As 2013 approaches I’m getting ready to spend New Year’s Eve visiting every police area across Warwickshire and West Mercia to say thank you and see at firsthand officers and staff working through the night to keep revellers and party goers safe as they say goodbye to 2012.
As I dust down the SatNav and contemplate an early hours kebab I have been reflecting on the last year.
It is customary, if slightly tedious, to look back on a year gone and assess where it sits on the continuum of good or bad. However 2012 has been undeniably extraordinary and for a range of reasons, some more easily explained than others.
So, apologies but I wanted to reflect on the year that has been tumultuous and challenging both personally and professionally.
I think the opening lines of Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ captures the complexity and contradiction of 2012:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way”
I can attest to my own fair share of incredulity and despair as I was still the Chief of Staff at ACPO in the first half of the year. I am of course referring to my commute to London which saw me immersed in the joys of train travel. I started tweeting as a form of traveller’s therapy.
It was during this time that I witnessed and participated with the wider service and Government, in the discussions and negotiations on Winsor, Leveson, Police & Crime Commissioners, the National Crime Agency, the future role for ACPO and the emergence of the College of Policing.
My diary read like an A – Z of police reform. I had a daily diet of strategic challenges and issues to manage. The times of exhilaration were matched only by frustration. It was a privilege to work with colleagues across the service in pursuit of wisdom. There was a persistent determination to convert the challenges for the service into real opportunities to make a difference for the communities we serve.
However, with so much going on there was also ample room for foolishness to take hold. At times the service presented itself as belligerent and unprofessional, feeding an already sceptical media and political landscape looking for reasons to question the legitimacy and legacy of British policing.
These debates and the need for wisdom to transcend foolishness will continue into 2013.
In the midst of the political hullabaloo the police service worked tirelessly to support the delivery of a safe and secure Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee.They played their part across the country in making 2012 an historic and memorable year for generations to come.
It was during the summer that I took up my post as an Assistant Chief Constable working for both West Mercia and Warwickshire. I momentarily missed the commute (?!?) and settled into a unique role overseeing local policing across two force areas.
I was confronted by the reality of redesigning policing across both forces to maintain service and simultaneously save millions of pounds; the challenges of restructure sat alongside the business as usual of policing and I was looking forward to the task.
I also worked for two Chiefs (and now two PCCs). I am sure I will refer to this again in 2013!
It was the dream job both professionally and personally. I was now responsible for policing where I lived, where my children go to school and where local was now very personal.
So, this was truly the season of Light.
Then on September 18th evil struck and Darkness descended.
Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone embodied the finest traditions and the brightest future of British policing. Their murder shocked and horrified a nation and policing was once again confronted by the stark reality and risks of policing by consent.
Tradition and policing style were debated while families and friends grieved. I was so very proud of the colleagues in Greater Manchester who continued to police and of the wider service that pondered how to help and then did so in their droves.
On two consecutive days in early October I was honoured and humbled to represent West Mercia Police at the funerals of Nicola and Fiona.
In bright autumnal sun I struggled, like many before me, to reconcile a loving God with the events that had unfolded a few weeks before. In the beauty of a cathedral, resounding in memories of two vibrant and dedicated officers, echoing to the mournful lament of music and prayer I was in awe of the humility and humanity of Nicola and Fiona’s family and friends.
Before Fiona’s funeral I sat with some of her colleagues, so very conscious that they were burying two friends on consecutive days. I found the prospect of a second service daunting but struggled to comprehend how these friends were going to manage. I couldn’t answer the questions ‘why?’ and ‘will it get easier?’ All I could do was listen and offer a hand to squeeze and in a very small way be a part of the wider police family.
Over this Christmas I read a review of 2012 which completely failed to mention Nicola and Fiona but dedicated time and space to the unresolved events at the gates of Downing Street.
