Addicted to Violence

Violence.

Society is addicted to it.

In homes. On streets. Outside pubs and clubs on a Friday night. After the football. On TV. In the cinema. On games consoles. On the web. In fact and in fiction.

We pursue it. We portray it. We glamourise it. We normalise it. We show it in slow motion replay. And we present it as entertainment.

I’m not about to come over all ‘Mary Whitehouse’ on you, but I am troubled by the consequences of it all.

Roll up, roll up for:

  • The serial killings
  • The gang rapes
  • The extremist executions
  • The teenage stabbings
  • The 24-hour news loops with scenes of atrocity playing on repeat

Is it any wonder that some of us are becoming desensitised; that some of us are losing the capacity to be shocked; that some of our young people in particular have lost sight of the consequences of their very real acts of violence; that some of us fail to give the most recent manifestation of terror anything more than a passing glance.

  • The murder of Kodjo Yenga
  • The latest killing game
  • The murder of Ben Kinsella
  • The latest torture flick
  • The murder of Milad Golmakani
  • The latest offering of horror porn
  • The murder of Dogan Ismail

Reality and fiction blurring.

And policing deals with the reality:

  • The domestic murders
  • The brutal sexual assaults
  • The shootings
  • The shankings
  • The street fights between strangers
  • The endless blood soaked scenes

I have stood in the places where violence happens – where the horror and terror are real.

Every police officer has.

So let me make a simple observation about some of the violent young men I have encountered during the course of my career: young men who have stabbed and shot and taken life, just like that.

The overwhelming majority of them grew up in homes where violence was a daily reality – where their mums and sisters were battered senseless whilst they looked helplessly on. The trauma caused in those haunted childhoods is beyond comprehension.

And it is that same trauma that becomes – in my experience – the primary cause of violence in later adolescence and adulthood.

But, alongside the terrifying reality, there are plenty of other influences on these young lives that are making things worse, not better.

These same young men are playing violent video games. They are watching violent films. They are viewing violent pornography. And the combination of these things does astonishing harm.

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Are we surprised then, that some of them develop and maintain an entirely screwed up view of the world? Are we surprised that some of them end up holding a knife?

To be clear, I would never for one moment seek to excuse the behaviour of those who cause harm – but we do have a responsibility to try to understand what on earth is going on.

Is violence in society increasing? Is it getting worse? Those are questions that are almost impossible to answer – not least given the significant levels of under-reporting that we know exist. But certain things are clear. Violence has become more visible. More accessible. More normal even.

We, as a society, are letting those things happen. We are complicit in it all.

 

 

 

Policing Challenges in 2017

So here we are then, at the beginning of 2017.

And the multitude of challenges facing the police service in Britain are, it seems to me, greater than at any point since the end of the Second World War.

I.    Operational

There are the crime challenges:

  • Terrorism
  • Serious Violence – including Homicide, Domestic Abuse & Knife Crime
  • Sexual Offences – including Child Sexual Exploitation
  • Human Trafficking
  • Cyber Crime
  • Drug & Alcohol related criminality
  • Fraud (some of it on an industrial scale)
  • And so the list goes on.

And it’s not just crime:

  • Mental Health
  • Missing Persons
  • Roads Policing
  • Anti-Social Behaviour
  • And so the list goes on

Given the fact that everything can’t be a priority, there are any number of exceptionally difficult decisions to be made – not least in terms of the people, resources and money we invest in:

  • crime vs. everything else
  • short-term enforcement vs. long-term prevention
  • emergency response policing vs. neighbourhood policing
  • uniform policing vs. detective work
  • the investigation of historical crimes vs. those being committed now
  • police officer numbers vs. police staff numbers
  • core policing priorities vs. the needs of partner agencies
  • support and care provided for victims vs. the pursuit of offenders
  • And so the list goes on

We want to do it all. But the fact is that we’re not going to be able to. Which means that there are some very tough questions to be asked.

What are we going to do differently?

What are we going to do less of?

What are we going to have to stop doing altogether?

The easiest thing in the world is to recline in the comfort of an armchair and point out what policing is doing wrong – and what policing should be doing more of. But dealing with the reality and endless complexity of those challenges is a different proposition altogether.

For example we cannot, simultaneously, put more time, effort and resources into every emerging priority. There will have to be some give and take. If we want more of something, there will have to be less of something else. And we need to understand that, when it comes to making those decisions, there will be inevitable differences of opinion about what those ‘somethings’ should be.

