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We Don’t Need A New Commissioner

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Last updated on August 14th, 2023 at 09:56 pm

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Oh, I’m going to get so much stick for this post, but it’s not in my nature to say nothing. I simply think that we don’t need a new Commissioner.

Before I begin I ought to point out that I’m no fan of Dame Cressida, but that doesn’t stop me thinking that she’s being unfairly treated.

Policing in general, and the Metropolitan Police specifically, have their problems. Instances of officers being prosecuted for a variety of offences or being dismissed for Gross Misconduct are making national headlines almost every day.

Let me be quite clear, some of these criminal and disciplinary offences are horrific and the proceedings are totally justified. Is that the Commissioner’s fault? Of course it isn’t.

I don’t know what it is that attracts such criticism of Dame Cressida. Is she personally responsible for any of this? No, I don’t believe she is.

There have recently been cases in the press involving misconduct or criminal behaviour by officers outside of the Met, including one case where an officer caused the death of an ex footballer.

Are the papers swamped with calls for the Chief Constables to be replaced? No, of course not.

I joined the Metropolitan Police in 1972 and it was a very different animal to the Force we see today. Firstly, it was the Metropolitan Police Force, not Service. I, and all of my colleagues, were subject to some very stringent conditions of service.

Just a few were

We could not live in our chosen house until it had been approved by the Force. I once had to pull out of a house purchase because I would have ended up living next door to a Bank Robber.

If I wanted to go and visit my parents for the weekend I needed to ‘book out’ and leave the contact details of where I would be staying overnight.

When I went on Annual Leave I had to leave details of where I would be staying. On holiday in the wilds of Snowdonia one year I was once visited by an officer who’d had a round trip in excess of 100 miles just to tell me that I was required at Court, after I had got back from my holiday.

Many of the conditions imposed upon us affected our wives/partners/families just as much, if not more so. My wife was never employed by the Metropolitan Police but she was still affected by their Terms and Conditions just as much as I was, or possibly more so. I think it’s fair to say that all these years later my wife still feels quite aggrieved by some of it.

As I said earlier I joined in the early 70s. People can make their own minds up whether or not they would have put up with some of the conditions we served under, but to me, that was just the way it was, and I certainly don’t resent it. Truth be told I preferred it that way.

By the late 80s I began to notice the winds of change. Constables were beginning to call their Sergeants by their first names. I’m not pretending that I’ve never done that, but never in company, in public. If I did it was between me and him or her, and nobody else’s business, nobody else knew. To do it in public, in front of one’s peers was just wrong in my view.

I know there will be others who disagree with that view and that is your/their right, but that’s where I stand on it, That was just the beginning, then we progressed onto officers who would “rather not” carry out their allotted duties for the day and could they please have something different. It wasn’t common, but in my opinion opinion it should never have happened in a disciplined service.

Recently we have seen some of the happenings at Charing Cross Police Station. I don’t know any of the officers involved, and I know nothing more than I have read or seen on TV. I don’t know any of the officers involved or any of the circumstances. However I can form a judgement that those comments were in no way acceptable, either verbally face to face or in an encrypted Wassapp conversation. What were those officers thinking of?

I very much grew up in the ‘Canteen Culture’ and we have heard a lot about that. Personally I am in favour of it. With the stresses of what Police Officers encounter (and I’m sure it hasn’t got any easier since I left) it was the perfect scenario for letting off steam and ‘unloading’.

Don’t get me wrong, it isn’t, and should never be, carte blanche for saying absolutely anything unchallenged, but years ago officers had their ‘filters’, knew where the lines were drawn. They almost invariably went right up to the line but seldom crossed it, and my experience is that if they did they were quickly slapped down by their own colleagues.

‘Banter’ has it’s place, always had, always should do, but what we saw coming out of Charing Cross was definitely not banter. In my 30 years I NEVER saw or heard any comments quite like those. One man’s banter is another man’s insult, I get that, but nobody could pretend that was any form of banter.

Personally I would be mortified if any of my ‘banter’ had ever caused offence, distress or upset to a colleague, particularly a female colleague, There are many people on Twitter in particular who seem to believe that every male officer is a misogynist, and state that openly and frequently. I will dispute that till my dying breath.

I can’t say I ever liked EVERY female officer I encountered, and I doubt that they liked every male officer they encountered. I didn’t always like all of the male officers I encountered either, but if any of them EVER needed help on the streets they got it, from everybody who was free.

Nobody ever said “Oh it’s only a Plonk/Doris, let her get on with it”. It just wasn’t like that. I am still friends to this very day with some of the WPCs I worked with, and I call them that because that is how they would describe themselves. If I was so very sexist they wouldn’t still be friends with me, and all that applies to my former colleagues as well.

