Looking back on 34 years in the police service Date published: 22nd January 2016 12am
As Christmas passed into New Year I achieved another milestone – 34 years in the police service.
I reflected on this on Twitter, and received many responses. It made me think about how much policing has changed – and yet in some ways has stayed the same. So I want to take the chance in this blog to reminisce – not in an indulgent sense – but to give a sense of what this has meant.
My beginning was being packed, at the age of 18, onto a British Rail train on a bitterly cold Sunday in January 1982. From Euston I took the tube to Hendon to prepare for my first day in the Met. Much to my mum’s disappointment, I had spurned any thought of going to university to join the police. Monday morning began with a ‘ropey’ breakfast, and a while later an attestation ceremony with over 600 people led by the Deputy Assistant Commissioner (now Lord Dear).
As the Met was recruiting so many people, we couldn’t all fit in at the iconic Hendon training centre, so I was shipped out on an equally iconic green Met bus to an old Cadet school at Wanstead in East London to begin 16 weeks of basic training. There I met our class instructor, Staff Hills, and was immersed quickly in a new world of rules, command, discipline and rote learning of the law. We tested that knowledge on mocked up streets at Hendon and had to prove our physical readiness for the challenge ahead by regular early morning runs around Wanstead Flats.
Weeks later, just before turning 19, I arrived one sunny Monday in April at my first ‘nick’, Paddington Green. What began was a great grounding in the basics of 80s policing.
Foot patrol, an emphasis on enforcement and as a probationer little space to exercise much discretion in our duties to discharge the law.
Looking back, our time was defined by a clear focus on the task – and a real sense of ‘team’ and camaraderie, but also a police ‘force’ that was just that. We had little sense of the ‘community’ – it was just the good guys against the bad guys. We were in permanent response mode aside from community beat officers, many of whom we rarely saw.
Technology was almost non-existent aside from the cumbersome radios, and officer protection was more a reflection of judgment than the equipment you had to keep you safe.
There was little sense of direction or a plan aside from the maintenance of the status quo of law and order, and there was no sense of whether we were ‘winning’ or ‘losing’.
Aside from the odd chief inspector, there was almost no chance of seeing a senior officer; they seemed to operate in a very remote world.
As for our accountability; that was generally about the approval of your team, rather than any sense of meeting public priorities or influence on the policing style.
I have said a number of times that I am a firm proponent of the relevance of the principles of our founding father – Sir Robert Peel. So what has changed or stayed the same? Yes, we still cherish patrol and officer presence, and we still operate in teams and police with consent. But our style and breadth of the mission have changed immeasurably in these intervening 12,000 days. More of which over coming weeks as we set our new budget and operational priorities with my boss the Police & Crime Commissioner...