A Copper’s Lot


Yesterday, the Prime Minister gave a pre-recorded speech in which he attempted to explain the government’s latest strategy for responding to the pandemic. Stay Alert, we were told. But a soundbite does not a strategy make and, mostly, he seems only to have confused people (including senior members of his own government).

“Stay at home as much as possible.”

“Work from home if you can.”

“Limit contact with other people.”

What do these statements even mean? They are so subjective as to be rendered almost meaningless. 

But, as ever, police officers out on patrol will be expected to interpret and apply them. And some will accuse those officers of being heavy-handed in doing so, while others will accuse them of not doing enough. 

A Copper’s Lot is to be caught in the middle, trying to make sense of things that make almost no sense at all.

The Last Few Days

Last week, the nation marked the 75th anniversary of VE Day. Friday evening’s BBC broadcast included a beautiful musical tribute to key workers and members of the emergency services. Except that the police weren’t featured in it.

There were teachers and nurses, members of the armed forces and farmers, train drivers and shop workers, ambulance crews and firefighters, pharmacists and vets, doctors and bin men and posties. But no police officers.

And I can’t for the life of me understand why we wouldn’t want to acknowledge and appreciate members of the police service too – those remarkable women and men who go where most wouldn’t and do what most couldn’t.

A Copper’s Lot is to be taken entirely for granted, until the moment when we need their help.

The Last Few Weeks

The general media coverage of the policing response to the pandemic has fascinated me. And not in a good way.

From the start of the lockdown the focus has been, overwhelmingly, on the negative – on isolated instances of individual officers misinterpreting or over-reaching their new powers. The early headlines were all about Easter eggs and shopping bags and park patrols and drone flights. By comparison, far less attention was given to accounts of police officers being coughed on, bitten and spat at by suspects claiming to have the deadly virus. Or to tales of officers visiting the elderly, doing their shopping and filling their fridges. Or to stories of the thousands of their colleagues who were simply getting on with the day job – protecting the most vulnerable and pursuing the most dangerous in society. 

When it comes to policing, bad news travels much further and faster than good news. And when it turns out that some of the negative stories aren’t even true, the damage has already been done.

I’m no blind apologist for the job I used to do. Sometimes police officers – both individually and collectively – get things terribly wrong. And the consequences when they do can be disproportionately damaging. We have every right right to expect higher standards of police officers than we do of anyone else in society.

But is it too much to ask for a bit of balance? Because, for every negative story told about policing, I could tell you a hundred extraordinary ones – involving the kind of humanity and heroism that would likely take your breath away.

A Copper’s Lot is to ignore the noise and get on with the precious business of saving lives and finding the lost and comforting the broken hearted and confronting the violent and defending the weak. 

That remarkable, old fashioned thing called duty.

The Last Few Years

In truth, the media coverage of policing during the last few months has, for the most part, been consistent with coverage during the last few years. And with much of the political commentary too.

For the past decade, the story being told about policing by many politicians and newspapers has been an undeniably hostile one: the police are racist; the police are corrupt; the police are incompetent; the police are unwilling to change. Just as thousands were being cut from their ranks, and billions from their budgets. During this period, one journalist with a more open mind posed me a powerful question. 

“Who is standing up for policing in this country?” he asked. 

He didn’t think that anyone was.

A Copper’s Lot is to remain in the arena, face marred by dust and sweat and blood, absorbing the relentless criticism of those who don’t count.

It Was Ever Thus

Perhaps it’s always been this way. Perhaps we regard police officers in a fundamentally different way to almost everyone else in frontline public service – the emergency services in particular.

Nurses help people. And we love them for it.

Doctors help people. And we love them for it.

Firefighters help people. And we love them for it.

Paramedics help people. And we love them for it.

Police officers help people too. If you ask most of them why they joined in the first place, they will tell you that it was because they wanted to help people. But that’s not all they do. Sometimes they stop people. They pursue people. They challenge people. They search people. They arrest people. Sometimes they use force to do those things. And, as I have already acknowledged, they don’t always get it right. 