The current behaviours seem to have crept in in recent years with recruiting standards being lowered, vetting (which is very expensive to do properly) being relaxed due to pressure of numbers. Even the modern days methods of recruitment will tend to allow ‘bad apples’ to creep in undetected.

Robert Peel famously said “The police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence” and that is very true. When you recruit openly from society you will get a cross-section, and that has major benefits, but also some very obvious pitfalls,

I and my former colleagues are frequently chastised on Social Media by current, serving, officers and have been told “you know nothing about Policing today”, which may or may not be true, or, famously, “at least the current generation do the Job properly” which I personally found highly offensive.

Maybe we should all shut up and go home, but before we do I am totally unaware of any of my former colleagues killing anyone.

Neither I nor anyone I knew took ‘selfies’ at a crime scene or photographs of murder victims. Nobody ever used the kind of language we have seen from Charing Cross in my presence, not even once. We never complained about working Nights or weekends etc.

When I first joined we worked a shift system that involved 3 weeks of Nights with single days off in the middle. For example, it was quite common to start 3 weeks Nights on Monday, Tuesday was a Day Off, back to Nights on Wednesday and then be required at Court on Thursday. Finally, at the end of the 3 weeks, Nights on Sunday night, back to work 2pm Monday.

But we did it, we might have moaned about it over a cup of tea in the canteen, but only in the way that Policemen are always moaning about something.

Getting back to the topic in hand, none of these things were the Commissioner’s personal fault. I saw several Commissioners come and go, but I never saw one of them blamed for somebody else’s bad behaviour.

Officers need to take responsibility for their own behaviour. Sergeants and Inspectors need to remember that they are Supervisors long before they can ever be regarded as friends. Let them explain the appalling conversations coming out of Charing Cross, they’re much closer to it than the Commissioner is.

And while I’m on the subject, the Press can do one as well. They are not really helping by digging up all this crap and plastering across their front pages and attempting to destroy public confidence in Policing.

Yes, these things are wrong, yes they need to be dealt with, and firmly, but I don’t see many advantages to plastering it across the front pages of the National Press.

Neither do we need the slanted reporting so beloved of some sectors of the press. The Press are meant to report the facts, not their version of the facts, and without their own delightful spins and opinions.

As much as I would like to blame the Tories for this mess, they are certainly not responsible for all of it, but they do need to acknowledge that under Cameron and May, the numbers were slashed and that affected the Police Service’s abilities to do a number of things.

Standards slipped due to shortage of resources, and for that the Tories are responsible.

Rant Over

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6 thoughts on “We Don’t Need A New Commissioner”

  1. I also joined in 1972. Posted to C Division the majority of officers were young, male and almost exclusively did not have degrees in anything. Ordinary members of the public from all walks of life, some with military service, but all enthusiasts of policing . They did have a common purpose and ambition to be successful as Police Officers, to stand up against those who broke the law and needed to be brought to justice and finally a camaraderie of inclusion and support. The canteen was the hub of much jovial banter and verbal exchange. There was no derogatory comment about anything other than criminals. If you did something good, bad or extremely funny you could expect a mention in despatches. In other words the canteen where all manner of issues or problems were resolved. We worked hard, we played hard and those Officers with rank were respected and recognised as our mentors and colleagues. The 70’s was a great time to be a police officer.

    1. I too joined in 1972 and was posted to QD. The worst thing that happened in our canteen was a mean game of Cribbage

  2. As a serving officer, I usually find your posts well balanced and generally very supportive. But, I’m afraid this one was a bit of a departure in part though I whole-heartedly agree the Commissioner does not deserve the flack she is getting, and with your thoughts on the press.

    I have never commented before, but as you take issue and offence with the comments from some current, serving officers on social media (not me, I might add – apart from not being on social media, I consider inter-generational discussion and exchange highly valuable), I too feel the same about your suggestion that everything was hunky dory back in the day and all the problems being experienced now are about the current standard of recruits and poor vetting. I don’t think this divide is very helpful, nor do I believe either position particularly accurate beyond anecdotal experience and hurt feelings.

    You can’t point to any poor behaviour of officers in the past? You didn’t at least hear the stories of poor behaviour? I’ve never witnessed any of the things being characterised as endemic in my service either, but it doesn’t mean it didn’t or doesn’t happen. For we know… it really did. Now and then. There are at least a handful of significant cases involving very poor behaviour of officers in your generation that have made headlines over the last few years. I also still work with retired officers who have returned to service as Civilian Investigators and officers close to retirement, including a former ‘WPC’ who was treated very poorly by her male colleagues at times… back in the day. I wouldn’t believe her stories were it not for the fact she lived them and I trust her enormously. I’m afraid all of these officers consider policing to be far more professional than it ever has been.