It is all too easy to despair at values that can consign to oblivion the lives of those lost in the service of others. But the response of the general public, who stood side by side with the police service and lined Deansgate on those chilly mornings in October, are symbolic of the continuing hope and belief in the service going forward.
So, 2012 has been a turbulent year for policing.
The long range forecast for 2013 offers little respite, yet this is not the time for the service to step back from the challenges before it. Beyond the glib headlines and point scoring the public have a right to expect the highest standards of integrity and professionalism from us.
We serve on behalf of the public and we are judged by our actions. On this basis I believe that 2013 will have everything before us to enable policing to underline its commitment to the public through leadership, service and celebration of vocation.
I for one am trying to stay focused on the true meaning of Christmas and the hope for the future that lies within the manger. This is quite a challenge in an age of Xbox, Kindle and self basting turkeys.
It's also quite a test to switch off from work.
Hillsborough, Plebgate, Corruption, Leveson & Savile all continue to dominate the headlines.
Each of them is serious in its own right.
Taken together they have profound implications for individuals, families, communities and the police service. For the sake of clarity each and every one of these deserves reflection and thoughtful, expeditious action both by the police service and those with responsibility for our governance, oversight and legitimacy.
However, I am growing weary of commentators and pundits, some more informed than others, queuing up to postulate on the ‘crisis’ affecting the police service and proffer remedies from the simple to the surreal. There’s clearly no shortage of arm chairs or experts to fill them.
It’s also important to remember that the police service does not stand alone in the #lastchancesalooncourtofpublicopinioncrisisinpublicbodies24hournewscyclebenefitofhindsightpublicinquiryfest.
It doesn’t really assist your own defence if you offer up your co-accused in the hope that you get lost in the crowd but it is worth reflecting that we are not alone in the dock. We are joined by, amongst others, the BBC, bankers, MPs, journalists, HMRC, UKBA, the FA and civil servants to name but a few.
Is it time to transfer my hobby for coveting houses on the internet into a respectable profession and become an estate agent?
It’s also worth reflecting who isn’t on the list.
The most obvious omission is the military. They consistently stand above the fray, based on the obvious truism that they do extraordinary things on behalf of the nation. However like any other institution they also make mistakes.
Take for example the recent case of retired senior generals and admirals allegedly offering their services to lobbyists for tens of thousands pounds. There was rightly a (limited) furore but this did not translate much beyond the individuals. There was no clamour for an inquiry into the leadership of the military or a review of grace and favour homes or integrity in general or any suggestion that direct entry into the higher echelons of the army, navy or air force was being mooted. In short no 'crisis' to address. And, as far as I am aware Sandhurst isn’t up for sale.
So, when do the failings or frailties of an individual become an institutional crisis?
From its inception in the 19th century through to today the police service has made mistakes; the majority by individuals from the minor to the very serious but a significant number have been institutional, calamitous and far reaching in terms of their impact on communities, individuals and reputation.
To respond to the legitimate requirement on policing to learn from its past failings and present challenges, the services needs to have inspiring leadership at all ranks, policies and procedures that are credible and workable, searching scrutiny and accountability mechanisms and most importantly a culture that is founded on humility, respect and learning.
We need to stay rooted to our founding traditions and principles but we need to be overtly and genuinely responsive to the current challenges. Above all we need to go forward with confidence if we are to ensure the future of our model of policing.
In the midst of all this organisational self reflection, intense political and public scrutiny and the biggest reductions ever in police budgets, crime is down and confidence in policing is up.
And this needs to be the focus of the police service amidst all the legitimate ongoing debates because that is what we are here for – working alongside others to reduce crime and to make communities safer and stronger.
So, given all of the above there will be much to do in 2013 and it's not yet time to join the noble profession of estate agents.
Recently, in the space of 72 hours, I met a retired police officer who joined the service in 1948, supported police officers working tirelessly with colleagues across the emergency and public services during the floods and interviewed prospective Chief Inspectors for Warwickshire and West Mercia.