It’s a whole lot easier to talk about policing than it is to be a police officer.

II.    Organisational 

The organisational challenges facing the service as a whole at the start of 2017 are eye-watering:

  • Economics: In an article published on January 4th, the Guardian reported that the Met, for example, still to needs to find c.£400M in savings. On top of those already made. The continuing financial challenge remains on a scale that is entirely without precedent.
  • Reform: Whilst change is a constant in policing, the current relentless pace of it – and the demands associated with it – are greater than at any other point in our history. Without denying the very evident need for reform in the service, it is not unusual to hear officers and staff expressing the view that too much is happening, too quickly – and that not all of it is for the better.
  • Governance: Policing has an accountability framework arguably more complex than any other. Chief Constables are answerable to – amongst others – Number 10, the Home Office, The Home Affairs Select Committee, the College of Policing, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, Police & Crime Commissioners and the local communities they serve. That’s a lot of important people to please.
  • Legacy: We continue to be confronted with the deeply unsettling sins of our past – both distant and uncomfortably recent. No one to blame but ourselves of course – but they remain a heavy burden in the present.
  • Morale: The most recent survey conducted by the Police Federation (in the summer of 2016) provides a clear indication of the people challenges currently facing local forces. 45,000 officers took part, with 68% of them suggesting that they did not feel valued and 56% stating that their own morale was low. More than 90% of officers stated that morale in the service as a whole was low.

III.    Personal

In addition to the issue of morale, individual officers and staff face a number of personal challenges:

  • Physical: The Police Federation estimates that there are 23,000 assaults on officers in England & Wales every single year. That’s a heck of a number – and is accompanied by the stark realisation that each of them is an explicit terrorist target.
  • Health & Wellbeing: The recent report published by the Police Dependents Trust revealed that 81% of officers (almost 11,000 were surveyed) have suffered physical injury or mental ill health as a consequence of their work. I have my own scars – seen and unseen – and I know more good coppers working under more strain that any previous point in my career.
  • Financial: Every frontline police officer is feeling the pinch of austerity. Of course, they’re far from being unique in that respect – but it remains an immensely significant issue for them.

IV.    External

  • Global events, local impact: Police officers are called upon to respond to the consequences of events happening far beyond their immediate force boundaries: Brexit & the reported rise of hate crime, Syria & the consequences for radicalisation and terrorist activity to name but two.
  • Scrutiny: As I have suggested before, the current story being told about policing in this country is an insistently hostile and negative one. There is an urgent need for policing to be held to account – but there is an equally pressing need for balance in the narrative.
  • Public Sector Strain: Policing is, increasingly, being called upon to support partners under pressure – in the ambulance service, in mental health and adult social care services, even in prisons.
  • Public protest: When people take to the streets to exercise their democratic right to protest, it is the police who are diverted from other places to keep the peace.

Where from here?

Having joined the Met in 1992, I’ve been a proud police officer for almost a quarter of a century – and I believe that this is as challenging as I have ever known it.

But I also believe in the people I work alongside. I believe in:

  • their courage
  • their decency
  • their compassion
  • their humanity
  • their terrible sense of humour
  • their willingness to work all the hours to get the job done
  • their belief in that precious, old fashioned thing called duty

These are the things that haven’t changed. And these are the people who remain the everyday heroes and heroines who police our streets.

It’s people who answer emergency calls. It’s people who step into the middle of violent confrontations. It’s people who stand in the driving rain at the scenes of serious car crashes. It’s people who place an arm round the shoulder of someone in unimaginable pain. It’s people who search for missing children. It’s people who chase armed criminals. It’s people who deliver the news no one else wants to hear. It’s people who roll up their sleeves and get on with it. It’s people who pick themselves up, dust themselves down and go again.

More so now than ever before, we need to make damn sure that we’re not taking them for granted.

I don’t have all the answers to the challenges of this new year, but I know that any response has to begin with the care and regard we display for the men and women who stand on the thin blue line.

Everyday Heroism

 

A Copper’s Christmas

Allow me if you will to present a retelling of the traditional Christmas story, using detail drawn from a little known historical source – the archives of the Bethlehem Police Department.

One document in particular, the BPD Daily Crime Bulletin, offers a fascinating insight into the work of a hitherto unheralded group of women and men – whilst shining new light on an old tale.

