It always seems to be the case that the more forthright or brazen comments by senior leaders, are timed with imminent departure or retirement; the irony being that those comments tend to echo what has been moaned about in canteens up and down the country over the last few years. I’m talking about morale.
When the Federated ranks, frontline cops or seasoned detectives, bemoan the current state of policing; resources; kit availability; or whatever it is that is getting in the way of us doing our jobs, it’s labeled as resistance to change, cynicism or canteen culture.
I’ve always tried to see past the moan, to understand what lies beneath that barbed criticism, then try to do something about the root cause. Often, people who moan just feel they aren’t listened to when they suggest ideas, so why bother? Or, perhaps they lack some of the time, skills or organizational knowledge to turn it into a reality? That is why an essential role of supervisors and leaders is to invest in developing and nurturing their teams, teasing those ideas out, and helping them make it a reality.
Two weeks ago, the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police told a City Hall meeting that morale was a challenge. Today, the departing Commissioner, Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, has talked publicly about how lack of trust in policing is limiting recruitment of armed officers. In writing rooms across the land, officers have long expressed their fears of being hung out to dry over all manner of risqué topics; firearms, stop search, and pursuits being just a few examples. Where has the robust challenge been?
Whilst it can be claimed that confidence in policing has risen, I’m genuinely shocked by how much mistrust is exhibited in modern times by the media, by our elected officials, and by the IPCC, specifically in the language they use to describe our actions, our efforts and our intentions.
We can all accept that policing will attract some bad eggs – although many people have equally been ripped off by dishonest tradesmen, mechanics, restaurateurs – it’s a sad fact that there are rotten apples in all walks of life, and the vast majority of us sincerely want them gone from our Police Service. There is no place for corrupt people in policing.
But I don’t accept that the vast majority seek to exploit the job. I don’t believe that our officers set out each morning with thoughts of who they can fit up that day. It is just untrue that police officers, time and again, withhold the truth or filter their version of it to get the outcome they want. And it is a nonsense that officers routinely and systematically abuse their powers to search, arrest or use force. If any of this were true, there would not be such overwhelming support by rank and file officers for Body Worn Video cameras, the scrutiny and transparency it will bring, and the chance of a truly independent witness to what we do and how we do it.
The reality is that most officers – the overwhelming majority – attend for duty in order to carry out their sworn duty; to make a difference in just one life that day (but hopefully more); to collect their pay and return home to their families and loved ones. Why would officers jeopardise their livelihoods, and those of their familes and children, to give John the Local Dickhead a cheeky dig, an unlawful pat-down, or a made-up arrest? Truth told, John will still be around to catch tomorrow, and we will!
With all of that in mind, our brave men and women who wear the blue uniform deserve to be trusted – to be held accountable, and to justify themselves, yes – but to be fundamentally accepted as the honest, genuine people they are. To grind away at morale in this way, will otherwise erode our system of justice, perpetuate the downward spiral of quality policing, and damage the peaceable enjoyment of our local communities by the public themselves.
Police officers in this country deserve a fair deal from those who currently don’t cut them slack; and they deserve a passionate, fervent and brutally honest defence, not just by the retiring and retired, the anonymous blogger or the lock-them-all-up brigade, but by serving officers of all ranks who are capable of standing in front of the camera and making that case.
That is what the police, and the public, deserve. And it is urgently required.