Within this microcosm of a week I realised that although different in many ways, they all had certain characteristics in common. They were proud public servants; they evidenced in their daily routine a commitment and vocation to the service of others and they remained resolute in the face of adversity.
Having clarified that I wasn’t born in 1948 (awkward moment!), the retired officer spoke proudly of the service he had worked in which was now unrecognisable in structure and complexity and was dealing with new and previously unforeseen challenges. However, he was right to point out that it was essentially, at its core, the same service protecting the vulnerable and serving the public. He brimmed with a continuing and tangible sense of pride and devotion to service. It was both humbling and daunting to reflect that I was now one of the custodians of his legacy of service.
He had also worked in policing from the time of 'watch committees' through various manifestations of Police Authorities to now witnessing the birth of Police and Crime Commissioners. His experience reminded me that policing has adjusted many times to variations in governance and it will, as is it should, adapt to these latest changes as the servant of the state not an extension of it.
The officers on duty over that weekend were responding to hundreds of calls for service and were working shoulder to shoulder with colleagues across the public sector, reminding all of us what powerful partnerships can mean in reality. In the service of others they were often walking towards danger. As I bailed out my own minor flood at home (with a jam pan) I reflected on the limited opportunities that many would have had that weekend to be single minded crime fighters as they worked with others to save lives and solve problems. This reaffirmed my view that the role of policing is complex and multi-faceted and it needs to remain at the heart of responding to civil emergencies.
And finally I interviewed nineteen candidates for promotion to Chief Inspector. As they were grilled, probed and challenged these women and men spoke admirably of their years of commitment and expertise across the spectrum of policing from neighbourhoods to organised crime. They strived and at times struggled to define a leadership style but none of them were daunted by the prospect of helping to lead two organisations working together to deliver policing across Warwickshire and West Mercia, whilst also finding £30 million in savings. In their own way they were walking towards the challenges not fully knowing what to expect in the future.
As they described the hurdles that lie ahead and the well known challenges inherent in bringing together different organisations with defined cultures and histories, a candidate reminded me that although they are different the essentials are the same and that the variations were merely ‘shades of blue’.
The variations in policing I recently experienced seen through history, challenges, geography and governance are all 'shades of blue'. It is the consistency of the vocation and the commitment to public service that remain constant. The changes in governance or Chief Constable or even Government are important and should not be discounted but it is in the impartial service to the law and to our public that policing should be judged.
I’ve persuaded colleagues that it will be a good way to explore issues, listen and share ideas. It’s also an opportunity to communicate directly within the service and more importantly, hopefully, with the wider public.
So having got the ‘why do it’ sorted, I’ve become slightly / considerably (delete as appropriate) self absorbed on what to say!
There’s so much going on and I’ve got an opinion on most, if not all of it, so choosing a subject is already a challenge.
Close on the heels of what to say is the sudden ego shattering realisation that maybe / probably no one will be interested in what I think and I may simply be talking to myself.
However, I want to add my voice to a conversation about policing.
While expressing my view let’s be clear it is shaped by the people I have the privilege of working with, those who I know across the service and those I meet every day.
They all have a view about policing and the world around them and I am clear I have a responsibility to shape and influence the future of the service going forward. So, to coin a phrase, ‘we are all in this together’ and I am just one view, not the view, about where we are going.
However, to paraphrase Marianne Williamson, I don’t believe that playing small serves the world; I do believe that we are individually and collectively powerful and discussing issues of policing, justice and society are not insignificant.
Alongside Peel’s “Principles of Policing” I have the following quotation in my office, courtesy of Guillaume Apollinaire.
I have carried a version of it with me since my first promotion board. It continues to shape my approach to leadership:
‘Come to the edge’, He said.
They said, ‘We are afraid’.
‘Come to the edge’, He said.
He pushed them…and they flew.
Not bad for a surrealist and writer of risquéshort stories (Guillaume not me!).
So, time for me to come to the edge and start a conversation.