————————————

Bethlehem Police Department
Daily Crime Bulletin
(Date obscured – believed to be c.2000 years ago)

Late Turn (2pm-10pm)

Team Briefing

  • Day 5 of Operation Census
  • Substantial numbers of migrants arriving at border during past week
  • Low levels of community tension reported; no incidents of note in last 24 hrs
  • Large crowds expected in central Bethlehem this evening
  • No intelligence re: pre-planned disorder
  • Terrorism Threat Level remains at ‘Severe’ (an attack is highly likely)
  • 12 PCs on duty

(Handover note: Roads Policing chariot in for repairs – no replacement available).

14.00hrs

  • Start of shift
  • 2 PCs to fixed post at main Town Checkpoint
  • 2 PCs to ongoing crime scene at Caesar’s Nightclub
  • 2 PCs to constant watch in the cells
  • Remaining officers out on foot

15.00hrs

  • Routine patrols – High Street
  • Town Centre busy but peaceful

16.30hrs

  • Call to Civil Dispute in the foyer of the Judea Travelodge
  • Apparent misunderstanding regarding double booking of main suite
  • Situation deteriorated as it became apparent that there were no other rooms available – at the hotel or anywhere else in the town
  • Suspects became violent. Two arrests. Both now staying with us overnight.

17.15hrs

  • Suspect detained by staff at the Bethlehem Brasserie for theft of a jug of wine
  • Evidence consumed prior to police arrival
  • Suspect unfit for interview until tomorrow morning

18.00hrs

  • Reports of possible UFO sighting
  • Claims of a bright light – moving East to West at a height of several thousand feet
  • Area Search, No Trace
  • Possible Nuisance Call

18.30hrs

  • Multiple calls to disturbance on hillside a mile outside town
  • Reports of strobe lighting and loud music
  • Initial suspicions of an illegal rave in progress
  • On arrival, met by group of Shepherds and a large number of sheep
  • Shepherds claimed to have been visited by an angelic choir (as if we’d fall for that one). Sheep useless as witnesses.
  • But, despite lengthy enquiries and a thorough search of the area, no sound system or lighting equipment found – and no evidence recovered suggesting the use of mind-altering substances. Not so much as a spliff.
  • Shepherds initially threatened with arrest for wasting police time – but eventually given a Verbal Warning when they explained that they were leaving anyway.
  • Last seen running towards Bethlehem Town Centre.

19.30hrs

  • Call to an impromptu protest outside Bethlehem Town Hall
  • Discovered a small crowd carrying banners, chanting slogans and demanding Judean independence from the rule of Rome
  • Dispersed at request of officers without incident – though something tells me we haven’t seen or heard the last of them.

20.00hrs 

  • Call from our colleagues in the Judea Border Patrol
  • They have stopped a group of Travellers who claim to have come from ‘afar’ (Have yet to establish where this is)
  • The three who appear to be in charge are well dressed and claim to know something about the earlier UFO report
  • Search of luggage has revealed a quantity of gold and a container filled with an aromatic and suspicious looking resin
  • Enquiries ongoing re possible offences 

20.15hrs

  • Update from Border Patrol
  • Travellers able to prove ownership of gold – and the resin turns out to be something called Myrrh. Checks confirm this isn’t a Controlled Drug
  • Allowed on their way

21.00hrs 

  • Call to suspected Child Protection case
  • Allegation of a newborn baby being cared for in wholly unsuitable circumstances – apparently in a stable, surrounded by livestock and with no heating or running water
  • Unmarried teenage mother with no obvious means of support aside from an older man claiming – without documentation – to be her ‘betrothed’
  • On arrival, found earlier group of Shepherds in street outside
  • Initially threatened them with arrest for Obstructing Police – then saw expression on their faces
  • Decided to see for myself what was going on

 

  • Ma’am, I’ve walked this beat for almost 25 years and I’ve seen most things that this line of work puts your way – but I have no words to describe what I saw last night
  • No arrests necessary. No explanation adequate. But everything is different now
  • By the time you read this, I’ll have finished my shift. But if you have any questions about this report, you’ll find me back at the stable door.
  • If I may Ma’am – and if you have time – you really ought to come and see for yourself

 

Bulletin ends.

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————————————

Happy Christmas, one and all.