    I agree, however, that there are serving officers who are seriously – with the help of the press – undermining that effort through their actions and, frankly, I share your outrage. It is only right that officers and their managers are held personally accountable. I think they are for the most part. And I feel certain that you, and colleagues commenting here, were exemplary officers of the highest standard. I would encourage you to continue extending the same belief to current colleagues, even if they have been invited to call a supervisor by their first name. Being swept along in generalisations is what the press appear to be hoping for. Shall we resist it?

    1. I thank you for your comments and I’m sorry you don’t find this piece as balanced as previous ones. I’m not sure if I didn’t make myself clear, or if you have misunderstand, or maybe I’m completely wrong, but I can only have an opinion on those members of the current generation that I have interacted with, which is a small number. My problem, in the main, is with the system. But there’s nothing I can do to change that. Every generation of Policing will have its good officers, its bad officers and its absolutely terrible officers. That started before my time and will continue long after we are both gone. Maybe I should have included that the relationship between the Police and the criminal fraternity is far different to what it was in my generation, and cannot possibly make Policing easier than it was for us. As for my comment about being offended, it was said, I was offended, but I didn’t mean to imply that I assumed that was the attitude of a whole generation of officers. That was the attitude of a serving supervisor who should have known better than to say it, perfectly entitled to think,it, but maybe better not said. I hope this has cleared up a few things for you. If it hasn’t I thank you for reading me in the past and hope you will continue.

  3. I 100% agree with everything you have written here Alan. I can relate to every aspect of police service you have written about. The quality of the people recruited as police officers was, and still should be, paramount. I joined a City force in the mid 1960’s and our Conditions of Service were exactly the same as you describe. I didnt query them and accepted that they were there for a reason. I would never even cross the road off my beat let alone call a Sergeant by his first name. If a burglary in commercial premises was reported on your beat after nights and you hadn’t found it before going off duty then you could expect a knock on the door around 1000 and an order to immediately report to the station for an ‘interview’ with the Superintendent. As I progressed up a couple of ranks I never permitted any constables to call me by my first name whilst on duty and I called it out when I heard others accept it. You are a supervisor first and maybe a friend later but at work you had to be the boss. Hand on heart I can say that I never heard anything anywhere close to the conversations and actions now being reported in the media. Abusing the post of constable just didn’t happen. Everyone I worked with had a sense of pride in ther work and appearance and an abundance of self discipline. The worst ‘abuse’ of position was taking advantage of the local butcher’s generosity in getting a plateful of bacon, sausages, liver, kidneys, black pudding and a couple of eggs to cook for breakfast and all for 6d!

    The closure of 650 police stations across the land with the associated demise of police canteens and police bars can rightly be blamed for many of today’s mental health issues. 50 years ago I don’t think we attended less traumatic incidents than officers today. Indeed, today is so much safer in terms of Health and Safety, vehicle design etc. that horrific workplace and road traffic accidents actually feature less frequently than then. The very nature of posts I progressed to meant I had more than my fair share of fatalities including scores of murders but I can’t say that I ever went home feeling as if I couldn’t cope as I ALWAYS had an opportunity to properly debrief and talk through the horrors in the office or canteen and, more often than not over a few pints in the police club. Of course I didn’t forget what I’d faced when I arrived home but I learned to put every incident ‘in a box’ in my brain so that I could spare my wife and family any trauma. As fas as I can tell, this just does not happen today. Officer numbers are greatly reduced and the absence of communal facilities mean officers grabbing a ‘meal deal’ out on the road and, by necessity, working in isolation. This isn’t good practice and is made even worse by the scarcity of experienced officers to support the youngsters. As a ‘Skipper’ I never went off duty until everyone else was back safely or unless I’d actually visited and spoken to any officer who was retained on duty.

    I’ve stopped making so many comments about 21st Century policing as it’s true, I don’t really understand the ‘leadership’, policies and demands of the present time. However, like you Alan, sitting on the sidelines I can see what is blatantly wrong and could offer ways to start improving the lot of our officers and the service they provide to the public. Some ideas would be regarded as ‘old fashioned’ but they served the police force and the public well for a couple of hundred years and they could be refined and adapted to make them more appropriate for the 21st Century. Already I can see the wheel being reinvented to great aclaim by those clambering up the promotion ladder. I really don’t mind if they get the credit as long as the public and our police officers see and feel the benefits.

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