I joined one of the UK’s fine police forces some years ago now. I joined ‘later in life’ having spent many years working out there in the real world. In my time I’ve been a baker, the infamous ‘white van man’, works in shops and offices, and ended up spending many years in marketing – don’t ask me how I followed such a disjointed career path, suffice to say it was a long and winding road lol.
However, some ten years or so ago I felt the need to ‘do something useful’ – I was what would best be described as ‘settled’ – I was in a very happy marriage (and still am as it happens), had great kids and everything was rosy in the flower garden; probably too rosy, as I didn’t feel I had any real challenges in life.
I’d grown up on a fairly downtrodden council estate, had an alcoholic father and a brother who was always in one scrape or another with the law (although thankfully as it turned out for me later nothing too serious). My mum had to work, not by choice but to keep things together. I’m not looking here for sympathy but to make the point that we didn’t all land on this planet with a silver spoon in our mouths; you are quite capable of getting out of the circumstances you are in and you are actually responsible for your own life !! I believe my experiences made me a better, stronger person. Certainly I promised myself early on that any family of mine would have a better start than I did.
I still work in the area where I grew up and a lot of the people I deal with on a day to day basis are the same folk who I live amongst; went to school with; played with as youngsters. The different paths that some of our lives led however, could not be any further apart. Some of them still recognise me now, some are totally oblivious to the fact (mainly due to the copious amounts of drink and drugs they’ve consumed over the years). But it still makes me smile inside when they come out with the infamous line “you ain’t got a clue what it’s like”. Well, actually, YES I HAVE !! I just chose to get off my backside and do something about it for myself, rather than expect the world to owe me a living.
The changing point for me was when I bumped into an old colleague Neil – the guy I used to double-up with when we had long distance deliveries to make in our trusty old Tranisit van – in a supermarket. He’d left the company we were both at before I did as his partner at the time got offered a job in Scotland so they’d moved on. That relationship had ended and Neil had moved back down country. I had by this time already got itchy feet and knew I needed to make a change with my life. Teaching had crossed my mind as had the police but I certainly had no definites as to what I was going to do.
“What you up to then these days” I asked in general conversation by the fresh veg counter. “Training at the mo” Neil said “got fed up of just doing a normal job and wanted to do something useful with my life, so I’m going to be a paramedic, try and help people”. This was a guy who a few years before would have been more likely to drive past you if you were lying injured on the side of the road (or at you if you stepped out in front of him !) and now he wanted to help save people. “Funnily enough” I replied, still somewhat in surprise “I’ve been thing on similar lines myself ….”. And so the conversation continued. And things have come full circle. Neil now works at the Ambulance Station just around the corner from Bigtown nick. So now we quite often end up at the same jobs together once again, both driving big white vans …. except these ones have got brightly coloured stickers on the sides and flashy lights all over ….
This idea of ‘making a difference’ was one that appealed to me. I genuinely thought that the British Police forces literally were the best in the world. Yes there had been issues, some very publicly aired in the national media, but as I had already demonstrated I had my own mind and could think for myself, I was able to work out that one or two bad eggs in a basket of 140,000 was very small fry statistically. I still do think, by the way, that the British Police are the best in the world, the bobbies on the ground almost to a man (or woman) do their damnest to provide the sort of service to the public that we would expect to receive ourselves – that is the best benchmark there could be. Sadly, we are all let down by those well above us who’s desire to help the public and keep the streets safe is clouded by political pressure and in some cases, self gain.
This does all make it very strange that there is this current debate about ‘direct entry’ at senior levels, with the claim being that ‘you have had to have done the job from the ground up to understand what it’s all about’. I myself support that theory from my heart, but my head tells me that those at the top now have indeed worked through the ranks, and somewhere along the line many of them have lost their vision or purpose so somehow, I’ve discounted my own argument.
Did I also mention money ??? No ??? OK I will now. I didn’t join the job for the money … I actually took a significant pay cut when I first signed up. So significant in fact that it took me five years to get roughly back to where I had been before I started – and that’s without counting for wage increases or other promotion opportunities that may have occurred in my old industry. So no, it’s not been about the money for me – it’s been about doing what I believe is right and proper. It means at the end of days, I, and many of my colleagues, will be able to stand tall and say “I did” rather than “someone else should”. And to me, and for the future of mine and many other families, that’s far more valuable.
That’s why I am here ….. and I’d hedge my bets it’s why most of my colleagues are here !
But, given all the grief and accusation; abuse and attacks that have come my way; the constant changes to my working hours, the lack of support from within the organisation; the disruption to my personal life; would I do it again if I knew then what I know now – not as things stand, NO. Or would I encourage my children to stand up for society and become police officers themselves ? NO. And that’s very, very sad. Because I love this job; I really enjoy trying to help people, and like all of my colleagues, despite the woefully inadequate criminal justice system we have to deal with at the moment, catching the bad guys is still a job worth doing.
There does however, currently seem to be, a deep and concerted effort to change public services in Britain. The bizarre approach to privatise, privatise, privatise, without regard does not and cannot have the same momentum that is did during the last Conservative administration, and why ??? because we’ve already sold off everything and anything worth selling. And what has privatisation done for the utilities; the water boards, gas and electric ?
Well, on an individual company basis, they’re doing very well thank you … but virtually all of them are now owned by overseas conglomerates, precious little of the generated revenues goes back into the coffers of UK plc, as with any private companies, the main beneficiary now is the shareholder (often nowadays in a different country, or even continent), and the poor customer at the bottom of a very big pile is no more than a number and cash-cow. Investment in infrastructure is kept to the bare minimum to keep the share price high, and if you live outside of a major metropolis, service levels become highly questionable.
The rail network was dissected into many parts following a major review, which was apparently going to make it super efficient and reliable, with massive investment in new rolling stock, track and stations to give Britain a world beating network designed for the 21st Century. The reality has been profit before investment, leading to some very serious rail crashes, shiny new trains financed by private industry that couldn’t run on the existing tracks because there was insufficient investment to bring them up to scratch.
‘British Rail’ is now a multitude of smaller private outfits, each with its own plan and priorities, with little to no communication with ‘the competition’. Trains are late, often don’t appear and fares have increased heavily. In fact buying a ticket in some circumstances is now so difficult that you need a university degree to work out the options, and the income such a degree would subsequently afford you, to be able to buy the ticket in the first place.
But what has that got to do with policing. Well quite a lot actually. The police is a public service. The police is the public service of last resort. When everything else has failed, the last stop on the line is us. That’s why it’s vital that policing is kept as a public service; fully accountable and independent of political or financial influence.
Can you imagine having to call UK Police plc if some really complicated fraud had befallen you, or a serious and nasty attack had happened which was going to rely on very expensive forensic analysis to solve.
Will there be some bean counter taking the place of a sergeant, checking the figures and deciding whether its statistically cost effective to investigate your case rather than ‘how can we find the offender’ ?? “hmmm, I can detect 17 shopliftings from CCTV for the cost of submitting just that T-Shirt for DNA analysis, much better for the figures ….”
Maybe we’ve already been given an insight into what the future for policing in Britain could look like and this is it …..