Guest Blog: A Copper’s Tale

Allow me to introduce you to a colleague of mine, PC Ben Forbes. He’s a remarkable man.

A couple of weeks back, he emailed me his story and asked what I thought of it.

I told him it was powerful stuff – and that people should read it.

He asked me if I’d be willing to publish it.

So here it is. Have a read.

(You can find Ben on Twitter – @BLF090)


 

A Copper’s Tale

ben-forbes

Every police officer has their story – one that is unique and special to them. I wanted to take this opportunity to tell my story – and to explain how it has an impact on everything I do as a Police Officer. I also want to take this opportunity to talk about the vital importance of Partnership work in reducing crime and diverting young people away from damaging lifestyles.

The Beginning

We all have our stories – of lives lived and choices made; of choices made and paths taken; of the people we meet and the impact they have on us.

My story began in the East End of London 27 years ago. I was born to good parents in a difficult neighbourhood – an only child of mixed Caribbean and British heritage.

If you’d told me at the beginning that I would end up as a police officer, I’m not sure I would have believed you. But for the last three years, that’s exactly what I’ve been. And I love my job.

The thing is though, it might all have turned out so very differently.

The Motivation

Since I was a little boy, I have always been a huge fan of a TV series The Bill (I know right, how stereotypical can you get….). The production was filmed on my street for a number of years and, as a child, I used to love seeing police cars driving up and down and the mass number of people it would take to create.

It sparked my interest in becoming a Police Officer and, ever since those days, I have watched each episode of The Bill over and over again – much to the annoyance of my parents!

However, what I did not know whilst I was sitting at home watching Sergeant Smithy lead his troops into the field, was that one day, I would be a Police Officer in London and I would have the extraordinary responsibility of Protecting Life and Upholding the Law.

The Middle – the Flash Point

But the journey from then to now was far from straightforward. I struggled with life as a youngster in Inner London.

By the time I got to Secondary School, everything was up for grabs.

I didn’t have many friends starting with me – and no older brother or sister to walk and talk me through the change of environment and inevitable pressure that went with it.

So I decided to follow the kids who seemed to me to be the most popular. Standing in their shadows offered me a level of status and protection within the school but, in time, it would lead to all sorts of trouble – both with the school and with the police.

Throughout Years 7 to 9, I got into constant trouble with my teachers – ending up with a very high detention and exclusion rate. Following the malign example of some of the others, I started refusing to go to classes – and ended up being referred to the Inclusion and Behavioural Unit.

Choices and consequences. And I continued to make bad ones. I was repeatedly excluded and my increasingly aggressive behaviour prompted a referral to the Special Educational Needs Team.

I was offered numerous opportunities to go into educational and sport programmes – and the chance to get one-to-one support – but I turned them all down.

The reason for my refusal was twofold: fear and peer pressure. I had little or no self-belief and I feared that I wouldn’t have what it took to succeed. I also knew that if I willingly participated in these programmes, I would lose my standing within my chosen peer group and this would bring a wealth of problems for me in terms of protection, support and belonging.

Time passed and, one evening after school, I was told by one of my so-called friends to meet on a nearby road as they had issues with a gang of boys. Before I knew it, I was in the middle of a large group fight – one that might have ended in any number of ways.

The next day, the local Police Partnership Team came to our school and I was summoned to the Head Teacher’s Office. I was told I had been identified as one of the group involved in the fight.

I remember to this day the fact that the police officer took the right approach with me. He was calm and balanced, but firm too. He could see that I was vulnerable – and he recognised the fact that I needed support to get out of this lifestyle. Before it was too late.

But initially, I refused to engage with him – even to speak to him.  After a few minutes of silence; he said to me that he would be coming back to the school the next week to see how I was getting on.

The following day, I was approached by one of my teachers and offered the chance to go on an external sports project. I knew the Watersports Centre very well – it was local to me and I had been there a number of times with my friends.

For the first time, I agreed to take part in an opportunity being offered to me. I suppose it sparked my interest. The Centre was somewhere I really enjoyed going to – but this was the first time someone had recognised and understood what I loved doing.

And everything began to change.

Once there, I was mentored, trained and coached by the Kayak Staff. I was then given a rare opportunity to become a Trainee Instructor – and to develop this over a number of years after I left school.

So to the golden question – why did I finally change?

It had everything to do with people believing in me – seeing beyond my behaviour and recognising my potential.

