Officer Down

As the world moves on, it leaves behind a broken-hearted bride, married just four weeks ago.

Officer down.

Most give what they can; some give all they have. PC Andrew Harper was one of those who gave everything, killed in the line of duty on the night of Thursday 15th August 2019. 

I never had the privilege of knowing him, but I know what kind of man he was – one who understood that precious, old-fashioned thing called duty. He was described by his Chief Constable as “a fantastic police officer” and “a great friend and man”. I suspect that I would have liked him very much.

The sense of staggering loss is greatest, of course, for those who knew him best and loved him most. I find myself thinking of his two families – the one he was born into and the one he was sworn into – but, most of all, I think of his widow, Lissie. She was supposed to be preparing for a honeymoon. Now she’s preparing for a funeral.

I can’t even begin to imagine.

Those who do the job know the risks of course. But there has been an inescapable sense of late that those risks have been rising. In the past three weeks alone:

  • A North Yorkshire PC was seriously assaulted, sustaining complex fractures to his tibia and fibula.
  • A Met PC was seriously wounded in a machete attack. His assailant has been charged with Attempted Murder.
  • A West Midlands PC was seriously injured after being run over by a suspected car thief.

But those were only three of the higher profile cases. On average, 595 police officers are assaulted every single week – that’s 85 every single day. Pause and think about that number for a moment. What does it say about us as a society? About who we are and what we are becoming?

And I can’t help feeling that things are getting worse – that more officers are being more seriously assaulted, more frequently than at any point I can recall. There is a perfect storm of reasons why that might be so:

The loss of 44,000 police officers and staff in England & Wales

Crime is rising. Demands on policing are rising. The complexity of criminal investigations is rising. Risk is rising. Just as police numbers and resources have fallen to their lowest levels in a generation – the direct consequence of a series of conscious, deliberate political choices.

The government of the last nine years has done significantly more damage to policing than any other in my lifetime. And now senior politicians are scrambling desperately to undo harms that are entirely of their own making.

20,000 new police officers is the very least that’s now required.

The loss of neighbourhood policing

In most parts of the country, austerity has led directly to the decimation of neighbourhood policing and, with it, the loss of basic connection with communities. With the loss of connection comes the loss of relationship and, with that, the loss of a natural constraint on violence.

You are surely less likely to attack those you know and trust.

The loss of operational capability

But the costs of austerity extend beyond the basic numbers, jaw-dropping though those are. They extend to the loss of effective crime-fighting capability in the form, for example, of dogs, horses and helicopters.

And the overt politicisation of Stop & Search has played its part in reducing levels of frontline policing proactivity.

Hostile political rhetoric

It is not just in their actions that the government has done extraordinary harm to policing. It is in their words too.

The political narrative of the last nine years has been characterised by a quite astonishing degree of hostility towards policing. The police are inept. They are corrupt. They are racist. They are resistant to change. And police officers raising concerns about the damage being done are crying wolf.

What kind of message does that kind of talk send to the listening public?

Hostile media coverage

Particularly when the hostility of the political narrative has been picked up and reinforced with evident glee in some sections of the mainstream media.

Certain national newspapers in particular have operated for years with barely disguised contempt for the job I love – preferring to disregard a thousand stories of compassion and courage, in favour of the one that paints policing in the worst possible light.

And if you think that words alone are incapable of causing harm, then you have never studied Allport’s Scale of Prejudice.

Inadequate court sentencing

Of late, my social media feed has carried far too many reports of woefully inadequate sentences handed down by courts following assaults on my former colleagues. It’s almost as though attacks on police officers don’t matter. It’s almost as though there’s no deterrent. 

But an attack on a police officer is an attack on us all. It is an assault on civilised society.

Our addiction to violence

And then there is wider society’s very real problem with violence. We seem to be addicted to it: on our streets and in our homes; outside the pub and outside the stadium; on a Monday morning and a Friday night; in news feeds and film scripts; in fact and in fiction. As a source of entertainment.

And, every time a punch is thrown or a knife is pulled or a frenzied attack begins, it is police officers who will be first in line to respond. 

For more than twenty-five years, I worked with heroes: police officers who were shot, stabbed, beaten unconscious, strangled, run down by cars, who fought hand to hand with murderers, who placed themselves continually in harm’s way in defence of complete strangers.

Andrew Harper was one such man. Who went to work and didn’t come home.

Rest peacefully, mighty man

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6 thoughts on “Officer Down

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  1. From a retired police officer, my thoughts are with this poor girl and both families.
    The responsibility lies with this government and especially Theresa May who had a grudge against the police.
    It’s time all police officers were armed as it’s not Dickson of Dockgreen anymore. I know we have TFU but it’s the front line officer that is first on the scene. I could see the way it was going thirty years ago and voted to be armed

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  2. As a retired CEO of very large workforces and a lifelong supporter of the Conservative Party my incredulity and sheer anger at the Party I support and their last nine years destruction of the most respected unarmed police force in the world by is high enough to make me turn away from them. I’m not a convinced conspiracy theorist or believer BUT ever since Gordon Brown used the police to score enter the House of Commons in the Damien Green case it seems Theresa May, whose close associate he was, made it her political aim to bring the police force down. It beggars belief that she was allowed to get away with it and even though Amber Rudd took the fall for the “Windrush” travesty she must go down as the worst Home Secretary in living memory and I’m 72 years old!!
    If Boris Johnson does nothing else he could try to reinstate the last line in the defence of a a civilised non-violent society that was once the United Kingdom. I hope so.
    Finally I extend my deepest sympathy and condolences to Andrew Harper’s widow and family in such an incomprehensible and tragic time.
    One of my sons is a serving Police Officer but this is not what motivates me to email my views. Amongst her other achievements and mistakes Margaret thatcher believed in Law & Order and backed her belief with resources. SHAME indeed on my party!!

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  3. The politicalisation of austerity is no different from the politicisation of stop and search.

    Perhaps it’s because I’d be the old sweat at the back of the briefing if I were still in, but what is going on is older than the last 9 years, far older. Hell there were huge changes some for better and perhaps many for worse going on back as I was leaving school.

    You point out correctly that communities don’t hurt those they trust, but they are broken on every level from a divided nation through postcode gangs to fractured homes. The police have been “the enemy” to many otherwise honest folks since I left school, and their numbers have increased year on year for both what is done, and what is not done, but also how it is done

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  4. My own husband a serving officer in Wiltshire was run down off work for nearly a year and was fortunate to actually keep his foot due to his injury
    We went to court him on crutches waited all day and then the CPS decided in its wiseness not to take the case any further as they might loose
    The offender put Two fingers up as he passed us and laughed
    By the way Phil never made a claim for his injury ..
    enough is enough ..
    We need Hard sentences now for all injury to the fire ambulance and police forces ..

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I always baulk at the thought of adding a ‘like’ to a piece such as this, because of the potential to be seen to ‘liking’ such a sad subject. However, I did because of the way the article was composed and the sentiment it portrayed. I overheard a conversation between a few people at work just a couple of days ago about this tragic case and in particular about why the murder of a Police Officer should be treated any worse than a member of the public. The sentiment amongst almost everyone was that all lives mattered equally and the Police should not expect greater sentences for crimes against them. I was the sole defender that harming a Police Officer was tantamount to harming the person, plus challenging the uniform and the authority and that stronger sentencing should apply in order to maintain a safe society. This message is clearly being eroded and I thank you for so eloquently and fairly reminding us of such issues.

    Liked by 1 person

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