Allow me to introduce you to a colleague of mine, PC Ben Forbes. He’s a remarkable man.
A couple of weeks back, he emailed me his story and asked what I thought of it.
I told him it was powerful stuff – and that people should read it.
He asked me if I’d be willing to publish it.
So here it is. Have a read.
(You can find Ben on Twitter – @PCBenForbes)
A Copper’s Tale
Every police officer has their story – one that is unique and special to them. I wanted to take this opportunity to tell my story – and to explain how it has an impact on everything I do as a Police Officer. I also want to take this opportunity to talk about the vital importance of Partnership work in reducing crime and diverting young people away from damaging lifestyles.
We all have our stories – of lives lived and choices made; of choices made and paths taken; of the people we meet and the impact they have on us.
My story began in the East End of London 27 years ago. I was born to good parents in a difficult neighbourhood – an only child of mixed Caribbean and British heritage.
If you’d told me at the beginning that I would end up as a police officer, I’m not sure I would have believed you. But for the last three years, that’s exactly what I’ve been. And I love my job.
The thing is though, it might all have turned out so very differently.
Since I was a little boy, I have always been a huge fan of a TV series The Bill (I know right, how stereotypical can you get….). The production was filmed on my street for a number of years and, as a child, I used to love seeing police cars driving up and down and the mass number of people it would take to create.
It sparked my interest in becoming a Police Officer and, ever since those days, I have watched each episode of The Bill over and over again – much to the annoyance of my parents!
However, what I did not know whilst I was sitting at home watching Sergeant Smithy lead his troops into the field, was that one day, I would be a Police Officer in London and I would have the extraordinary responsibility of Protecting Life and Upholding the Law.
The Middle – the Flash Point
But the journey from then to now was far from straightforward. I struggled with life as a youngster in Inner London.
By the time I got to Secondary School, everything was up for grabs.
I didn’t have many friends starting with me – and no older brother or sister to walk and talk me through the change of environment and inevitable pressure that went with it.
So I decided to follow the kids who seemed to me to be the most popular. Standing in their shadows offered me a level of status and protection within the school but, in time, it would lead to all sorts of trouble – both with the school and with the police.
Throughout Years 7 to 9, I got into constant trouble with my teachers – ending up with a very high detention and exclusion rate. Following the malign example of some of the others, I started refusing to go to classes – and ended up being referred to the Inclusion and Behavioural Unit.
Choices and consequences. And I continued to make bad ones. I was repeatedly excluded and my increasingly aggressive behaviour prompted a referral to the Special Educational Needs Team.
I was offered numerous opportunities to go into educational and sport programmes – and the chance to get one-to-one support – but I turned them all down.
The reason for my refusal was twofold: fear and peer pressure. I had little or no self-belief and I feared that I wouldn’t have what it took to succeed. I also knew that if I willingly participated in these programmes, I would lose my standing within my chosen peer group and this would bring a wealth of problems for me in terms of protection, support and belonging.
Time passed and, one evening after school, I was told by one of my so-called friends to meet on a nearby road as they had issues with a gang of boys. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of a large group fight – one that might have ended in any number of ways.
The next day, the local Police Partnership Team came to our school and I was summoned to the Head Teacher’s Office. I was told I had been identified as one of the group involved in the fight.
I remember to this day the fact that the police officer took the right approach with me. He was calm and balanced, but firm too. He could see that I was vulnerable – and he recognised the fact that I needed support to get out of this lifestyle. Before it was too late.
But initially, I refused to engage with him – even to speak to him. After a few minutes of silence; he said to me that he would be coming back to the school the next week to see how I was getting on.
The following day, I was approached by one of my teachers and offered the chance to go on an external sports project. I knew the Watersports Centre very well – it was local to me and I had been there a number of times with my friends.
For the first time, I agreed to take part in an opportunity being offered to me. I suppose it sparked my interest. The Centre was somewhere I really enjoyed going to – but this was the first time someone had recognised and understood what I loved doing.
And everything began to change.
Once there, I was mentored, trained and coached by the Kayak Staff. I was then given a rare opportunity to become a Trainee Instructor – and to develop this over a number of years after I left school.
So to the golden question – why did I finally change?
It had everything to do with people believing in me – seeing beyond my behaviour and recognising my potential.
I always had belief and support from my family but, for some reason, I was craving it from someone totally independent. I needed someone who would empower me, help me to recognise and believe I was good at something – someone I could look up to and aim to be like.
