Written by Andrea Quinton – a serving police officer [ACQ91 on Twitter]
‘I, like many of you, felt sick and shocked at the latest information to emerge from the IOPC led Operation Hotton investigation.
The contents of the messages between previously and currently serving police officers just 2-3 years ago are simply disgusting, horrific and should never have been considered by a police officer, let alone written and exchanged. Following on from the murder of Sarah Everard, sexual assaults on the vulnerable and the officers recently sacked for sharing photographs from the scene of murders; no officer can deny that these events have damaged public confidence, increased and indeed supported the opportunity for the media assault we face on a daily basis and left most of us reeling at the state of our service. I joined the police to look after the public. It is my primary reason for going to work every day and I focus on it in all my decisions and actions.
So before I continue, let me say this. It matters not that 99% of police officers are the best of us, the most trustworthy, honest, courageous and brilliant people. We can no longer sit here and say these people are “not a part of our group”, “should be excluded from our family” or “not in our name”; because quite simply they are, they have been, they will be in the future… unless we do something about it!
They are quite simply the very worst of us.
The individuals involved in all of the cases above should NEVER have been wearing a uniform, but they were. They worked amongst us, they socialised with us, they were a part of us. And for that, I am deeply sorry.
As police officers we ALL have a duty and responsibility to change the picture; to challenge; to drive forward ethics, morals and values; to report those who fail to listen or fall short of our high standards. We MUST stand up to be counted, report the behaviour, and tell our colleagues that they are wrong. If we cannot stand up to our own, how on earth can we protect the public?
But of course, we also need to understand what has gone so very wrong? This is not to lay blame at the door of any single element. The responsibility for the individual actions lies at their door, but until we understand the reasons behind the position we find ourselves in, we are unable to truly change it. These are my personal thoughts.
Do the best people want to join any more? Would You? The pay isn’t brilliant in those early years. You will be hung out to dry by the press no matter what you do. The public no longer respect the police. The legislation is unclear and changes daily. The British value of “innocent until proven guilty” is now all but destroyed by mobile phone footage and social media. Sentences for crimes are woeful. You are damned if you do and damned if you don’t.
New entry routes? Much further discussion to have here but my questions are around: Who is setting the culture? Are the officers joining for the long term? Who is involved in the recruitment process?
The recruitment process itself is something which can be taught. Ask Brendan at Bluelight and he will confirm that this is how he makes his living. Are the recruits interviewed in person or online as the norm? Are they provided with the full information about the role and the impact and limitations on their lives? Where are we recruiting from? We know we want to recruit a diverse set of police officers, but are we targeting all groups of all ages, within our community? Are we considering experience equally with qualifications? I know that the professional standards departments present to all students once they have joined and lay down the law regarding expectations, traps you can fall into etc, but maybe we need to consider when that is delivered for the best impact and influence. What does vetting look like? Do we need to review the format of vetting? Do we need to centrally manage it? Do we rush it through or recruit prior to its completion to hit targets? I know we have done the latter and it has had severe repercussions.
That said, I passionately believe in policing. It is the best job in the world. I would do it all again tomorrow. And more importantly I still encourage people to join. I still believe police officers in the UK are the best trained, most accountable in the world with the least corruption. The very fact we do report incidents such as the above, that we actively seek criminal cops and put them in prison, that we wear body worn video every day and that these reports reach the public arena demonstrates that accountability but we clearly still have a long way to go.
a) Eroded at all levels by societal change. A whole conversation in itself.
b) Training in leadership has been slashed across the board as one of the first fall guys due to austerity cuts over 10 years ago. It simply was not seen as essential as the budgets were frozen. Training and HR were the first to go in most forces and leadership training is only just starting to return.
c) A change to promotion processes, allowing those with no leadership/management experience or training and often little policing experience to be promoted with an expectation that they will simply learn how to supervise, manage, mentor, coach, support, discipline and lead on the job. The collapse of OSPRE 2 combined with the lack of leadership training, means they don’t even have the basic theoretical knowledge. The formulaic promotion processes which the worst of people can learn and pass, but the best of people simply cannot grasp, means the potential of having the best leaders are limited. There is no accreditation process, formal or informal for those being promoted and I have yet to meet anyone who has failed stage 4 of the Sgt/Insp promotion process. Hardly surprising given the complete absence of effective qualitative PDR processes!
d) Temporary Sergeants and Inspectors frequently act up on their own teams where their colleagues now work for them… and the following month they switch roles? Who runs the teams? Who leads? Where is the longevity, consistency and corporate knowledge of the team members? When are they trained in leadership? How can they be expected to challenge their colleagues if the next day they are back on the team as a peer?
