A Retirement Speech

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.

II.     Press

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.

 

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75 thoughts on “A Retirement Speech

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  1. Well done sir. I remember the first time I met you. I had just dragged some lad out from his hiding hole in a bin shed in Islington, myself and Webby was holding him down as he was struggling a bit and trying to bite Webby’s knee. We looked up and there you were “well done lads” and off you went.. I think it was your first week on borough. We were a bit shocked 😁 . Enjoy your retirement.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. That’s is a truly moving and wonderful farewell. I expect our paths have crossed over the years, I was in BTP, but it goes without saying that if I had a boss as wonderful as the words you write I would more than likely still be in the job today. Take care, good luck and god bless in all your future endeavours.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Couldn’t have put it better myself lovely words & I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading all your stuff. I’ve been retired 18 months and I highly recommend it

    I know yer disappointed not to complete the 30 but your health is more important. All the best for the future.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Should be printed in every newspaper, linked to every blog, distributed to every news outlet and broadcaster and emailed to every cop everywhere. Great stuff 👍. Have a long and happy retirement Sir.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. As a member of the public with a couple of very good friends in the force, who never really open up about the job and its effects, I found your book a revelation and an inspiration. Please keep writing, informing and sharing what your profession does – it isn’t valued nearly enough. Thanks again.

    Liked by 3 people

  6. As someone currently going through Hendon, it’s been great to follow your posts, read your book and watch your TED talk. I’m am in full appreciation that I join at a difficult time but still cannot wait to get started and do what I can. Thanks for the inspiration, sad I never got to work for you. All the best.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. One mistake boss

    Whatever the future may bring, I will always be able to say that I was one of you.

    You still are one of us and even though the Warrant Card is handed in you’re a coppers copper.

    Enjoy your retirement it’s deserved.

    If you still feel you have something to give I am sure DCC Hanstock at BTP will find you a staff position.

    Thanks for keeping us all focused on what is important.

    Each other and the public we serve

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you so much for all the work you’ve done to keep us safe through your career, and for bridging the thin blue line with words so that people like me really think about and appreciate the amazing work so many police women and men do each and every day – you made it real for me, you connected us. Enjoy your next chapter, whatever it may be.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. A very dear friend forwarded to me your beautifully written fond farewell to read. I was moved to tears. He must’ve known your words would impact on me!

    I expect you have no idea the rays of sunshine you have spread beside and beneath you during your career (vocation). I really hope you are able to realise what a treasure you are now you will have time to properly reflect. Don’t spend too much time looking back though, use the wisdom and love you’ve acquired to propel you towards your sunny future. Enjoy it. Xxx

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Thank you for your service. Our paths have, to the best of my knowledge, never crossed but please accept my thanks as a grateful MoP for all that you and your colleagues (across all constabularies) do to keep us safe from the 1%.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. John a pleasure to have worked alongside you. Thanks again for advice and support. Just wish I could have been there for you when you needed it. Enjoy your retirement.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Sir,

    You will never know the immeasurable impact you had on me during your time as borough commander at EK. I have seldom found another leader so inspiring, and am now on my own journey of leadership within the organisation. If I become just a tenth of the leader you are, I’ll be immensely happy! I wish you a long and happy retirement. Our loss is definitely someone else’s gain!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. 193 warrant number! Boy in the job! 🙂

    Thank you for your leadership and always speaking up for the thin blue line.

    I retired at a similar length of service a few years back and the following words from your above post are very true – ‘I love the time I spend with you, aside from my immediate family, I would choose your company ahead of almost any other’ – the one thing I deeply miss most about The Job are those people who I laughed with, cried with, played practical jokes on (and with), argued with and talked bollocks with at 5 am on a night shift (that time when we all go a bit loopy). My colleagues have always been my second family and that bond will remain long after retirement and it will do so until my dying day.

    Good luck with your retirement. It is well deserved.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. All the best for your retirement John, you’ve outlined many universal truths for the groups you’ve written about, applicable around the world. You’ve clearly had a significantly positive impact on the lives and careers of those you’ve led, a great role model for police leadership to emulate. Thanks for sharing this and take care.

    Liked by 1 person

  15. From a police family background l can only say how some are still corrupt and collusion is rife in some areas in the hhigher echelons of power. My experience over the past two years leaves me with a bad taste of the present day policing. Happy retirement.

    Like

  16. I feel the need to do the unthinkable. Upon your retirement I’m going to ask you to keep on going – not with policing but with your voice. You speak for so many of us like no other. It is clear that it isn’t just those in blue relate to you.

    Please, please, please continue to contribute your thoughts – there is so much that you can do.

    In the meantime, I’d like to offer you my sincerest thanks…. for setting examples, for sharing stories so beautifully but so full of impact, for caring.

    Somewhere there is an awful lot of us indebted to you. Best wished.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. John, I had the pleasure of working alongside you at FH.

    You are a such a good person, one of the best I had the privilege of knowing in 30 years of service. Your words are so pertinent and inspirational. Enjoy whatever you do next. Keep shining bright.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Hi John. I picked up your book at random from my local library in Geelong, Australia a week ago and finished it today. And now I have read your retirement letter. I wanted to thank you for sharing your story and for being so open about your depression and your faith – sometimes it is other people’s words that explain exactly how something feels and makes you feel you are not alone. Thank you for caring for all those years for all those people and thank you to your colleagues and to their counterparts here in Oz. God bless you John and your family in your next steps. Judy

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Sir. I am counting down through the last 6 months of what will be 30 years service, almost all of which has been spent on the front line and in the same district. Sadly, the last couple of years and circumstances revolving around the job have colluded to ‘reward’ me with one of the so called ‘cushy desk jobs’ which should enable me to see out my time without the thrill or threat of anything like a foot or car chase, or the arrest of a non-compliant ‘customer.’ On reading your letter I made a mental note to pinch it to use when my service concludes and I enjoy a farewell drink with colleagues and friends (the same people), however, the final message had me reaching deep down to use that skill which is one of many learned over 30 years – the ability to quell a tear. The sentiments obviously ring true in every Police force accross the country and it is those sentiments that I will take with me into my own retirement. I wish you a long and healthy one. Your words have helped me to regain some pride in the job after numerous well publicised issues had done their best to knock that pride out of me. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  20. Many more years ago than three score & ten When I was very young I was taught that if you are lost, in trouble or need help find a policeman, I always felt safe and secure, I have journeyed through life with that maxim & recommend it.
    The point I am making is that it is due to people like you that I have been able to live that way and continue to do so, so please accept this very heartfelt thank you for all you have done, god bless, enjoy a very long and happy retirement.

    Liked by 1 person

  21. Having had the pleasure of meeting you at a Parents’ Evening last year, I ordered and subsequently read your memoir with fervour.
    I laughed, cried and was humbled in equal measure.
    A sobering, honest and hopeful read; thank you for all you’ve done.
    Best wishes to you and your wonderful family,
    Meghan Moloney

    Liked by 1 person

    1. So sorry for the slow response – we’re just back from a 2 week family holiday… Thank you so much for reading Blue – and for being so lovely about it. It’s very much appreciated. Best wishes. John

      Like

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