When I started in the police over 20 years ago I was excited. A great job, better pay, security, a whole plethora of career options, a good pension and great camaraderie.
As my probation progressed I cut my teeth on as many different types of job the Sgt could throw at me. There was no getting away from it; “the job” was ace. The adrenaline rush when racing to an incident, the satisfaction of catching a burglar at the scene of the crime and doing a good job that helps a member of the public were aspects of the role that made it brilliant. I had pride in what I was doing and the uniform i was wearing. My family and friends were proud too.
As a young officer in service my enthusiasm for the job and excitement were uncontainable. The team ethic was great. If sat in the office and a “thieves on” came in everyone would be scrambling over one another to get out of the door. I turned up at an assistance shout once as passenger number 4 on the back seat of a Peugeot 309! I got cold, soaking wet, covered in mud, kept on duty, punched, kicked, spat at and abused. It didn’t matter one bit. I loved the job, I loved the team and I looked forward to an exciting and diverse career.
Yet within the police were older officers with a cynical mindset. Those with lengthy service who would say “The job’s fucked” and “It’s not the job it used to be.” I found their disaffection irritating. What was the matter with them? The job was brilliant. If berated by a cantankerous officer I would be reassured by many colleagues who would say “Ignore him. He’s just an old sweat.”
As the years have gone on some things have remained the same but others have changed. I drive a desk and a custody suite these days. When I get the result I’m looking for I still get a great sense of satisfaction. Better still is having a real heart to heart with a youngster and knowing I’m making an impact. I used to love the buzz of racing to an accident in my T5 with the traffic parting as I whizzed along like a hot knife through butter. I’ve not done it for years but an opportunity recently given to me led to a situation where I was in a car and racing to a thieves on. It was only a diesel Astra and I was the passenger but the buzz was still present. There really is nothing like it.
Yet over the years I have found myself talking about certain aspects of the job and realised I sound just like some of those Old Sweats of years ago. In recent years and months this has increased. I therefore pulled myself up short and considered why I felt so negative. Had I become a cynical, “can’t wait to get my 30 years in” cop? Some would say that perhaps I was just a moaner. In the eyes of some managers it seems that if you challenge or question a change you are simply a moaner or whinger.
So what engenders this negativity? If there is one thing that is likely to impact on your attitude to work it’s a bad day. There are many aspects of this job that are awful. There have been some rotten days when I have wondered why I do it. Invariably this attitude peters out as the support of colleagues and family takes hold. In the early days dealing with an awful job would lead to a pub at the end of the shift for the team. Camaraderie, friendship and being with a team of others who had been there, seen it, done it and bought the tea towel were all that was needed to put matters straight.
As I’ve grown older I still rely on my team but it was also strengthened by marriage to a wonderful woman and my children. I may not be racing around in a car but I get to deal with every single drunken, abusive, fighting person that gets arrested. In spite of how they treat me I have to show compassion and care and ensure they are looked after. The pressure and responsibility can be immense. Yet the stresses and worries of the day can dissipate simply by smiles and hugs from my family. In essence this means there are good days and bad days. This is no different to anyone else so cannot be the cause.
I looked harder and tried to put my finger on the cause. Yes the job is not what it used to be. It has changed but this is inevitable and in many regards a good and necessary thing. We have improved the service we provide over the years but along the way the organisation nationally has dropped some almighty clangers. The target culture we are emerging from is a prime example. Change does create a climate of fear or uncertainty and maybe that’s the problem. Yet it cannot be for me. I embrace change. Anything that improves how we work and the results we achieve is a good thing.
This made me think. Change has to have an immediately obvious benefit to the staff for it to be embraced quickly. If it actually makes things harder and more complicated then its doomed in the eyes of the staff. Managers will spend more time fighting fires, correcting issues and resolving complications. More time trying to convince staff that the knackered lame donkey they hold before them is actually a thoroughbred racehorse. This leads to meetings where managers say things like “This is what we have and we have to make the best of it”. What they should be looking to achieve is a situation where the staff are saying “This has made a real difference, it works and has made things easier for me”. We have faced a change at work recently that has done just this. A system has been introduced that fell over instantly. It’s caused more issues than there were before and created a huge mountain of work and backlogs that are impacting on staff.
