The police watchdog, the IOPC, has recently released a report into social media conversations between officers — and it makes for uncomfortable reading. Some of the comments are appalling, full of arrogance, racism and misogyny. But as we get ready to shower disdain on serving officers once again, I’d like to raise the question: what effect do you think this constant castigation of all police officers has?
The offending messages were exchanged three to five years ago between half a dozen foolish or morally weak young officers. They were a small part of the successful, crime-busting, 120-strong West End Zone Impact Team. Yet politicians from all parties — Sadiq Khan, Diane Abbott, Priti Patel — reacted by berating the whole force.
Do they really think that will help? Do they think that Met Police officers in Bromley or Devon officers in Torquay will be better at protecting you, the public, from violent predators, paedophiles and knife-carrying muggers as a result of this permanent telling off? I served for 30 years with the police in London and think it will have exactly the opposite effect.
Every single police officer is expected to think and work alone for the most part, whether patrolling on a bike or in a car. If they are a detective investigating crimes, the same applies. Yes, of course we all see officers in vans or in groups from time to time, but it’s essentially a solitary job and it takes a physical and emotional toll. Seeing violence on the street, day in and day out, changes you as a person. Unless you’ve been there in the dark, alone, facing the sort of abuse and danger police officers encounter, you are unlikely to understand.
To be a good police officer you need a sense of professional pride. An officer doesn’t get paid more or promoted because he or she races to catch a thief or a burglar — he does it because he chooses to do his duty. No one can make him or her diligent in the search for evidence, or assiduous about recording it properly. They do the job because most still care about protecting the weak and vulnerable and want to catch predators. But goodwill can be eroded — in some cases, it is already being eroded — and it’s the public who’ll suffer as a result. This continual negative and anti-police spin is biting deep.
We are losing passionate and committed police officers, and being left with the ones who are more likely to be less effective and more apathetic. How do I know this? Nine members of my immediate family either have been in or remain in the Met. I speak regularly to a network of serving or former serving colleagues and so I know exactly what the feelings are within.
Many forces now have attrition rates of up to 30 per cent. Expensively recruited and trained new officers are leaving after only three years. Worse still, even more expensively trained and experienced officers, those with perhaps ten or even 20 years’ service, are leaving to take jobs in the private sector.
The financial services industry is luring away some of our best detectives, and patrol officers often leave for a job in railway companies. The problem-solving and decision-making skills of a patrol officer are highly valued by the railways, if not by politicians. There’s often nearly double the pay and infinitely less grief.
Can you blame the cops? How would you feel if you were continually slagged off by your boss? Would it make you do a better job? Imagine working in a public-facing job — do you really think it would encourage you to give better service to a customer if they were undiscriminatingly unpleasant?
And now imagine that this job involves risking your life: confronting violent and abusive people, drunks with knives and drug gangs with guns. Perhaps you can see that in this environment a drip-feed of derision from above is particularly corrosive.
So if you are a politician, a journalist or just a citizen who thinks we should do something about criminals, please think before you put the boot into the police again.