military every single day, but policing is rarely out of the headlines – and the reporting is rarely positive. And, of course, Police Officers don’t generally face the daily threat of roadside bombs in unknown lands. But each of them is now an explicit terrorist target.
Soldiering and Coppering are not the same thing. And I wouldn’t dream of suggesting they were.
But it seems to me that there is much to learn from the way that we, as a society, regard our military personnel.
Because Police Officers are heroes too. And we need to be a whole lot more proud of the remarkable men and women who stand on the thin blue line.