I started to pick up Kayaking very quickly and was progressing through the qualifications needed for me to be able to turn this sport into something which would allow me to make money, a career.
Over time, I progressed from total novice to a professional coach. Seeing, feeling and experiencing this progression gave me more motivation not to go back to my old ways and to keep on this new path.
As I got settled into my new career and found my feet, I discovered that the opportunity I had been given was all put together by the Police Officer from the Partnership Team – together with my teachers who put the leg work in to convince the local authority to offer me a chance. Without strong Partnership working between the numerous agencies, bodies and individuals, none of it would have been possible.
Partnership has been at the forefront of most successes I have ever witnessed or been involved in.
This was extremely impactive on me. It was like a lightbulb being switched on. After starting out at the Watersports Centre, my behaviour, interests, passions and ambitions totally changed. With support of my new colleagues and family, I made the decision to change my ways and my friendship circles completely. This afforded me the opportunity to start afresh and build a respectable and professional career and lifestyle.
Of course, it hasn’t all been easy or straightforward. There have been all sorts of challenges along the way:
- Core Skills – It was very clear that due to my behaviour in school, I was not up to the educational standards I needed to be – in terms of reading and writing and general ability and knowledge. I was supported by my previous Youth Worker, Support Worker and Teachers in self-learning the core fundamental skills I needed in order to be successful in the transition from a teenager to a professional.
- Belief – At times some of my colleagues would ask me about my previous experience (lacking) and my background (negative) and they would brandish me with a failure brush. It is very hard to keep positive and motivated when people seem not to believe in you, even if it is only a select few.
- Temptation – Even after removing myself from my previous circle, my old friends would not easily let me go. Why would they, when they had someone who used to do what they wanted at a click of a finger. It was very challenging not to give in to the temptation of returning to my old ways and getting involved in criminality – not least because of the offer of easy money.
- Having Faith – For me, this was the hardest challenge to overcome. I had a lot of self-doubt and always questioned: “Am I good enough?”, “Am I doing a good job?” and “Am I accepted?”
The message within this blog, within my story – and the key piece of the puzzle to any success I have achieved – is Partnership.
If it wasn’t for the partnership of the Police, School, Local Authority, Youth Centre, Watersports Centre and, most importantly; each person involved in my journey, then I would hate to think where I would be now.
Well, truthfully, I do know. I would be partaking of Her Majesty’s hospitality. Or worse.
Partnership is not just a phrase we use in the Police. It is a belief, a passion and – most importantly – it is a collective of people coming together for one goal.
The challenge with Partnership, especially within the Police Service, is recording collating and promoting your successes and work. It’s easy to record arrests, interviews, stop and searches and seizures. The same could not be said for Partnership work. How would you correctly record the work you do when you’re meeting a young person to discuss their life choices? How would you record the meetings and strategic planning involved in diverting that young person into a meaningful career path and away from their criminal culture? In short, you can’t easily – but it is important to me that we get the message out there about how Partnership can change lives.
About how it changed my life.
I have been able to overcome some pretty big challenges in my life – with help from some great people. And I have been able to achieve all sorts of things as a consequence:
- Becoming a senior Cadet volunteer and playing a part in launching the YOU London Project – a unique partnership of 10 experienced uniformed youth organisations sponsored by HRH Prince of Wales.
- Being awarded the Jack Petchey Foundation Leaders Award for my contribution to working with young people across London.
- Working with numerous young people, playing a part in seeing them grow and develop into professional young adults.
- Meeting Her Majesty The Queen at a Youth Engagement function for London and Essex.
- Achieving my Duke of Edinburgh Award Assessor Status and leading a group of young people through to their Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards.
But most importantly, I am a Police Officer within the Metropolitan Police Service. I work within Trident Partnership and I am one of the luckiest officers in the Met.
Because I’m able to use my story, my journey and my mistakes, to connect and make a real difference to young people and adults across London as a whole.
I work within every borough across London to support, develop and coach officers on how to build and incorporate Preventative and Diversionary work into their daily policing duties.
One of the Nine Principles of Policing set out by Sir Robert Peel stated that the police are the public and that the public are the police. This remains true to this day and I have embedded the principle into everything I do as a Police Officer.
I am the public and I serve the public.
My final message is this: Don’t give up on a young person or adult if they turn down your offer of help. Remember that each person will have their own story – one that lies behind their choices and current lifestyle.
Keep the faith and keep trying to make a difference to their life – because, as I hope this Copper’s tale shows, it can and does work.