A.C.A.B.

I’m married to Bear. She’s wonderful.

At the start of this week, we celebrated our 18th wedding anniversary: eighteen years spent in the company of my best friend; eighteen years spent listening and learning and having the rough edges rubbed off me.

Back in 2002, in the weeks leading up to our wedding, we signed up for one of those marriage preparation courses – a series of sessions designed to get us ready for the big day and all the adventures that lay beyond. The chosen subject for one of those sessions was communication and, during it, we were taught about two specific words that we ought to make every effort to avoid using in any relationship:

‘Always’ and ‘Never’.

Eighteen years along the road, I can attest to the wisdom of that advice.

You know how things can begin to unravel when you find yourself falling out with the person you love most in the world:

“You never take my concerns seriously…”

“You always try to fix things when all I want you to do is listen…”

“You always leave your dirty stuff on the floor…”

“You never do the washing up…”

Always and Never. Two words with the potential to do endless harm to a relationship – not least because they are hardly ever true.

All of which is a roundabout way of getting to the things I actually want to talk about. Specifically, I want to address four letters that have been doing the rounds in the last week or two:

‘A.C.A.B.’

In recent days, those letters have been sprayed on monuments and daubed on police vehicles and painted on placards and shouted in crowds. Back in the day, you could find them tattooed on the knuckles of old villains – one letter on each finger:

‘A.C.A.B.’

‘All Coppers Are Bastards’

All of them. Always.

And it bothers me. It really, deeply bothers me. For a series of very simple reasons:

  1. It just isn’t true

In an age of fake news and alternative facts and saying whatever the hell you want, it seems to me that telling the truth matters more than ever. I’m with George Orwell in suggesting that it might even be a revolutionary act.

To suggest that all coppers are bastards is to be complicit in nothing more than a lazy lie – a dull stereotype that has no basis in evidence or fact.

If you were to suggest to me that some coppers are bastards, I would actually agree with you. I’ve met a handful of them in my time – and they had no place in policing.

Some Coppers are criminals. They belong in jail.

Some Coppers are lazy and unprofessional. They either need get their act together very quickly, or find another job.

But most Coppers are extraordinary. I know, because I worked alongside them for more than 25 years. And the finest of them are the finest that any of us could ever be.

All Coppers Aren’t Bastards.

(2) Suggesting that it is true requires a conscious denial of every single extraordinary thing that any of them has ever done

I have worked with officers who have been shot in the line of duty. I have worked with officers who have been stabbed. I have worked with officers who have confronted knife-wielding maniacs, deliberately putting themselves in harm’s way in defence of complete strangers. I have worked with officers who have been knocked unconscious and had their bones broken, simply for doing their jobs. I have worked with officers who went into the tunnels on 7/7 and who saw and did things down there that are beyond the comprehension of any of the rest of us. I have worked with officers who have picked their way through scenes of unimaginable carnage and, later on, knocked on the door of someone they have never met before to deliver the most shattering news that any of us could ever hear. I could tell you a thousand stories. And then I could tell you a thousand more. Of the kinds of humanity and heroism that would take your breath away.

Every now and then, we remember to be grateful to them. Particularly on the days when the terrorists strike. Or on the days when one of them is killed in the line of duty. But, after a day or two, we seem to move on. We forget. And then we take them for granted all over again.

All Coppers Aren’t Bastards.

(3) It is enormously damaging to policing

Language matters. 

Suggesting that all Coppers are bastards does endless harm to policing – and to individual police officers.

In recent years, certain politicians and certain sections of the press have been particularly guilty of demonising the police. Repeatedly calling them racist. Calling them corrupt. Calling them incompetent. Telling the rest of us that they are resistant to reform. Telling us, in effect, that they are bastards.

As recently as last week, we saw and heard examples of prominent journalists and commentators using extraordinarily inflammatory language and appearing to take delight in the sight of a mounted officer falling from her horse during the protests in Whitehall. The officer suffered a broken collarbone, broken ribs and a punctured lung. And when that kind of horror story becomes an apparent cause for rejoicing, it leaves me wondering what on earth we are becoming as a society.

