An interesting phrase and it seems to have resulted after some ill-advised comments from the head of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), Sir Thomas Winsor. He gave a live interview to Sky News on Thursday 20th April and was discussing the difficulty some Police forces are facing in recruiting and retaining detectives.
It is a remote possibility that the widely-viewed clip may have been out of context in respect of the whole interview, however the actual words he used left no doubt. Mr Winsor first stated that one of the problems is that detectives are not paid any more despite the fact they have specialist skills. I will come back to that issue later but he then went on to make an unbelievable statement. Detectives have a more stressful job than response or neighbourhood officers because in the main response officers do not take their work home with them.
This prompted a response the like of which I have rarely seen on social media, from public and police officers, both response and detectives, who were all astonished at the naivety and disrespect Mr Winsor was showing to Policing. To make such a remark demonstrates his unsuitability for his current role far better than I could ever achieve in any blog. To think that any emergency service worker, and especially Police officers, do not carry with them the memory of every tragic and awful incident they deal with is hugely derisive. If you have access to twitter just search the hashtag #itookithome and I defy you not to be moved by some of the accounts. I can picture and remember numerous fatal accidents I dealt with including my first in 1980 in Mitcham Road, Tooting at 0200 when a mustard coloured Austin collided with one of the old concrete lampposts. The driver was not wearing a seatbelt and the drivers’ door was the point of impact meaning the driver collided head first with the lamppost. Then there was the child that ran out from their school gates between parked cars in Mitcham and was struck by an old Ford Granada. I didn’t receive a call to that one but drove around the corner to be met by the car sideways on and the child lifeless in the road.
Obviously, I never took either of those incidents home or the four suicides by hanging I dealt with, the stabbing victim I cradled as he died in Tooting Bec or the lady who took her own life by pouring paraffin over herself in her front room in Balham New Road. Obviously If I shut my eyes, I cannot see the childs face or the lady in her pink nylon house coat that had melted onto her, because I didn’t take the incident home with me. So many more I could recount but then so could every Police officer, response officer, neighbourhood officer or detective.
Every Police officer can recount similar traumatic incidents and events that are buried deep in their minds but can be triggered by driving down a road or someone mentioning an incident. You take all of them home with you and carry them with you for ever, and for someone in a position as Winsor is to make such a disparaging comment, is highly disrespectful and shows his contempt for policing.
I have always acknowledged and commented publicly, that investigative work is a specialism but then again so are many other areas of policing and none currently attract an additional payment. The issues around lack of detectives and recruitment largely centres around reducing numbers meaning those in the role have increased workloads. There are currently policies in many forces where response officers are now responsible for investigating the crimes they report so not only do they respond but they also investigate. Do they fall into this `taking the investigations home ` category that Winsor finds so convenient to use as an explanation for lack of detectives?
It was always the case that moving into the CID (detective branch) was seen as a bonus, it is not a promotion despite what some seem to think. It inevitably takes you off shift work and more importantly no night duty. You tend to react to crimes and investigations after the uniformed response teams have attended and dealt with the initial call. It is frequently slow time policing as opposed to the fast moving and decision making role carried out by response teams. I have worked alongside some outstanding detectives and excellent Police officers and respected their role and work, but I never wanted to do it. By the same token, they acknowledged my role in policing but never wanted to return to response policing due to the demands of the work. Waiting for that emergency call and not knowing what you may face or the risk to yourself or your colleagues.
It seems strange timing that Winsor should make his comments so soon after the Westminster attack and the day after three Met officers were injured running into a house after a 999 call and the house then exploding in a fire. I am sure everyone in both incidents is still taking it home with them and running over every millisecond in their heads.
The clip from Sky News ends with him mentioning that detectives carry a risk if they make a mistake and miss something. This suggests detectives have more stress because of this risk factor of making a mistake however I would suggest that front line operational officers face a greater risk. Think of the pursuit driver and the risk assessment they are conducting every second of a vehicle pursuit. If they get it wrong they will be under the microscope of an investigation by the IPCC and possible criminal charges, imprisonment and loss of a job and career. The same can be said with firearms officers and the inevitable investigation if they make the decision to discharge their weapon. Mistakes in either role would cause just as much stress and arguably more than it would in any detective based role.
I interpreted the interview as another divide and conquer tactic that has been so typical of everything Winsor has been involved in since he was appointed to review Police pay and conditions. I have no idea if he has ever actually experienced a working week with either response officers, neighbourhood officers or detectives but I suspect not. He strikes me as the type of person who would run away from exactly the types of incident that many of my former colleagues continue to run towards. He would not take them home with him because he would never have to experience them, hence his inexcusable choice of words during his interview.
There are issues with recruiting and retaining detectives but some of the main ones have resulted because of the very cuts in pay and allowances and reduction in officer numbers that he instigated. Every Police officer faces stress during their career and every one of them takes part of the job home with them every day. That’s why it’s a vocation and not just a job………