Perhaps that’s why we find them a little harder to love.

Because there is a part of policing that is rough – involving the kind of violence and trauma and chaos and catastrophe that most of us would prefer not to think about. Until it visits us, that is. 

A Copper’s Lot is to venture repeatedly into the hurting places – in amongst the broken lives and broken bones, the broken hearts and broken homes. And you won’t hear a word of complaint from any of them about those things. Because that’s the job. It’s what they joined to do.

I just think that the rest of us ought to show them a little more appreciation along the way. And not just on the desperate days when one of them has been murdered or in the immediate aftermath of the latest terrorist atrocity. 

Policing is an entirely imperfect response to an entirely imperfect world but, for more than twenty-five years, I served alongside a bunch of absolute bloody heroes. The best of them are the best of us all.

Everyday Heroism

21 thoughts on “A Copper’s Lot

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  1. I for one agree with this, no one seems to think about the Police when thanking front line workers they are forgotten for all their hard work THANK YOU

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Agree entirely with the sentiments expressed. I cannot understand why members of the Armed Forces weren’t mobilised from the start to help the existing services, chiefly the police, who were, and still are, understaffed by many thousands. It would have instilled discipline in the streets, and helped stem the spread of the virus.
      Strange, indeed, then, that the Forces were praised, but not the Police.


  2. I always tell younger people when they completely write the Police off as “the enemy” when there’s an emergency or a crime against you who you gonna call? Ghost busters or 999.
    Interesting read thank you. Oh by the way – the police service needs MORE MONEY!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Our police force is one of the best in the world. We need to appreciate them more. Yes they sometimes, I repeat sometimes, get it wrong, but most of the time they do their best to keep us safe. Thank you for what you do for us, it is very much appreciated.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I feel the silent MAJORITY including myself do really appreciate The Thin Blue Line… The only guilty people at this moment in time is the Media for trying to shape our views..

    Liked by 1 person

  5. A great read and one I can relate with over 28 years frontline Policing under my belt with the last 4 years of my service (so 32 in all) dealing with youngsters to try and prevent them from re offending. Protect the Protectors and give them the funding and staffing levels they so desparately need.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I absolutely agree with every sentiment expressed – my closest family members are both police officers and I am proud of them. I have been absolutely disgusted over the past few months that there is never any mention or acknowledgement of the frontline , key essential work they are doing to keep EVERYONE SAFE and the danger they are exposing themselves and their families to during this pandemic.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Just wait for those post pandemic attack on pay, pensions and conditions and see who is first in the firing line. When an incumbent government doesn’t value or respect the police, why would the people who put them in office?


