Yesterday, Sunday 29th September 2013, members of the police service from around the country gathered at Cardiff with family, friends and colleagues of fallen police officers for National Police Memorial Day (NPMD).
As a national and highly regarded event it attracts the senior officers from many forces along with with other dignitaries such as the Home Secretary Theresa May. Also in attendance in his role as Chief Inspector of HMIC was Mr Tom Winsor.
Mr Winsor is not popular with many police officers. He is the architect of reforms to policing that many officers feel are undermining the police service in England and Wales and destroying the office of constable. Mr Winsor is also the first Ch Insp of HMIC that has not come from a police background.
In advance of the day the HMIC leaked confirmation that Mr Winsor would be wearing a ceremonial uniform at NPMD. It was inevitable that this news would cause a stir amongst police officers. Both matters have proved to be true. Mr Winsor did indeed attend in full ceremonial uniform and there has been a huge amount of criticism across social media from police officers. There has however been little to no mention of it in the traditional national media channels.
Commentators have said that his decision to wear a police uniform is a disgrace. They have asked how can he look at himself in the mirror. They have said if he wants to wear a police uniform he should do so on a Saturday night in one of our busy cities or towns. Others say the uniform is earned as a police officer and he has done nothing to earn it. There are also at least two petitions set up. One requesting he does not wear any police uniform and the other that he should apologise to parliament for this poor decision.
We know that the Ch Insp of HMIC has always been a senior police officer. Those officers have always worn a uniform and have held the office of constable. As a consequence it was inevitable that when the HMIC was formed the Ch Insp would have a uniform. They did, they have and they still do. A history of Ch Insp’s of HMIC in all their finery can be seen here.
All those images are police officers. They look exactly how we expect them to and because we have grown used to them being drawn from police officer ranks it sits easily with us. It’s normal.
When the news broke I too was somewhat upset. A day or so before the event I tweeted a tongue in cheek question about whether impersonating a police officer was still an offence. After that though I stopped. The NPMD was for families, friends and colleagues of fallen officers. Those members of our police family who have laid down their lives in the service of the public. That was the focus of the day. Not arguing about what Mr Winsor decided to wear.
Having browsed through the HMIC website I cannot find one picture of Mr Winsor. There is a “who we are” page that details who all the Inspectors are but no photographs. I may be wrong but I’m sure there used to be? The page illustrates a well known fact that not all the Inspectors are police officers. It’s been this way for a while. When police officers they have continued with their uniform though I’m sure only for formal occasions. However, I’m not aware of an Inspector from a non-police background ever wearing a uniform. Mr Winsor is in a different kettle of fish though as he is the Chief Inspector.
So here’s a question. Has the Ch Insp always worn a uniform because they were a police officer or because the uniform came with that position? When the HMIC was formed somebody somewhere made a decision about uniform. Was that decision based on;
“this is an important role for the government and crown and needs a ceremonial uniform to mark it’s importance”;
or was it based on;
“Chief Con A is going to fill this role and as a police officer we should give him a uniform”?
Clearly any Chief Con would have a uniform from their current force. That said HMIC is not a force and had to be seen as independent so any uniform worn would have to be non geographic. I can’t find any history about the HMIC to this extent but I suspect the second option was more likely to be the rationale. That process has become the accepted norm and only now when the Ch Insp is not a police officer has a problem arisen.
The HMIC have said that the uniform is ceremonial and as Ch Insp, Mr Winsor is entitled to wear it. They have also been keen to point out that it is not a police uniform. The first part here is quite acceptable. We cannot deny his position whether we agree with it or not. The second though is somewhat disingenuous. Have a look at the uniform. If we ignore the ridiculously ostentatious braiding and the awful trousers, Mr Winsor is wearing what every member of the British public associates with a police officers tunic. We live in an age now where the public often cannot tell the difference between a PC or a PCSO and in some cases a security guard. Any person looking on Mr Winsor’s uniform will instantly associate it with the police.
Now interestingly Mr Winsor and the Home Secretary both before and during his appointment have made it quite clear that the most significant part of his appointment was that he was NOT a police officer. It does seem somewhat ironic after such statements that he now wears the Ch Insp uniform and looks every bit like a police officer.
Overall I think he and the HMIC have made a huge error of judgement in this case. I believe the uniform for the HMIC evolved simply because the role was always filled by a highly regarded and competent police officer. As the role of the person occupying the position of Ch Insp of HMIC has changed, so should the need to wear this uniform.
Mr Winsor is quoted by Police Oracle as saying he would rather be criticised for showing respect than not. I struggle to reconcile this statement. I think there are many folk out there who would have criticised Mr Winsor’s attendance no matter what he wore. I don’t deny that he had a place at NPMD and I think he could have satisfactorily shown his respect simply by being present. The uniform was an unnecessary and insensitive addition.
But you know what? I don’t care. If Mr Winsor wants to look like a police officer (with the exception of that braid and those trousers) then let him get on with it. In some ways it signifies a lot of changes that are going to come our way like direct entry. Some folk may get upset hurt or angry. I can sympathise with that but I’m not going to get into a fluster about it.
I didn’t feel entitled to put on my uniform on the first day at training school. I hadn’t earned it then. I have now and I’m very proud of it and those of you who know me will know how long and hard I’ve battled to get a tunic. This is my uniform. Nobody else’s. Mr Winsor can wear what he likes because in the grand scheme of things it makes no difference to me, my role and the passion I have for policing.
I don’t care what he wears. If he wants to look silly that’s entirely up to him. What I care about is every single one of us out there wearing the uniform on a daily basis to protect the public. What I care about is those of us we have lost over the years who wore it too. In comparison, Mr Winsor and his uniform are entirely, wholeheartedly and comprehensively insignificant.