This is only one of the causes though. The changes in recent years to police officers pay, pensions and conditions are huge and the reforms proposed by Winsor are not done yet. These have had a massive impact on morale across the service. Though reforms and changes are not new. I used to get free dental work as a police officer. It was taken from us years ago but why not? What’s so special about policeman’s teeth? Nothing is the answer. However, as time has progressed I look back and there has been a gradual chip, chip, chip at policing. Whilst some things, like free dental work, had to go, others like our pensions and basic pay have had a hatchet job. With less than 10 years to go I’m lucky.. (at the moment) but some officers found there service extended considerably and their pension disappear off the horizon overnight.
There was always a feeling at the back of my mind that we, the police, were looked after. We don’t strike; We can’t strike. We are the service of last resort and when the brown stuff hits the spinny thing the police can be relied upon to roll up their sleeves and turn their hands to anything. This has been eroded over the years and in the last 2 years has seen a huge landslip. I don’t feel looked after anymore. The role of constable is being undermined by private contracts and with compulsory severance the last bastion of the office of constable is about to be demolished. This drive comes from the Govt and their plans and has been exacerbated by ACPO who have sat back and let it happen.
A few days ago I tweeted that I had spent a day at work and never in my service experienced so many officers who were expressing upset, anger and hurt at how they were being treated. The cuts and changes are putting pressure on us all. In custody there is a constant battle between arrests and officers to deal with them with a total lack of officers on the streets. I have many phone calls with fellow Sgt’s who know there are three prisoners to deal with in custody but they only have 2 staff and a mountain of calls to attend. When I was interviewed by Eddie Mair for the PM programme on Radio 4 I told him that I saw demand outstripping resources every day. Today it is worse.
Officers are run ragged every day. They chase their tails from one job to the next. They regularly work over their hours because they have no choice and feel like King Canute trying to hold back the tide. Numbers on the streets are reduced and officers are at increased risk. Numbers inside, like custody, are reduced that puts incredible pressure on the remaining staff and puts detainees at risk and more and more often when they look for support from management it’s not there. A lot of officers I have spoken to recently have told how they have approached supervision with a request and been told “It’s your problem. Sort it out”. How long can that attitude pervade until someone, or the job they are doing, breaks?
Truth is a big issue. Particularly when talking to our bosses. This blog is a light hearted view of how facts are changed to suit the audience. It happens. Not just in the police but everywhere. At a recent meeting for Sgt’s I alluded to this and raised a change that had been perceived by staff to be a failure but that as the message got higher it transformed to a success. The facilitator said “Be careful what you say. The Ch Insp that pushed that through is in the room”. The irony of this reinforcing my point was priceless.
Am I a moaner? Am I a whinger? Am I an “Old Sweat”? Am I too long in the tooth to accept change? I have been called all of these and sometimes considered myself if I am; but I’m not.
I’m an officer who embraces change when it’s well thought out, works and provides instant benefit for all to see. I’m an officer who grew up in an environment where we all cared about one another. I’m an officer who sees that care within the organisation eroding from above. I’m an officer who worries that we don’t have the resources on the streets to meet demand. I’m an officer who worries that Fiona Bone and Nicola Hughes were the tip of the iceberg. I’m an officer who worries that we don’t have the resources to manage arrests and the streets. I’m an officer who worries that when there is a death in custody the axe will fall on me and my team and not those who slashed our numbers. I’m an officer who has spent long enough in the job to know when something is not a change but simply wrong and dangerous.
If that makes me a moaner. So be it.
If that makes me whinger. So be it.
If that makes me a cynical old sweat. So be it.
Whether our managers and Snr managers like it or not, maybe it’s about time they stopped considering us as such and instead of dismissing what we say, actually stop and listen?