I always had belief and support from my family but, for some reason, I was craving it from someone totally independent. I needed someone who would empower me, help me to recognise and believe I was good at something – someone I could look up to and aim to be like.

I started to pick up Kayaking very quickly and was progressing through the qualifications needed for me to be able to turn this sport into something which would allow me to make money, a career.

Over time, I progressed from total novice to a professional coach. Seeing, feeling and experiencing this progression gave me more motivation not to go back to my old ways and to keep on this new path.

As I got settled into my new career and found my feet, I discovered that the opportunity I had been given was all put together by the Police Officer from the Partnership Team – together with my teachers who put the leg work in to convince the local authority to offer me a chance. Without strong Partnership working between the numerous agencies, bodies and individuals, none of it would have been possible.

Partnership has been at the forefront of most successes I have ever witnessed or been involved in.

This was extremely impactive on me. It was like a lightbulb being switched on. After starting out at the Watersports Centre, my behaviour, interests, passions and ambitions totally changed. With support of my new colleagues and family, I made the decision to change my ways and my friendship circles completely. This afforded me the opportunity to start afresh and build a respectable and professional career and lifestyle.

The Challenges

Of course, it hasn’t all been easy or straightforward. There have been all sorts of challenges along the way:

  • Core Skills – It was very clear that due to my behaviour in school, I was not up to the educational standards I needed to be – in terms of reading and writing and general ability and knowledge. I was supported by my previous Youth Worker, Support Worker and Teachers in self-learning the core fundamental skills I needed in order to be successful in the transition from a teenager to a professional.
  • Belief – At times some of my colleagues would ask me about my previous experience (lacking) and my background (negative) and they would brandish me with a failure brush. It is very hard to keep positive and motivated when people seem not to believe in you, even if it is only a select few.
  • Temptation – Even after removing myself from my previous circle, my old friends would not easily let me go. Why would they, when they had someone who used to do what they wanted at a click of a finger. It was very challenging not to give in to the temptation of returning to my old ways and getting involved in criminality – not least because of the offer of easy money.
  • Having Faith – For me, this was the hardest challenge to overcome. I had a lot of self-doubt and always questioned: “Am I good enough?”, “Am I doing a good job?” and “Am I accepted?”

Partnership

The message within this blog, within my story – and the key piece of the puzzle to any success I have achieved – is Partnership.

If it wasn’t for the partnership of the Police, School, Local Authority, Youth Centre, Watersports Centre and, most importantly; each person involved in my journey, then I would hate to think where I would be now.

Well, truthfully, I do know. I would be partaking of Her Majesty’s hospitality. Or worse.

Partnership is not just a phrase we use in the Police. It is a belief, a passion and – most importantly – it is a collective of people coming together for one goal.

The challenge with Partnership, especially within the Police Service, is recording collating and promoting your successes and work. It’s easy to record arrests, interviews, stop and searches and seizures. The same could not be said for Partnership work. How would you correctly record the work you do when you’re meeting a young person to discuss their life choices? How would you record the meetings and strategic planning involved in diverting that young person into a meaningful career path and away from their criminal culture? In short, you can’t easily – but it is important to me that we get the message out there about how Partnership can change lives.

About how it changed my life.

And Now….

I have been able to overcome some pretty big challenges in my life – with help from some great people. And I have been able to achieve all sorts of things as a consequence:

  • Becoming a senior Cadet volunteer and playing a part in launching the YOU London Project – a unique partnership of 10 experienced uniformed youth organisations sponsored by HRH Prince of Wales.
  • Being awarded the Jack Petchey Foundation Leaders Award for my contribution to working with young people across London.
  • Working with numerous young people, playing a part in seeing them grow and develop into professional young adults.
  • Meeting Her Majesty The Queen at a Youth Engagement function for London and Essex.
  • Achieving my Duke of Edinburgh Award Assessor Status and leading a group of young people through to their Bronze, Silver and Gold Awards.

But most importantly, I am a Police Officer within the Metropolitan Police Service. I work within Trident Partnership and I am one of the luckiest officers in the Met.

Why?

Because I’m able to use my story, my journey and my mistakes, to connect and make a real difference to young people and adults across London as a whole.

I work within every borough across London to support, develop and coach officers on how to build and incorporate Preventative and Diversionary work into their daily policing duties.