Language matters. Because it has real consequences in the real world. When those in positions of power and influence consistently denigrate policing, they put officers’ safety at risk. They put officers’ lives at risk. Last night, footage was circulating on social media that appeared to show two officers being attacked, while bystanders filmed and took selfies. I found it too distressing to watch (just as I found the footage of the killing of George Floyd too distressing to watch) – but the very fact that it happened troubles me more than I can say.

All Coppers Aren’t Bastards.

(4) It is enormously damaging to communities

Policing in this country is founded on the precious principle of consent – on the notion of a partnership established between police officers and the communities they serve. It is utterly imperfect of course, but that doesn’t render the whole idea wrong.

I always did my job better when I was standing alongside the people who lived and worked in the neighbourhoods I was responsible for – policing done with them, not to them. Because, when all that really didn’t matter was set aside, it turned out that we wanted exactly the same things: for homes to be free from violence; for an end to the desperate succession of boys losing their lives to knife crime; for ordinary, decent people to be able live their lives in peace – free from fear and harm.

A decade of austerity has done untold damage to community policing. We need urgently to get on with the job of mending it – because it works. Policing needs the community and communities need the police. Good policing is all about relationships – and the language of ‘Always’ and ‘Never’ helps no-one.

If you sincerely want better policing, you will find no greater allies than good police officers. Because none of them thinks that things are fine just as they are – that there’s nothing more that could (and should) be done better.

All Copper Aren’t Bastards.

(5) It is enormously damaging to a righteous cause

I believe passionately that black lives matter. I believe passionately in the cause of anti-racism. I am educating myself about the systemic injustice and inequality that has persisted in this country for generations. And I recognise that we have a long way to go.

I also believe passionately in the right to peaceful protest – a right that is facilitated and safeguarded by police officers.

As I have written previously, anger seems to me to be the only reasonable reaction to the killing of George Floyd: anger that demands a response; anger that won’t rest until there is real and lasting change. But the moment that police officers become the target for violence, the cause is harmed. There are a whole host of agitators out there, waiting for any excuse to kick back against the righteous cry for change. And I don’t want to give them the excuse.

The police are not the enemy here. Racism is. Hatred is. Injustice is.

Police officers aren’t perfect. And we are right to expect higher standards of them than we do of anyone else. But if you were to ask most of them why they joined, they would tell you simply that they wanted to help people. They would tell you that they wanted to make a difference.

All Coppers Aren’t Bastards.

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11 thoughts on “A.C.A.B.

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  1. Excellent commentary. I sent a message to an American buddy to express how I feel about what’s happening in our countries. For the second time since retiring in 2007 I miss The Job, probably in the forlorn hope that I could make a difference. I cannot but I am encouraging my youngest son who is a PC to hang in there just do the right thing. But time to let go. Enormous respect to the vast majority of our cops who are brave, act with integrity and protect our nation. Tough times.

    Liked by 4 people

  2. You are right: language does matter. However, language can be manipulated according to the agendas of those using it. Racism is a word and a concept that we are bombarded with daily in my country. While we can appreciate where the accusations come from, it is difficult to understand that the actions of only a certain sector can be considered racist. This is not the forum for that, rather it is to laud you on the stance you take. People – no matter who they are – matter. For me a current concern in society is that there are those who glibly take sides on causes they do not fully understand and who fail to take responsibility for their actions or to consider the long-term outcomes of such actions. You are fond of saying that every action has a reaction, and you are a strong supporter of communication – somehow society as a whole needs to reintroduce responsibility, respect, consideration and critical thought into the generations of children who are growing up. Integrity is an aspect of our lives that has appeared to have got lost.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I think the problem is that despite attempts at systemic reports in US police departments, the over criminalization and targeting of communities of colour exists. I am exceptionally pro union, having been a shop steward for many years, but American policing unions act more like organised crime than a trades body, and thus the rot continues.

