Uniformity at HMIC

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.

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10 thoughts on “Uniformity at HMIC”

  1. Some fair points, but from a look at the photos he appears to be wearing laurels, pips, and possibly crowns – now if he is not wearing ‘police uniform’ as claimed, then how does he justify wearing rank insignia ? A plain tunic would suffice. I agree he has the position which is undeniable, however he has been very badly advised re this, and for those of us who have had several £1000s taken from our families by his reforms – this provides an opportunity for the more militant of us to have a go at him. I can’t say I blame them.

    1. As said in the blog. I think it was an insensitive and silly decision. There is no doubt it is modelled on a police uniform and claiming it is just “similar” is a word game that fools nobody.

      The whole affair should be treated with contempt and we should concentrate on what the day is actually for.

  2. A few thoughts…

    Peel: we are just the public in uniform. We are not military, and the uniform was designed originally to make sure we were not seen as military. What distinguishes us from other citizens is the oath we have sworn, not the clothes we wear. We also do not carry honorary ranks when we retire, unlike the military. When we retire, we are no longer constables.

    ‘Inspectors’ in the military were originally senior officers of general rank who were selected to provide an oversight of standards and training. The concept was transferred into the police, and has always aped the trappings of senior military. If the HMCIC wants to wear a uniform out of respect, why not? But I would suggest it should be distinctively different from a constable’s uniform. Lord Lieutenants, High Sheriffs, etc. But it does seem rather pompous in our UK tradition of a civilian police service.

    The office is what carries respect, not the uniform or indeed the person holding it. HMIs are not sworn constables. Most have been, but not all have served in the police. Commissioners are ‘office holders’, commissioned by the monarch. Unless I missed some changes, the Met’s Commissioner ranks are not constables, but effectively justices of the peace. Yet they also wear a police uniform.

    The key point for me is that the HMCIC is no longer the most senior police officer in the UK, and should not represent the service as the senior figure. Who is next best placed to perform that role, I don’t know. The Commissioner? ACPO President? The longest serving Chief Constable?

    Why not the longest serving constable? regardless of rank or force? Is that person not the most senior constable in the country?

  3. What would the reaction be if he wore Medals he isn’t entitled to wear? The man has lied through his teeth to destroy policing. He insulted officers around the country with utter lies about being over weight, unfit and dumb but now he thinks he is one.
    Bottom line if he walked down the street and someone saw him would he be taken to be a police officer? Yes definatley. He knew this, he must have known the reaction he would get just by the comments when it was leaked he was going to play dress up. He simply doesn’t care. It’s also a disgrace that with over 110000 police officers paying £20 a month the Fed can not be bothered to represent the disgust of officers. Far to busy having photos with Winsor and hiding behind a joke of an internal review. If it wasn’t for the insurances I and many I know would have stopped paying subs years ago.

    1. You think perhaps this was a determined decision? One that was deliberately taken to provoke officers and stamp his own vision on everyone that he is in charge of policing and above every Snr Officer in the country?

      Maybe he did. Maybe he didn’t but in reality I don’t care. The day wasn’t about him.

  4. I’m long retired but years ago when police officers looked the part, the uniform was blue shirt, black tie, black trousers, tunic with patch pockets and shiny chrome buttons, County/City/Borough/ insignia on lapels.Whistle chain visible, baton strap not visible. Shoulder number on epaulettes. Proper police helmet, two for the use of. Day badge shiny chrome, night badge dull black. Gloves, greatcoat and cape with lion’s head chain. Black boots-shoes allowed for motor patrol.
    Footwear not supplied but included in the £9 weekly pay was 1/6d boot allowance. British films of the 1950’s/60’s give the idea. We looked like police officers; the British bobby as depicted and recognised all over the world.
    Today if I ever see anyone employed in the role they are likely to be wearing open necked shirts, binmen’s high visibility yellow jackets and baseball caps with gingham checkerbands. If Mr Winsor wants to dress up and strut about in a Captain Mainwaring like perception of his brief authority good luck to him. However, as he obviously feels that smart clothing maketh the man maybe he would consider utilising his efforts to furnish police officers with some decent kit, the appearance of which might help to restore some authority to the job.

  5. I didn’t think anything would look so ridiculous and out of touch as when sir Hugh Orde had that made up acpo uniform when he was acpo president but not a police officer.
    Now this… Undeniably ‘calculated to deceive’ and an enormous miscalculation of the expected reaction, by his team of advisors.

    Mr Winsor… Become a Special Constable if you want the uniform and to experience the Service you have wrecked.

    Otherwise, you look ridiculous and are an insult to those who are proud of the uniform they wear to keep everyone, including you and your ilk safe.

  6. A sensible balanced write up. There are other royal positions such as Lord Lieutenant that have uniform without service I believe, but they dont tend to be so disliked. I think it looked over the top but I am more concerned with what he does.

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