Leadership is one of my greatest concerns and my greatest passion. I want the best leaders being in place across the board; effective PDR processes, which are NOT a tickbox but are effective quality one to one conversations with development needs highlighted and strengths outlined and utilised; leaders who drive the culture – a positive culture of learning, respect, looking after the public as a priority; leaders who look after their teams, as by doing this, we improve their abilities, their attitudes, their support, their actions in the community, and their commitment to the public; leaders who set high expectations and act as positive role models; leaders who challenge poor behaviour.
Effective supportive leadership is proven to motivate individuals and teams, provide clear direction, understand their role, work really hard and provide the best service. Who doesn’t want the best service for the public?
Respect – There has been a huge fall in general respect for others. This isn’t simply about people not respecting their elders, the teachers, the police officers, their parents; but about the total lack of respect for each other as human beings. The public are literally divided in half on every subject . No one actually listens to each other.
Media – We only hear antagonistic divisive news day in and day out. Journalists no longer appear independent and unbiased. People appear to simply believe what they hear or read without investigation themselves. Social media allows us to only follow what we already believe in, furthering our own beliefs which become ever more extreme, without encouragement to seek alternative viewpoints and opinons and broaden our knowledge. Why else do mental health experts advise us to turn off the news when we are feeling low?
Mobile phones and cameras – It is simply far too easy to share extreme views, make false accusations, and edit videos designed to support an agenda rather than demonstrate the truth. BUT more than this, they have become a part of us, an extension of us. We simply never put them down. They are just a part of communication. We have members of the public who believe it is OK to stop at an accident, take a photograph and share it without thought for the family of the injured or deceased. Is photographing a crime scene just an extension of that? Do the officers even stop to think it is wrong? They share their entire lives online. Why would this be any different? Some may say I am old fashioned, but then I still limit my teenagers’ time on their mobiles. I would even ask if officers need their personal mobile phones whilst on duty or is that draconian?
Let me be clear. I have no allegiance to any political party but there are clear areas of concern. The 10 years of cuts to policing, the negativity towards policing, the loss of thousands of experienced officers, the demonisation in the media of the police service, the blame culture, the continuous erosion of supporting other public services leaving us as the last resort. They all have an impact on recruitment, public confidence, sentences, acceptance of police assaults, encouragement to do wrong when an officer stops you just to create animosity. But worse is the change of the policing agenda every time a new Home Secretary is posted and regardless of that, the elections every 3-5 years. The public need to decide what it wants from the police service and then we need a 25 year cross party policing plan supported by operational experts. I doubt any public sector leader would say any different.
I set out at the start of this blog saying that as police officers we cannot hide away from the position we are in and say it is nothing to do with us. Whilst I fully acknowledge that the individuals are responsible for their actions and make their own choices – we are the police service. We have to be, and do, better. We uphold the law with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; We are here to serve the public and make them feel and be safe. These individuals make our jobs more difficult, but they are a part of our culture, our family, our organisation, and hence we have to work together on every area in order to make sure we eradicate this behaviour and ensure these shocking headlines are rare, not a continuous drip feed.
Thankfully I do believe we still have a lot of support from the public and I believe they will stick with us and help us turn this around. Public confidence and support is essential to perform our role in the UK. As Robert Peel said, “The key to preventing crime is earning public support. Every community member must share the responsibility of preventing crime, as if they were all volunteer members of the force. They will only accept this responsibility if the community supports and trusts the police.”
And finally, to the 99% of officers out there who know they are doing their best every day, and genuinely joined the police service to look after the public, we’ve got this. We can do it. We will win back our police service and make it great again. Why? – because we want to. We want to focus on our core aim of looking after the public and making this country a safer place to live.’
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