 

One of the Nine Principles of Policing set out by Sir Robert Peel stated that the police are the public and that the public are the police. This remains true to this day and I have embedded the principle into everything I do as a Police Officer.

I am the public and I serve the public.

My final message is this: Don’t give up on a young person or adult if they turn down your offer of help. Remember that each person will have their own story – one that lies behind their choices and current lifestyle.

Keep the faith and keep trying to make a difference to their life – because, as I hope this Copper’s tale shows, it can and does work.

 

Misconduct & Mistakes

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It occurs to me that, from time to time, police officers make mistakes.

It also occurs to me that we live in a world that is increasingly unforgiving of them when they do.

There are, of course, any number of reasons why police officers might get it wrong:

(1) Because they are human

Though my wife comes close, I’ve yet to encounter an entirely perfect human being.

I’ve certainly never met a perfect police officer.

But I have known officers who make mistakes. I look at one in the mirror every morning before I go to work.

They make mistakes because they are tired; because they are stretched; because they are under pressure; because they aren’t in possession of all the facts; because their instincts have let them down on this occasion; because hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Because they are human.

(2) Because they operate in the hurting places

As I have observed before, police officers go where most wouldn’t and do what most couldn’t. It is a big part of what makes them so extraordinary.

And the places where they so often find themselves are characterised by hatred and harm, by trouble and trauma, by violence and sorrow and grief. In those places, they are compelled to make life and death decisions, within fractions of seconds, without anything approaching a full understanding of the circumstances they’re confronted with.

They face incredible personal risks in doing so.

Sometimes they make the wrong call.

(3) Because everything can’t be a priority

These days, there is more police work to be done than there are police officers to do it. And the job is becoming more complex and more demanding all the time.

But everything can’t be a priority.

While we concentrate our efforts and attention on protecting the most vulnerable and pursuing the most dangerous, it is just possible that other, less important things, will have to wait.

But someone, somewhere will always believe we’ve got it wrong – that there are other things that ought to have been higher up our list. Sometimes, they will be right.

(4) Because policing doesn’t happen in isolation 

The police service will always be the agency of first and last resort. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But we are just one part of an endlessly complex statutory (and non-statutory) jigsaw. The young man we arrested this morning is the same one that Social Services are concerned about. He already has a Drugs Worker and needs to see his CAMHS counsellor in between appointments at the Youth Offending Service.

Cuts to the services provided by a number of those partner agencies have widened the gaps that he can fall through.

And, between us, we don’t always get it as right as we should.

(5) Because of organisational failings

Sometimes, police officers make a mistake as a consequence of failings on the part of the wider service.

Perhaps we haven’t provided them with the right leadership and direction.

Perhaps we have focused so much on hitting targets that we have failed to appreciate the importance of things that can’t necessarily be measured.

Perhaps we have provided kit or training that isn’t up to scratch. Or we haven’t provided it at all.

Perhaps it’s us who have let them down.

 


 

Sometimes police officers make mistakes.

When we do, we need to say sorry.

We also need to acknowledge that the consequences of those mistakes – for victims, for witnesses, for suspects, for wider society – can be disproportionately damaging. That is perhaps an inevitable consequence of the place that policing occupies in the world.

But the way in which the rest of us respond to the making of those mistakes is critical – not least in determining whether we stand any chance of getting it right next time.

And I’m just not comfortable with the way things are at the moment.

We live in times when the ferocious combination of media hostility, political demand, one-eyed external scrutiny and the baying of social media hounds leaves little room for consideration, balance or perspective.

In the headlong rush to apportion blame, how can any of us be expected to learn from the things we get wrong?

Because mistakes and misconduct are not the same thing. Not remotely the same.

Misconduct is the preserve of:

  • the lazy
  • the unprofessional
  • the corrupt
  • the criminal

And police officers who display any of those characteristics have nothing in common with the vast majority of good coppers I’ve worked alongside for the best part of 25 years.

The lazy and the unprofessional need to get their act together. If they can’t or won’t, they need to go. This job matters far too much to be done by people who don’t care.

When it comes to the corrupt and the criminal, the message is clear: They have no place among us.

Actually, they belong in jail.

At the same time, every good Copper (and there are thousands of them) needs our support as never before. And they deserve far better than to be hung out to dry for doing their jobs. When they make an honest mistake – having acted honourably and with the best of intentions – they should be supported by us and allowed to learn from the experience, without being damned in the court of ill-informed opinion.