  8. Excellent insight into the life of a police officer, written by one of the most respected police officers who speaks from personal experience and the the heart and head of a man who has seen it, done it and got the T shirt and was promoted to a very senior officer. People like John Sutherland are the rare breed known as a coppers copper!
    I was a late starter and joined when I was 38, retired at 59.
    I have 2 sons and several other family members in or retired from the police.
    My opinion is that even the most ardent supporters of the police service really have no idea of what a difficult job they do, the only people who will ever understand are the people who do the job or involved in any way with getting the job done, that includes all civilian staff whatever their role!
    I can honestly say that my 21 years as a fully operational officer were the most rewarding of my whole life, sometimes funny, sometimes horrific, sometimes terrifyingly scary but through it all, an amazing sense of pride to have served in what I consider to be one the most important and absolutely necessary jobs on earth.
    I find it incredulous that our government treat the public sector in the manner they do and are able to get away with it, when I joined, the unspoken agreement was we will give you a fair wage and working conditions in return for your full loyalty to do your duty without question, that applied to the NHS, Fire Service and teachers, not forgetting the multitude of essential workers who do jobs that enable us all to live life as normally as possible.
    Covid 19 is the best example of just how little they care about the public sector, they always pay it lip service but there will be no more staff replacing the thousands that all services have lost over the 10 years of deep cuts not to mention any kind of financial rewards.
    Regarding the press and media’s frequent attacks against the police, the editors should ensure that they take more control over their reporters work and make it a requirement to NOT belittle or undermine the work of any of the emergency services because for every 1 bad police officer, doctor, nurse there are probably 50 bad reporters.
    I am truly grateful for having had the opportunity to have served my community, with no formal education but 23 years of experience working in private industry this government have now seen fit to deprive people like me the opportunity to serve an oft ungrateful population who feel the need to challenge and argue with police even when they are trying to help them.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Mr Policeman. You knew the day you joined that your choice of career would not be one of selfless service. You knew the day you chose to be one of the nation’s disciplinarians that it would not earn you repeated plaudits of gratitude and affection. It is not in the nature of your work. You are there to oversee us, to ensure we follow the rules that society decides will allow us to live in the closest ideal of harmony we can devise. And I thank you for that, for my life would be a misery without that duty of care you impose upon us.
    Because there are those who are feckless, self interested, and pathologically flawed, we need you to stand up for us. You are the frontline troops that prevent us ordinary folk from being overwhelmed… while watching that we don’t exceed the speed limit.
    I am proud that my Grandson, who I love dearly, who I still embrace and kiss his cheek, is a Policeman. He makes me feel that my life has been worthwhile.
    And I say Thank You to all the coppers for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Brilliant, insightful and considered comments. We are lucky with our police force who, in my experience have always been caring , responsible and tried to make the best of any number of (other people’s) bad jobs – they always in the firing line but all too often like now, the thin blue line never snaps, thanks EM Professor Dr Tom Cannon

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Good Morning John…..
    You should see it now, the dynamics have changed but we still plod on. I still get up with a fire in my belly to do my job, I love it and care about what I do…..we are expected to take poor coverage on the chin….but why? Doesn’t anyone in leadership positions want to take this on and challenge….
    Who knows….chin up and onwards…..Andy Blezard

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Well said!! Sick of hearing the police get slated left right and centre and taking stick no matter what they do. In the NHS we’ve been posting pics of ourselves dancing etc and people say it’s great, the police do it and they get pulled apart. It’s a coping mechanism, shows the human side and gets you through a day that’s more often than not full of misery, pain, anger and abuse. I take my hat of to you all and wholeheartedly thank you for all you do, you’re amazing! From the NHS to the police 👏

    Liked by 1 person

  13. This piece is worth reading I couldn’t agree more..please spare a thought for all those young people serving and who served their communities. My gratitude to you all.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. I retired some time ago and marvel at the job Police Officers do today. Covid 19 has brought a different perspective and no less challenging than HIV, Hep B, Hep C, which are still around today too. Just one more thing, one more danger, one more extra task. How many more and how few now to carry these tasks out? There are now no parties in Westminster looking after Policing. It has become a neglected public service and few officers want or need thanks, but they do need to feel valued and not have to wait 10 years for pay rises. Good luck to you all, you certainly need it!


  15. Mr Sutherland hits the nail squarely on the head yet again. My colleagues and I carry on, day in, day out to try to keep the public safe. Every so often the ‘token thanks reminder’ alarm goes off on the government’s phone and someone crawls out of an office to utter some empty words.
    If you ever want to know what it’s like to feel completely under-appreciated, then join the police.
    Thanks to those who value the police, and thank you even more to those who voice that opinion, you could never understand how much it means to us to know where not alone.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I was a teacher in the UK. We had policemen visiting schools all the time. I have also lived in the US. . Sadly I have not seen this happen in any other country in which I have lived. I think those are the things which make a difference. It was policemen, who taught our school children how to ride safely. I do think the level of community policing in the UK makes a huge difference and is probably part of the reason why UK policemen are still largely unarmed.

    Liked by 1 person

  17. I think more policemen worldwide need to get out of their cars and into schools working with children. One of my old schoolfriends has been a UK policeman since leaving school. I live in Australia now. My parents used to volunteer for Neighbourhood Watch. They were working at the police station one day and my friend tapped my mum on the shoulder and said to say “Hi” to me. I think British police are more approachable than just about anywhere else. I hope that does not change through all this.


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