Monday, 10 December 2012
SHADES OF BLUE
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.