Misconduct & Mistakes

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It occurs to me that, from time to time, police officers make mistakes.

It also occurs to me that we live in a world that is increasingly unforgiving of them when they do.

There are, of course, any number of reasons why police officers might get it wrong:

(1) Because they are human

Though my wife comes close, I’ve yet to encounter an entirely perfect human being.

I’ve certainly never met a perfect police officer.

But I have known officers who make mistakes. I look at one in the mirror every morning before I go to work.

They make mistakes because they are tired; because they are stretched; because they are under pressure; because they aren’t in possession of all the facts; because their instincts have let them down on this occasion; because hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Because they are human.

(2) Because they operate in the hurting places

As I have observed before, police officers go where most wouldn’t and do what most couldn’t. It is a big part of what makes them so extraordinary.

And the places where they so often find themselves are characterised by hatred and harm, by trouble and trauma, by violence and sorrow and grief. In those places, they are compelled to make life and death decisions, within fractions of seconds, without anything approaching a full understanding of the circumstances they’re confronted with.

They face incredible personal risks in doing so.

Sometimes they make the wrong call.

(3) Because everything can’t be a priority

These days, there is more police work to be done than there are police officers to do it. And the job is becoming more complex and more demanding all the time.

But everything can’t be a priority.

While we concentrate our efforts and attention on protecting the most vulnerable and pursuing the most dangerous, it is just possible that other, less important things, will have to wait.

But someone, somewhere will always believe we’ve got it wrong – that there are other things that ought to have been higher up our list. Sometimes, they will be right.

(4) Because policing doesn’t happen in isolation 

The police service will always be the agency of first and last resort. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But we are just one part of an endlessly complex statutory (and non-statutory) jigsaw. The young man we arrested this morning is the same one that Social Services are concerned about. He already has a Drugs Worker and needs to see his CAMHS counsellor in between appointments at the Youth Offending Service.

Cuts to the services provided by a number of those partner agencies have widened the gaps that he can fall through.

And, between us, we don’t always get it as right as we should.

(5) Because of organisational failings

Sometimes, police officers make a mistake as a consequence of failings on the part of the wider service.

Perhaps we haven’t provided them with the right leadership and direction.

Perhaps we have focused so much on hitting targets that we have failed to appreciate the importance of things that can’t necessarily be measured.

Perhaps we have provided kit or training that isn’t up to scratch. Or we haven’t provided it at all.

Perhaps it’s us who have let them down.

 


 

Sometimes police officers make mistakes.

When we do, we need to say sorry.

We also need to acknowledge that the consequences of those mistakes – for victims, for witnesses, for suspects, for wider society – can be disproportionately damaging. That is perhaps an inevitable consequence of the place that policing occupies in the world.

But the way in which the rest of us respond to the making of those mistakes is critical – not least in determining whether we stand any chance of getting it right next time.

And I’m just not comfortable with the way things are at the moment.

We live in times when the ferocious combination of media hostility, political demand, one-eyed external scrutiny and the baying of social media hounds leaves little room for consideration, balance or perspective.

In the headlong rush to apportion blame, how can any of us be expected to learn from the things we get wrong?

Because mistakes and misconduct are not the same thing. Not remotely the same.

Misconduct is the preserve of:

  • the lazy
  • the unprofessional
  • the corrupt
  • the criminal

And police officers who display any of those characteristics have nothing in common with the vast majority of good coppers I’ve worked alongside for the best part of 25 years.

The lazy and the unprofessional need to get their act together. If they can’t or won’t, they need to go. This job matters far too much to be done by people who don’t care.

When it comes to the corrupt and the criminal, the message is clear: They have no place among us.

Actually, they belong in jail.

At the same time, every good Copper (and there are thousands of them) needs our support as never before. And they deserve far better than to be hung out to dry for doing their jobs. When they make an honest mistake – having acted honourably and with the best of intentions – they should be supported by us and allowed to learn from the experience, without being damned in the court of ill-informed opinion.

They do a job that is beyond the experience and understanding of most of us. They do it with courage and decency and patience and good humour.

And, as they venture into the hurting places, they need to know that we have their backs.

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23 thoughts on “Misconduct & Mistakes

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  1. As always, you describe the situation so well. “They make mistakes because they are tired; because they are stretched; because they are under pressure; because they aren’t in possession of all the facts; because their instincts have let them down on this occasion; because hindsight is a wonderful thing.” can be applied to a number of professions (including teaching) operating in a society where the general public believe they are the pipers calling the tune. I enjoy your measured expression and feel sure your colleagues must be glad to have you among them.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Just once, yes once, in my 30 years I was fortunate to work in an environment that did not embrace the Blame Culture. I could comfortably go to my DCI, tell him how I’d ****ed up and yes I would be admonished, but in a positive way and then sent off to put it right. It did. Not lead to me becoming blasé because I could get away with anything, it led to me feeling more comfortable, more confident and generally performing better

    Liked by 3 people

  3. There are huge grey areas, too. As an example, how about somebody responding to a call on blues, a little too eagerly, and has a crash. What if they’re convicted of dangerous driving? What if it’s worse and they kill someone and are then jailed? Perhaps that person is unsuitable to be a police driver ever again. Bit would it automatically render them unsuitable to perform and of the duties of a constable?

