In March of this year – in the immediate, horrifying aftermath of the Westminster Bridge terrorist attack – we discovered and expressed a renewed sense of appreciation for our police officers: for who they are and what they do.
The following month, we lined the streets in our thousands as the funeral cortege of PC Keith Palmer passed by.
Greater love hath no man than to lay his life down.
Across the city, members of the public approached uniformed PCs, shook them by the hand and thanked them for their courage and sacrifice.
Then came Manchester. And London Bridge. And Grenfell Tower. And Finsbury Park.
In recent times, police officers and their emergency services colleagues have displayed extraordinary professionalism and frankly staggering levels of bravery – time and time and time again.
And those same officers and paramedics and fire crews are out there right now, answering endless cries for help: from the abandoned, the assaulted, the addicted and the abused; from any one of us at any moment. The work they do moves in and out of the headlines, but the people operating on the frontline just keep on keeping on.
Take policing for example: the day-to-day expectations of the job haven’t changed in the months since Keith was murdered; in the weeks since unarmed officers fought hand to hand with knife-wielding terrorists; in the days since firefighters approached the flames protected by officers carrying long shields.
Some of what they do grabs the imagination – but much of it takes place far beyond our view. The risks involved in policing are such that the very next call might be the one that requires everything an officer has to give – perhaps more.
The people I work with aren’t perfect (we must never shy away from challenging them on their failings), but they are extraordinary. And it seems to me that their everyday heroism demands our everyday appreciation. That’s not to say we become blind apologists for them. It is simply to say that they need and deserve our consistent support.
After all, as someone once suggested, they are us and we are them.
- We can’t demand that they deal with the latest surge in knife crime whilst at the same time vilifying them for their use of Stop & Search – particularly given the simple fact that the proper and effective exercise of the power saves lives.
- We can’t demand that armed officers be ready to respond at a moment’s notice to circumstances beyond imagining and then jump up and down in faux rage when they’re photographed buying their lunch or smiling in public.
- We can’t demand that officers and staff work all the hours in all the weather and then start casting stones when they take a moment or three to catch their breath and drink a cuppa in the company of their colleagues.
- We can’t demand that they deal with moped-enabled crime whilst, at the same time, failing to show any understanding of the extraordinary risks involved in attempting to pursue suspects who don’t give a damn and think nothing of riding without crash helmets.
- We can’t demand that they step into harm’s way – facing and dealing with extraordinarily violent suspects – whilst at the same time questioning their use of the very kit and equipment (spit guards and taser for example) designed to save lives and prevent serious injury.
- We can’t demand that they keep picking up the pieces caused by gaps in the provision of other critical services and then castigate them for failing in some other area of their responsibilities.
- And we can’t continue to demand the same – never mind more – for less.
We have every right to expect the very highest standards of them. Indeed, that is what they expect of themselves. But we also have a responsibility: to support them, to encourage them, to be critical friends to them, to appreciate and understand the reality of the challenges they face, to celebrate them, to believe in them.
To recognise that the best of them are the best that people can be.