Britains` Top Cop…Evening Ma`am

History has been made and I wonder what Sir Robert Peel would make of his Police Force 188 years on from its inception? I hope he would approve and realise as many do in Policing, that Cressida Dick was the best candidate for the important role of Commissioner of the Met and its associated title of `Britains` Top Cop`. The Metropolitan Police will therefore have the first ever female Commissioner in its history but is it such a big factor that a woman has been selected? Frequently criticised for lacking diversity in recent years, the Met will now be led by a female officer and when you consider what that means in terms of advancement, maybe it is a big thing.

I joined in 1979 and although at that stage women were allegedly integrated into policing, they were still treated slightly differently. I can remember experienced Constables refusing to have a woman as the radio operator on the emergency cars and this attitude continued until well into the 1980`s. I qualified as an advanced driver in 1985 and can remember being asked if I was `ok` to have a female partner for my one month posting on the emergency/pursuit car. Personally, I found my female colleagues highly competent and capable and never had a problem working alongside them. On many occasions, I found it a positive advantage to be accompanied by a female officer when dealing with domestic incidents and allegations of assaults. They could calm down a potentially confrontational situation when two male officers may have had a totally different reception and outcome. To think there would be a female Commissioner within 30 years would have been unthinkable in the 1980`s given the male dominated and misogynistic view of the Police hierarchy. This would have been a tough path for any woman to tread in that policing era and the successful ones really had to prove themselves above and beyond many of their male colleagues.

Cressida Dick joined the Metropolitan Police in 1983 and would have experienced some elements of this male dominance in policing roles but her natural ability and enthusiasm for the job has clearly served her well. I never worked directly for her, but I have been present at several intelligence meetings and Police operations which she has been involved in and found her to be highly impressive. We even shared the occasional bus ride to New Scotland Yard from the train station and she always had time for a quick chat and cheery smile. Clearly someone in love with the job and her role and she was already noticeably different from some of her senior management colleagues. I have spoken to many serving and former officers over the last few months since Sir Bernard announced he was prematurely retiring. The consensus was almost overwhelming that Cress was by far the best candidate for the job but by this stage she had left the Met for a role at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office. It was unknown at first if she would throw her hat in the ring, especially after it appeared she left the Police when she was moved from her much-loved role as head of Counter terrorism. That decision was made under the leadership of the Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe and it was never really explained or justified. Once it was announced that she had applied for the job, almost everyone I spoke to believed she was absolutely the best person for the job.

She had started the hard way by spending her first ten years learning the basics of operational policing before applying for the Met accelerated promotion scheme. Who needs a Direct entry scheme? A sound operational policing basis and then accelerated through the ranks based on her ability and aptitude, what is wrong with that as a policy?

I think she will be exactly what the Met needs right now as they are at an all-time low in respect of morale and will face significant challenges in the next few years. Further budget cuts, reduction in the property estate and issues with retaining staff and attracting specialist officers will all need to be addressed. That is notwithstanding the crime issues they face from increasing knife incidents and the threat of terrorism. The tenure of the outgoing Commissioner has been riddled with rumours of a bullish management style and dogmatic approach to junior ranks. Cressida Dick does not lead in anything like the same style judging by everything I have heard and know about her. She has been described as the type of boss that you are willing to go the extra mile for and her staff put in that bit more when asked to do so. She will also give confidence to many of the young women now joining the Met that there are opportunities available to them if they have the ability and desire to succeed.

She has a sound policing background founded on time well spent at the front line and a calm head coupled with a documented support for those working for her. Her testimony at the inquest into the tragic shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes gained her increased credibility within policing and government circles. She withstood the pressure and gave an honest account of one of the most challenging operations and the decisions that have ever been made by a Police Commander. Whatever your views on that policing operation, Cressida put herself in that difficult leadership position and her decision making on the day has been vindicated at a trial.

I wish her well and hope she has a long and successful tenure at the head of the Met and restores the morale and belief in the men and women that serve the capital.

It is The Job not just A Job

Write a blog some wise people suggested. You have enough to say on twitter and on the telly so writing a blog will be easy for you, but where do you start and what do you write about? I looked for inspiration and maybe the best way to start your own blog isn’t by advertising other articulate and experienced bloggers but…..Nathan Constable, love his work and his writing. Never met the man, (is he a man? It’s a pseudonym so who knows!) but in any event, an experienced Police officer writing from the heart and an inspiration for me in taking this on. Someone I have met and worked with, John Sutherland aka Police Commander, which is a bit of a misnomer as he is a Chief Superintendent, but someone I trust and hold in high regard and an avid blog writer. We met recently and John encouraged me to dip my toe into the blogging world and write about Policing. Apparently, I have an audience primarily due to my numerous tweets about Policing issues and my occasional appearances on TV giving my opinion on the latest Police headline stories.