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I always find it so inspiring to read your comments and thoughts. I had the privilege of working with you and I found you the most honest, caring and compassionate member of SLT I have ever worked with. So thank you and please don’t stop your supportive posts. They mean an awful lot to an awful lot of officers.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. The confusion for bobbys on the beat is when ACPO rank and above make mistakes or misconduct they are allowed to resign and slope off.

    Like

  6. A masterpiece, pure and simple!

    Dear colleague, your intention was of course to describe the reality of being an UK copper.

    I believe your description to be accurate for law enforcement pretty much all over the world today.

    I know it fits the bill for us within the Swedish Police!

    Thank you for your way with words. I will share your text.

    Happy, peaceful, holidays!!

    /Peter

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I have pulled dead, mangled bodies from cars. I have lied to people as they were dying. I said you are going to be fine as I held their hand and watched the life fade out. I have held dying babies. I’ve bought lunch for people who were mentally ill and haven’t eaten in a while. I have had people try to stab me. Fought with men trying to shoot me. Been attacked by women who have had the shit kicked out of them by their husband as I was arresting him. I have held towels on bullet wounds. Done CPR when I knew it wouldn’t help just to make family members feel better. I have torn down doors, fought in drug houses. Chased fugitives though the woods. I have been in high speed car chases. I have been squeezing the trigger about to kill a man when they came to their senses and stopped. Waded through large angry crowds by myself. Drove like a mad man to help a fellow officer. Let little kids who don’t have much sit in my patrol car and pretend they are a cop for their birthday. I have taken a lot of people to jail. Given many breaks. Prayed for people I don’t even know. Yes and at times I have been violent when I had to be. I have been kind when I could. I admit I have cried by myself when I was overwhelmed. I have missed Christmas and other holidays more than I wanted too. Every cop I know has done all these things and more for low pay and ridiculous hours. We’re human, we love people and we ask for your respect.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Why can’t all senior officers have this view?
    Having left the Met this year, I look back at the instutionalized bullying culture with senior officers trying to make a name for themselves. Investigations that are floored from the start with oppressive interviews. It’s not a career and I’m glad I left.

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  9. Well I wish some of that common sense thinking was employed at my misconduct hearing. i was booted for something that was none of the above and I believe it was done to further the career of other officers wanting to make a name for themselves. The threshhold is 50% though and I believe it should be higher for police misconduct cases.

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  10. Once again John, a masterful piece. Thank you for giving voice to the reality of policing. My former colleagues (I’ve been retired for 12 years now) deserve understanding, support and above all respect for the unbelievably difficult job they do. I will do everything in my power to ensure that ‘power’ as in HMG and the Media are made aware of the truth. Not an easy task because,sadly, I genuinely believe that by and large they are simply not interested. We must, however, keep talking and keep trying. Thanks again John and a very happy Christmas to you and yours.

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  11. I am a member of the public and i remember when we had enough police officers to have a police Pact every month we got to know our local police officers saw them in the area and attending Pact meetings we knew just what went on in our area, now the area they cover is a lot larger and we only see one every 3 months at the township Area Forums a quick up date and they are gone i think the cuts have gone too far and as my daughter was a police officer i know how hard the job is and how dedicated you have to be for the job. I get so angry when things are reported in the press and officers get a bad right up and it is never reported about all the good that is done.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. I am so glad I came across this post. Wonderfully written, caring, so human and puts a reality and life behind the badge that so many just don’t see. You are right, the pay stinks, and most could not do the job as it must be done from the hurting place, and the hurt you see daily is unimaginable I am sure! I am grateful to know there are people like you doing this job and I thank you for taking what little time you have to write so beautifully.

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  13. I would like to see officers that are dismissed because they made a mistake keep their pension rights. It should be enough that they have lost their income and may have a criminal record, but to lose some thing which they have purchased is fundamentally wrong. Some officers lose their jobs because of false allegations which are believed by the PSD or IPCC.

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  14. Very well put John; I often work alongside the police as I’m a senior nurse in mental health liaison at a general hospital. We’re often blamed and accused of not doing our jobs properly, particularly if people make the tragic decision to end their own lives despite our best efforts. All the best and keep up the blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. I am in the process of making Police Scotland and COPFS aware of and to accept mistakes they made regarding charging me with assault when I stopped a prisoner in custody from killing himself. The prisoner was crouched down and trying to strangle himself, so I pushed him off balance onto the cell mattress with my foot, so he let go himself without any struggle. He was uninjured (apart from the self inflicted marks around his neck) and he made no complaint. I was shown the technique of pushing off balance very early in my career by an older cop when he stopped a prisoner from strangling himself. I have used it successfully on a number of occasions. I want answers as to why it was suddenly considered to be an assault. I was found not guilty at my trial, but left the job out of disgust when I found I was eligible for early retirement.

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