In the last few days it has been announced that on the diamond jubilee of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, amongst others, UK police officers will be issued with a medal. I for one am thoroughly delighted but I can’t say the same for all my colleagues. Let me explain.
In 2002 on the occasion of the Her Majesty’s golden jubilee a similar medal was issued. In order to qualify police officers had to have completed 5 years service on the date of issue. This left a number of officers feeling somewhat disgruntled. Particularly those who only just fell short of the qualification criteria. In many cases the automatic retaliation to rejection is to declare the subject irrelevant. An “I don’t care anyway. It doesn’t mean anything to me” attitude is engendered. In my force there was quite a lot of this. I appreciate that those who object the loudest may drown out the voices of those who simply accepted their predicament. I believe that the latter were in the majority and simply chose not to vilify the selection criteria. I was utterly delighted. Receipt of the medal was a bit of an unceremonious affair. I was simply passed a box on parade and asked to sign the sheet to say I had received it. I was not offended though. When such a large number of people are being processed this is the only logical solution. I sat at the desk, opened my box and viewed the shiny gold coin and clasp within. I was very pleased and felt rewarded (in a non monetary way) and proud. I lost myself for a few moments in a reverie of 11yrs service and the trials, tribulations and friends lost over the years and only stirred from this daydream when I was drawn to a colleagues conversation. “It’s a load of old bollocks though isn’t it. It doesn’t mean anything. I’m going to put it on eBay”. I was dumbstruck and couldn’t believe my ears. I joked with him, “You’re not serious are you?”. After much debate it was clear he really was serious and to the best of my knowledge that’s exactly what he did. So there were a few camps on this medal. Those who got it and those who didn’t. Those who got it and were proud and those who had no regard or respect for it all. Those who missed out and were angry and those who simply accepted their time would come.
Since the recent announcement I have discussed the award with colleagues at work and friends on Twitter. The same camps appear to be being pitched. Blind indifference, pride, anger and patience. Here is a comment from today that takes me right back to 2002;
“Is a medal given out for no actual act really even worth having? It signifies nothing.”
I can understand this theory. I never served in the armed forces. Yet in the media we see armed forces personnel sometimes with shocking injuries visiting the palace to be awarded medals for bravery. Real achievement and courage in dangerous situations. It instills a belief that medals are awarded for brave, courageous gallantry only. You’re wrong.
In the back of my sock drawer is a small brown box. The box is addressed to my grandfather and it contains his three basic war medals from the second world war. They are not special medals for outstanding bravery. They are just the standard issue war medals given to all involved in the campaign.
He is long since gone but his medals remain and every remembrance Sunday they come out for a polish. They are then lovingly put away until next year. Do these medals signify anything? Not to grandpa.. he’s dead. But they do to me. My children are fascinated by them when we talk of the war, medals and grandpa. The memory and reason they were issued lives on, as it does in all our armed forces personnel currently serving in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I’m not trying to draw a parallel between war medals, the armed forces and the issue of a medal to police officers… though there are some. But the bottom line is we all put our lives on the line in one way or another and whilst we are not likely to come across an IED on foot patrol in Sleepy Hollow we may just find ourselves involved in a large explosion such as those in London and Manchester. We put ourselves at risk for the safety of others. Others may then argue, that the officer who has sat back in a Monday-Friday day job in HQ for the last 10yrs and not done any “proper” police work is undeserving. They are safe. I disagree. You simply cannot differentiate between staff in such cases. It’s all that qualify or none. Many years ago a friend and I pulled apart a seized transfer box on a Land Rover. We cleaned and freed hundreds of cogs, washers, shafts and pins, replaced several parts and put it all back together. It didn’t work. We ended up chucking it in the bin and buying a reconditioned unit. Only when the new unit was fitted did we find more bits from the original on the garage floor! No wonder it didn’t work. We’d not put it back together properly. The same goes for our colleagues in back office functions. They are an integral part of the operation. Love or hate what they do it is to a required role and without them, somewhere along the line, your operational duties will suffer.
The police service are currently under the biggest threat to our services in many years. Some of us feeling hurt or bitter may choose to have our pay and conditions left alone and do without a medal. What sort of message does that send to the public? Our pay and conditions are entirely separate from this award.
As individuals and through the Police Federation we are shouting at government and the public to “protect our police”. We are shouting “We are the thin blue line and we can’t get any thinner.” We are crying out for public support. Your role is about to formally recognised by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. As a crown servant… YOUR BOSS. So come 2012, if you qualify, whether you agree with it or not, you will be issued with a medal. I implore you. Keep it. You DO deserve it. Accept it with humble pride for the tough job you do day in and day out. If you miss out by years or just a few days. Be patient. Your day will come.
Hold onto the pride you have in your job. Hold onto the sense of duty you hold toward the public. Hold onto your values and standards that have underpinned UK policing since it’s inception.