They do a job that is beyond the experience and understanding of most of us. They do it with courage and decency and patience and good humour.

And, as they venture into the hurting places, they need to know that we have their backs.

What Coppers Want

pd-trust-report

On Tuesday 22nd November 2016, a Met police officer was stabbed three times in the stomach. He was one of four London-based officers injured in separate incidents on the same day. One PC had their hand broken, one was attacked with a hypodermic needle and another was punched in the face.

They were just doing their jobs.

Just doing their duty.

On the same day, a leading national charity – the Police Dependents’ Trust – released the results of their wide-ranging ‘Injury on Duty’ research. The headlines look like this:

– 10,987 serving UK officers and staff took part

– 81% stated that they had suffered at least one physical injury or mental health issue as a consequence of their police work

– 76% stated that this was in the past 5 years

– 45% stated they needed to take a week or more off work as a consequence

Let those numbers sink in.

The Police Federation for England & Wales estimates that there are more than 23,000 assaults on police officers every year. That’s one every 12 minutes.

Earlier in the year (during June and July 2016), the Federation ran their annual staff survey:

– 45,000 officers took part

– 68% of officers said that they don’t feel valued (despite the fact that 61% of them felt proud to be in the police)

– 56% said their own morale was low

– 93.5% said morale in the police service was low

– Only 17% felt that police officers are respected in society

– Just 13% would recommend joining the police

Whilst some of these figures actually represent a marginal improvement on 2015, they remain pretty sobering.

And these remain extraordinarily challenging times for policing.

So what do Coppers want?

I.     To make a difference

Some things never change.

Ask most Coppers why they joined and the simple answer will be that they wanted to make a difference. The fact that it’s a well worn phrase doesn’t make it any less true. It’s the motivation of every good copper I’ve ever known – and I’ve known a great many of them.

Nobody joins the police to get rich.

Nobody joins to be famous.

Nobody joins to win first prize in a popularity contest.

Almost all of us, in our own unique ways, joined because we wanted to change the world

(OK, so driving fast cars had its attractions too).

Very little frustrates coppers more than the stuff that gets in the way of their ability to get on and do the job. It might be bureaucracy. Or buck-passing. Or politics. Or bad decision making. It might be any number of things.

Most Coppers just want to make a difference.

II.     A Locker & a Radio

Most Coppers are straightforward souls.

Tell them where you need them to be and they will be there.

Tell them what you need them to do and they’ll get stuck in (with the occasional, obligatory grumble along the way).

Just give them the kit they need to get the job done.

Decent quality kit. Kit that works. Kit that protects them – and the public they serve.

They’d also quite like a kettle. And some forks.

III.        World Class Leadership

Leadership. Not Management.

At every level of the police service.

Coppers want to be inspired.

They want leaders who are brave, who care, who aren’t just in it for themselves, who understand that everything can’t be a priority, who will stick around long enough to see the consequences of their actions – and who recognise that it’s people who matter most of all.

( You can find a few more thoughts on leadership here: https://policecommander.wordpress.com/2016/06/16/ten-thoughts-about-leadership/ )

IV.     World Class Training

Coppers want great training.

Definitely not a series of hopeless powerpoint slides flickering on poor quality computer screens. Or the sort of tick box nonsense designed solely to offset some corporate liability. Or the kind of input that begins half-heartedly midway through the morning and runs out of steam shortly before lunch.

They want training of the standard we give to Firearms and Public Order officers; courses of the quality we deliver for Hostage Negotiators.

They want to know that we value them enough to give them the best.

V.     To be defended & celebrated

Coppers want people – and their bosses in particular – to defend them.

Boldly, not blindly.

In a world where the story being told about policing is frequently hostile and damaging, this matters more than I can say.

They want an answer to the journalist’s question: Who is standing up for policing in this country?

When things go right, they want to hear the rest of us celebrating – loudly and unashamedly – the everyday heroism of the men and women who do this job.

And, when things go wrong, they want a fair and balanced hearing.

VI.     Change that is for the better

This is a time of unprecedented change for policing.

Some of that change has been long overdue, irrespective of the financial context. But still, it’s difficult to escape the conclusion that not all of it has been for the better.

For many Coppers, there has simply been too much, too quickly – and they feel left behind

They want to be able to draw breath, to understand the grand plan (the ‘why’ as well as the ‘what’) and they want to be participants rather than just passive recipients of it all.