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  3. I want to say thank you for this blog I also want to apologise for saying those words the other day it was wrong of me I was hurt and upset but that does not excuse what I have said I want to thank you for this blogs for getting me to reflect but also words can hurt and know the majority of police officers are great human beings kind caring hero’s in the community they serve thank you for reminding me of this Lyn 🙏

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As always Sir an insightful and honest overview. As you have noted, I work with some of the finest officers I have known in 15 years of policing. I have been at Terrorist Attacks, picked up pieces, hugged victims and put together broken officers. Every single one of them joined the job at a time when they wanted to make a difference. Even now in the face of adversity and uncertainty they stand on the side of those who behave lawfully, The sympathise, they have opinions and beliefs and families but in that uniform despite what it represents they have no favour other than justice. They are Human and I have seen them at their finest and at their worst. There are some.in this job that have no place but they are few and they are despised most by those who still seek to do the right thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’m actually at a loss to understand what is going on in this country at the moment. We have a government in name only with a PM who is manifestly unsuited to the job. We add to that government ministers who clearly do not understand their role and function. It seems to me that the police are being set up as fall guys with rentaquote columnists putting out opinion pieces saying that the ‘police have emboldened the mobs’ or are ‘vicious racist stormtroopers’ (depending on which paper you read of course).
    The coming events will be a distraction to a government that is failing. We have yet to see the worst effects of the pandemic, the economy will be in dire straits for a while and Brexit is being managed with the competence and attention to detail I have come to expect from this government. When you add to that a population that has been under lockdown for 12 weeks and is looking for a bit of distraction you have a recipe for continued disorder.
    I hope we can come through this and calmer heads prevail but, as the Irish Times said when talking about the UK and USA ‘if you vote for clowns don’t be surprised when you end up living in a circus’.
    Retired

    Liked by 2 people

  6. No, all cops aren’t bastards, but there is and has been a culture of policing dominated by men and men’s ideas, including the exclusion of women, that has helped to create an “us versus them” mentality that disproportionately has impacted black and brown people negatively. Yes, we need to get back to community policing, but that takes trust and that trust has been broken. The social contract of consent has also been broken. It will take work and time, but this can be repaired. It will be difficult to do any of this if we continue to harangue about our feelings right now. “All cops aren’t bastards”, “All lives matter”, “Blue lives matter” all epitomize a lack of understanding of the core issues facing us now—issues that have been ignored, dismissed, & discounted for too long. Right now, black lives matter. Period. Let’s get with that and what we can do individually and collectively to make reparations and build a new foundation of trust and partnership in formulating a new social contract.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Most coppers are decent, hardworking people who just want to go home to their familiesat the end of a shift and feel that they have done something, even if it’s only a small thing, towards making the world a better place to live. Some of them even do it for that feeling alone, totally unpaid but taking the same risks as those who are paid, just to make a contribution to society. No, it’s not even All coppers aren’t b******s, it’s most coppers are decent, caring people

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Balance and reason in your comments, as ever – not an example many follow, sadly.

    I’ve appreciated the statement:
    “Black lives matter doesn’t mean All lives don’t matter – BUT all lives can’t matter unless Black lives matter.”
    I’ve no idea as to the origin but it sets things squarely where they ought to be.

    The Shakespearian quote:
    “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interred with their bones” could well be paraphrased for many:
    “The wrong that Cops do (rightly) lives long in the headlines; the good is them just doing their job.”

    MLK Jr famously said:
    “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

    It seems to me that we’re a long way from that at present. Hate is currently predominant with Cops being the principal target due of the action & inaction of a few and because it gives some an excuse to vent their antipathy.

    Those still serving have to keep the flag flying of impartiality, policing by consent and a complete intolerance of misconduct within their ranks – all a lot easier said than done.
    I wish them well in their task.

    Liked by 1 person

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