The narrative needs to change

It was a big step when I decided to blog. The police service is renowned for quietly getting on with change. Of course, the public believes we are stuck in the dark ages and resistant to change, because that’s what they read in the papers. The public believes policing is a gold-plated career – a job for life – with all the perks and trimmings one could only wish for elsewhere, because that’s how austerity has been sold to them.

And everyone believes that facing violence, being assaulted and taking risks in the name of justice is just part of the job. But it isn’t. Police officers are people, members of the public who step up, and step out in that uniform, leaving their families at home, and hoping to return to their families at the end of the shift. Some do not return. Many others return home with injuries; careers and livelihoods – and those of their families – hanging in the balance.

The number of UK police officers has dropped by over 20,000 since 2010. Financial challenges continue to threaten those numbers. And there is safety in numbers! When a police officer needs help, they rely upon their colleagues to be there.

Now, the expectation of a police officer confronting violence is more than just back-up from a colleague – its an edited YouTube clip biased against the officer; it’s a press article about excessive force or misuse of taser; it’s a Member of Parliament making an empty soundbite about how things need to change, but offering no substantial alternative.

Things do need to change. The narrative needs to change. As numbers of officers continue to fall, for a wholly complex mix of reasons, police officers require and deserve the support and admiration of the public, and their politicians. Media reporting needs to be fairer and unbiased, instead of a shock headline to sell today’s copy.

Police officers are fundamentally good people, doing a difficult job under challenging circumstances. We will readily admit that change needs to happen, and it is. And, with a grumble, we nonetheless embrace it and “make it work”.

The law has never stood still, and policing has continually evolved around changes in legislation, the shifts in social dynamics, and in response to political focus. Policing looks vastly different since 1829, when Sir Robert Peel created the modern-day Service. But it hasn’t changed overnight; it changed incrementally alongside society.

So that’s why the narrative needs to change. Because as society evolves, and its expectations and demands evolve, so too must the police service. But there’s a real risk that we wrongly respond to the critical, biased narrative, rather than making the real changes that matter in a functioning society. The public are very close to receiving the policing service they want, instead of the policing service they deserve.

As a police officer, and as a leader, I have a responsibility to ensure those changes are for the better – that we continue to serve the public the way each and every one of us believes we should. Because I’m yet to meet an officer in the blue uniform who, deep down, doesn’t want to do the best they can for the community they serve. We all need to make sure that continues to be the case! The changes we aspire to embrace can only come about through honest debate and eyes wide open. That’s why I’ve decided to blog.