VII.      A Simple Thank You

This remains a job like no other.

For the Copper who has been stabbed.

For the Copper at the scene of the cot death or the car crash.

For the Copper with a broken hand.

For the Copper standing in the hurting places.

For the Copper who has been up all night in the freezing cold and driving rain.

For the Copper suffering with PTSD, struggling to comprehend the things that have happened in the places where they’ve been.

For the Copper with the scars, seen and unseen.

In this often ungrateful world of ours, a simple thank you can still go a long way.

 

 

Meet the Press

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I know some brilliant journalists. I’m proud to count some of them as friends. And dealing with the media is an important part of my job – something, believe it or not, that I actually enjoy.

As a police officer, I have a professional responsibility to engage, to respond, to explain – and, dare I say, to offer an insight into the person behind the uniform.

But, truth be told, these are challenging times for relationships between the police and the press – with each seeming to nurse and nurture a set of grievances about the other that sets the tone for so many of our dealings.

The potential causes for this are well documented, but I don’t think anyone benefits from the current state of play: police, press or public.

The fact is that the police service needs the media:

To help us in protecting the vulnerable.

To assist us in catching the dangerous.

To support us in getting critical messages out to the wider community.

To inquire. To hold us to account. On occasions, to ask deeply uncomfortable questions.

We do our job better when journalists do their job well.

Policing occupies a unique place in society and, as I have suggested before, we ought to be held to a higher standard than anyone else – not least because of the promises we have made and the powers we have been given. And the experience of recent history reinforces the view that when policing gets it wrong – individually or institutionally – the consequences are likely to be disproportionately damaging.

I want the media to keep us honest and true. I want them to question and challenge and to be bloody awkward when circumstances demand. I don’t want them to allow us to get away with a single thing.

But (and this is one of those significant ‘buts’), there are other things I want from them too. Beginning with a far greater balance – and sometimes accuracy – in the coverage provided of this extraordinary job I do.

The prevailing narrative when it comes to policing can be astonishingly negative. In fact, I can think of no other public service so consistently under fire. I’m not looking for anyone’s sympathy, but I am seeking some recognition and understanding. The imbalance damages our relationships with victims and communities – and it has a very real impact on our own people.

Sometimes, it feels as though the only story being told about policing is the one suggesting that we are incompetent. Or corrupt. Or racist. And in the vast majority of cases, the vast majority of the time, that simply isn’t true. In fact, the complete opposite is true.

In most cases, the things that police officers do take my breath away: their bravery, their brilliance, their simple human decency. But these don’t tend to be the stories that get told. On the contrary, the focus is relentlessly on the negative – often with language and headlines chosen seemingly to make things as difficult for us as possible. On occasions, the coverage is downright inaccurate.

Twice in the last week or so, I have seen colleagues challenging news headlines broadcast on social media. Both concerned allegations of shocking crimes perpetrated by police officers. And, in both cases, the casual reader was left free to conclude that these events had happened in the UK. In fact, one crime took place in America and the other happened in Afghanistan.

Mistakes, mischief or malice?

Then there was the story published online a few days back – concerning a five-year-old boy who was hit by a police car. The language used in the article was remarkably emotive, suggesting that the child had been ‘mown down’ – and emphasising that the patrol vehicle was not using blue lights at the time. Exactly the sort of horrifying circumstances likely to impact negatively on public opinions about who we are and what we do.

Except that the content of article was, at best, misleading. It required a direct written response from the boy’s dad to explain that his son had lost his footing on the kerb and fallen into the road. He pointed out that it was a freak accident and that no one was to blame.

I will never be a blind apologist for policing. We are capable of getting things spectacularly wrong and, when we do, it is absolutely right that we face the consequences. I don’t for one moment want to shy away from stories that are difficult for us – not least because doing so allows for the repetition of dreadful mistakes.

But we are also capable of getting things spectacularly right. And I could tell you endless tales…

Of lives being saved, of missing people being found, of escaped prisoners being recaptured, of killers and sexual predators being tracked down and detained, of sieges being ended, of organised crime networks being dismantled, of desperate souls being talked back from the edge. Stories of extraordinary courage and remarkable compassion. Stories of the everyday heroism of the men and women who police our streets

And those, surely, are stories worth telling.