On Tuesday 22nd November 2016, a Met police officer was stabbed three times in the stomach. He was one of four London-based officers injured in separate incidents on the same day. One PC had their hand broken, one was attacked with a hypodermic needle and another was punched in the face.
They were just doing their jobs.
Just doing their duty.
On the same day, a leading national charity – the Police Dependents’ Trust – released the results of their wide-ranging ‘Injury on Duty’ research. The headlines look like this:
– 10,987 serving UK officers and staff took part
– 81% stated that they had suffered at least one physical injury or mental health issue as a consequence of their police work
– 76% stated that this was in the past 5 years
– 45% stated they needed to take a week or more off work as a consequence
Let those numbers sink in.
The Police Federation for England & Wales estimates that there are more than 23,000 assaults on police officers every year. That’s one every 12 minutes.
Earlier in the year (during June and July 2016), the Federation ran their annual staff survey:
– 45,000 officers took part
– 68% of officers said that they don’t feel valued (despite the fact that 61% of them felt proud to be in the police)
– 56% said their own morale was low
– 93.5% said morale in the police service was low
– Only 17% felt that police officers are respected in society
– Just 13% would recommend joining the police
Whilst some of these figures actually represent a marginal improvement on 2015, they remain pretty sobering.
And these remain extraordinarily challenging times for policing.
So what do Coppers want?
I. To make a difference
Some things never change.
Ask most Coppers why they joined and the simple answer will be that they wanted to make a difference. The fact that it’s a well worn phrase doesn’t make it any less true. It’s the motivation of every good copper I’ve ever known – and I’ve known a great many of them.
Nobody joins the police to get rich.
Nobody joins to be famous.
Nobody joins to win first prize in a popularity contest.
Almost all of us, in our own unique ways, joined because we wanted to change the world
(OK, so driving fast cars had its attractions too).
Very little frustrates coppers more than the stuff that gets in the way of their ability to get on and do the job. It might be bureaucracy. Or buck-passing. Or politics. Or bad decision making. It might be any number of things.
Most Coppers just want to make a difference.
II. A Locker & a Radio
Most Coppers are straightforward souls.
Tell them where you need them to be and they will be there.
Tell them what you need them to do and they’ll get stuck in (with the occasional, obligatory grumble along the way).
Just give them the kit they need to get the job done.
Decent quality kit. Kit that works. Kit that protects them – and the public they serve.
They’d also quite like a kettle. And some forks.
III. World Class Leadership
Leadership. Not Management.
At every level of the police service.
Coppers want to be inspired.
They want leaders who are brave, who care, who aren’t just in it for themselves, who understand that everything can’t be a priority, who will stick around long enough to see the consequences of their actions – and who recognise that it’s people who matter most of all.
( You can find a few more thoughts on leadership here: https://policecommander.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/ten-thoughts-about-leadership/ )
IV. World Class Training
Coppers want great training.
Definitely not a series of hopeless powerpoint slides flickering on poor quality computer screens. Or the sort of tick box nonsense designed solely to offset some corporate liability. Or the kind of input that begins half-heartedly midway through the morning and runs out of steam shortly before lunch.
They want training of the standard we give to Firearms and Public Order officers; courses of the quality we deliver for Hostage Negotiators.
They want to know that we value them enough to give them the best.
V. To be defended & celebrated
Coppers want people – and their bosses in particular – to defend them.
Boldly, not blindly.
In a world where the story being told about policing is frequently hostile and damaging, this matters more than I can say.
They want an answer to the journalist’s question: Who is standing up for policing in this country?
When things go right, they want to hear the rest of us celebrating – loudly and unashamedly – the everyday heroism of the men and women who do this job.
And, when things go wrong, they want a fair and balanced hearing.
VI. Change that is for the better
This is a time of unprecedented change for policing.
Some of that change has been long overdue, irrespective of the financial context. But still, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that not all of it has been for the better.
For many Coppers, there has simply been too much, too quickly – and they feel left behind
They want to be able to draw breath, to understand the grand plan (the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’) and they want to be participants rather than just passive recipients of it all.
VII. A Simple Thank You
This remains a job like no other.
For the Copper who has been stabbed.
For the Copper at the scene of the cot death or the car crash.
For the Copper with a broken hand.
For the Copper standing in the hurting places.
For the Copper who has been up all night in the freezing cold and driving rain.
For the Copper suffering with PTSD, struggling to comprehend the things that have happened in the places where they’ve been.
For the Copper with the scars, seen and unseen.
In this often ungrateful world of ours, a simple thank you can still go a long way.