It surely cannot be that difficult then, find a site to host my blogs and then start typing? There is the inevitable `settings` tab to negotiate from your site host and a myriad of themes and colours to choose from for your blog site. That was a challenge for me and as my wife will tell you, I am not authorised to choose colours or themes or make any decisions around `settings` and after half an hour searching I just picked the next one and hoped for the best.

The first topic then and I pondered over Stress in the Police service that has apparently led to an increase in sickness absences? Maybe keep that for the second or third one as that subject is likely to be ongoing. Maybe the current popular debate on my twitter timeline, which is about direct entry detectives as some forces are advertising for people to join as detectives. I could definitely write about that but again, maybe for another time.

I thought I should start at the beginning and a debate currently being held in Police stations across the UK over whether it`s worth staying in the Job or leaving? Morale is reportedly at an all-time low, stress is at an all-time high and serving officers are questioning their sanity about continuing in a Policing career or maybe finding another job. I know the job has changed before someone points out to me that it is nothing like it was when I joined in 1979 and there are now greater demands on Policing.

The scrutiny has significantly increased and the policies and guidelines are constantly changing and evolving, so modern day Police officers need to be walking encyclopaedias in respect of laws and offences. The demands on Policing are increasing whilst the numbers appear to be decreasing and I do not need a degree or think tank to work out that means the less are working more. The pay and conditions have changed for the worse with existing officers now paying more into a pension for a longer period of time and will receive less at the end than they were initially promised.

Why stay then? Surely it`s just a job and if you are committed and experienced enough you can find a job where you are likely to receive more appreciation and respect than policing appears to currently receive.

That’s the point, it isn’t just a job and for many they still see it as a vocation and it is `The JOB` they just want and need to do. It is why I joined and committed over 30 years of my working life to despite the fact I am sure I could have found something that would have paid more. I could also have done a job that didn’t require me working three weekends out of every four and inevitably having the one weekend off cancelled to Police the latest march or protest in central London. They were not always on overtime either and although earning money is some recompense try telling that to your nearest and dearest as once again, they bundle the kids off to visit family without you. There may be many serving officers reading this who are considering stepping through that exit door and from one who has taken that leap I would urge caution. I was lucky enough to reach my full pension under the old scheme and retire before the goal posts were moved and everything changed. I make no apology for that and I know and understand the resentment that exists from those now working longer for less at the end. Still, what would you go and do and would it give you the same feeling as Policing has done and hopefully may do again?

I have worked in a number of roles since retiring for various employers and organisations and can tell you from experience that Policing remains high in that list around Professionalism and commitment. You need to be committed to be a police officer in the first place and dedicated to the role you are performing which is not always the case in the private sector. For some their chosen job is just a job to them and nothing more than that. The idea that they might go in early to finish some paperwork or deal with a work-related incident at the weekend is completely alien to them. The majority of Police officers are dedicated to their profession and take an oath in that respect and will act whether on or off duty. It is not until you step away from Policing that you start to realise not everyone you work with has that same mindset or approach to whatever job they are doing. The Police service has always had an inbuilt `can do` attitude to whatever new policy, legislation or guideline that is sent their way and will make the most bizarre and unpractical policies somehow work. It is the way `the job` has always been, to make things work and do some good at the same time.

There are clearly issues with the Police service and they are crying out for effective and committed leaders who support their officers and Police independently of political bias. I accept the job has serious issues and there are real problems with retaining long serving officers and ensuring we have sufficient experience policing our streets. There may be more lucrative employment offers or more glamorous roles available to you but from experience there are few that will give you the same overall satisfaction as policing. I was commentating on TV during the serious disorder in 2011 and the presenter turned to me during a break and remarked that he bet I was glad I was in the studio and not out dealing with it. I thought for a moment and answered honestly that I would happily be back out dealing with it all because that was what I trained for and felt my place was really back amongst my former colleagues. There are those moments, the serious incidents you deal with that cannot be duplicated by almost any other working role you can think of. If you ask yourself honestly, that is why you joined the job. They may not come along very often and you probably have a whole heap of mundane and frustrating issues at work to deal with in the meantime but……. when they do. That is why you are a Police Officer, that is why you joined and at those times you forget about all the negative aspects and you just get on with it.

It may not be the best job and it may not be the job you joined but deep down you still get a buzz from certain days and certain things you deal with. The camaraderie and banter that only cops seem to understand and get and despite the, ` we will keep in touch` if you leave, many don’t. Think long and hard if you are contemplating leaving because honestly, there is no other job other than `the job`, Policing.

Stay safe.