This speech comes a little earlier than planned.
But life happened – and today is my last as a serving police officer.
I wanted to write a handful of parting words to four particular groups of people: the public we serve, the press who observe, the politicians who govern and the police officers & staff who I have worked alongside for more than twenty-five years.
I. The Public
Sir Robert Peel had it right from the very beginning: you are us and we are you. You are the reason why we do what we do.
Ask most Coppers why they joined and they will tell you simply that they wanted to make a difference: for communities, for families, for victims, for the vulnerable, for those struggling souls stumbling through the very worst days of their lives.
It was never about money or power or fame. It was for the adventure and for the painful privilege of venturing into the hurting places.
And I want you to know that, in spite of our very evident imperfections, the vast majority of the men and women I’ve been privileged to work with down the years are just about as extraordinary as people can be: people of courage and compassion, of heroism and humanity, of bravery and brilliance, of determination and that precious, old-fashioned thing called duty.
These are the most challenging times for them since the end of the Second World War. Crime is rising – certainly crime of the most serious kinds. Demand is rising – as people fall through the gaps in the provision of other public services. Threat is rising – not least as a consequence of terrorism. Complexity is rising – as crime crosses international borders and digital frontiers.
But, at the same time, police officer numbers are falling – by almost 22,000 since 2010. Support Staff and PCSO numbers are down too. And I see more good people working under significantly more strain than at any previous point in my career.
All of which means that we need your help and support and insight and challenge more than ever before. You need to be demanding of us – because you deserve the best from us. But you also need to understand the incredible pressures we now face.
The truth is that we will always do our job better when we do it side-by-side with you. I was never just a police officer. I am a Londoner; a husband; a dad. I was one of you, in blue.
People are entitled to expect higher standards of police officers than they do of anyone else. The promises we make and the powers we are given mean that we occupy a unique position in society. And, if you can’t trust the police, who can you trust?
I want the Press to hold us to those standards: robustly and relentlessly. Because the experience of recent history tells us that when policing gets it wrong – individually or institutionally – the consequences can be devastating. I want journalists to question and challenge – and to be bloody awkward when circumstances demand. I don’t want them to let us get away with a single thing.
But there are two other things I want from the Press.
The first is balance.
The prevailing media narrative about policing in this country has a tendency to be astonishingly hostile – as headlines clamour with accusations that the police are corrupt; that the police are incompetent; that the police are racist.
Well, some of us are and sometimes we can be – and there should be no hiding from those truths. But, in the vast majority of cases, the vast majority of the time, the reality could not be more different. For every negative tale told about this job and its people, I could tell you a hundred that are astonishing.
I will never grow tired of talking about the everyday heroism of the folk who stand on the thin blue line. Theirs are stories that demand to be told.
The second thing I want from the Press is a far greater understanding of the difference between mistakes and misconduct.
There are a handful of people in policing who abuse position and power for corrupt and criminal ends. Those people belong in jail. There are also a minority who aren’t as professional as they should be. And they need to get their act together – or leave.
But then there are the thousands of good Coppers doing a sometimes impossible job in frequently impossible circumstances – making life or death decisions in fractions of seconds without anything approaching a full set of facts or the glorious benefit of hindsight.
In the headlong rush to confect rage and apportion blame, we need to remember that sometimes people make mistakes. Honest, entirely human mistakes.
III. Politicians (of all persuasions)
Policing and politics can be uneasy bedfellows – perhaps best kept at a respectful distance from one another.
As I look back over my years in this job, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that, with some very honourable exceptions, politics and certain politicians have tended to make working life harder, rather than easier.
Back in 1992, when I joined the Met, we held strongly to the idea of operational independence from political control. The promise I made was to serve, without fear or favour. But, over time, lines became blurred. Whilst policing has tried – sometimes falteringly – to stay out of politics, politics has – increasingly – got stuck into policing.
It’s important to be really clear here. I have no problem whatsoever with accountability. Policing must always be held up to the light. But it needs to be accountability free from agendas.
We need to understand that everything can’t be a priority – that there are some things that have to matter more. We need to listen to the constructive voices of experience – and allow operational decisions to be taken for sound operational reasons. We need long term solutions to intractable problems – a twenty-year knife crime plan for London, for example – not the ineffective quick fixes demanded as a consequence of political or societal impatience. And, when inevitable mistakes are made, we need to allow space for critical lessons to be learned – not least to diminish the likelihood of them being repeated in the future.
The job the police service has to do is just about as important as a job can be. But, if we are not careful, politics can get in the way: that triumph of soundbite over substance; of expedience over conscience; of rhetoric over real understanding; of self-interest over service.
IV. Police Officers & Staff
Last in line: the boys and girls in blue.
A message first for the bosses – for anyone in a position of leadership in policing. I was one of them – and I’m proud to count any number of them as friends. And we need to remember two things:
- Policing is all about people.
It’s people who save lives; who find lost children; who protect the vulnerable, who confront the dangerous; who stand on freezing cold cordons at all hours of the day and night; who get bitten and spat at and punched and stabbed and shot.
It’s people who, sometimes, pay the greatest price of all.
- Our job is to serve them – to look after them and to enable them to do their jobs to the very best of their abilities.
And, finally, a message for all of you…
Simply to say that I love you.
I love the time I spend with you (aside from my immediate family, I would choose your company ahead of almost any other). I love the fact that you’ve been there – and that, instinctively, you understand. I love the stories you tell. I love your frequently terrible sense of humour. I love your unique capacity to see both the clouds in a sky full of sun and the light in a sky full of rain. I love your insistence that the Job is both f****d and the single most brilliant thing any man or woman could ever hope to do with their working lives – your capacity to moan like nothing on earth whilst declaring that there’s really nothing else that comes close to this line of work. I love the fact that what you do matters. Most of all, I love your endless courage and humanity. You’re not perfect, but when you are at your best, you represent the very best that human beings can be.
It has been the greatest privilege of my professional life to count myself amongst you: to count myself a member of this extraordinary family in blue. Whatever the future may bring, I will always be able to say that I was one of you.
I’m going to miss you all.
Even the grumpy ones.
The very last word belongs to my family at home: to my beautiful wife and our three wonderful girls.
Loving you has always been my most important duty. And my greatest joy.