Yesterday’s Man

This blog may be as uncomfortable to read as I know it is going to be to write. This is going to be an existential exploration which is unlikely to lead to any answers. I find myself in the somewhat strange position of asking, in relation to work, “what am I doing here?” I know I am not alone in this position either – in a recent survey, some 76% of police officers said they would not recommend the job as a choice of careers to others.

This kind of thinking out loud could effectively “do my legs” in terms of career progression or opportunities but in over 20 years I have never felt more confused about the direction of the police service I love. 

Let me be clear from the start – I am not questioning my purpose. I know why I joined the police and that overwhelming sense of duty and desire to help others has not diminished one bit. I love my job and I particularly love the role I currently have. I enjoy how busy and responsible it is. I enjoy the decision making and I do arrive at work hoping to make a difference and often leave feeling as though I have. In simple terms – I joined to be a policeman and that is what I do. It is what I enjoy doing and I do the very best I can with what I have. The job remains fulfilling and rewarding; exciting and edgy. I still get a buzz – especially when “something” is happening.

I try to lead by example. I am unlikely to progress much further in terms of rank but where I have influence over others I try to show them how I would do it. I’m not always right but you can be sure that all options will have been considered and the intended outcome is always about the best interests of whoever is involved.

I’m no Roosevelt or Robert E Lee. Nobody will write books about my enigmatic or inspirational leadership style. The best I can hope for is that people have confidence in my decision making and abilities and, when they or I move on, they will have enjoyed working with me and felt supported and maybe even assisted to achieve what they want in life. Over the years I have taken great pride in helping colleagues advance or move laterally into their dream specialisation.
I am absolutely not to everyone’s taste but, in some way or other, I will have positively influenced quite a few people over the course of the years (I have the emails from them to prove it.)

Which is why it is so hard for someone like me – someone who was once told in a counselling session after a traumatic incident “you really are the definition of a police man” – to feel so utterly disengaged and confused by the way things are heading.

This isn’t about disorientation because of change this is real “rabbit in the headlights” stuff.

Over the course of the last few months I have received feedback which has said I am “negative” and “risk averse.” The irony of the last comment is that I am about the least risk averse operational decision maker I know. I may record my rationale carefully but I am not afraid to walk away from something or chose an aggressive tactic to resolve a situation of it is necessary and appropriate.

None of this feedback has come from actual work but via Twitter. It has come, I presume, because I have given a less than warm welcome to many of the recently announced initiatives on police reform ranging from degrees, through police volunteers and direct entry schemes. I have also been fairly blunt about the College of Policing and said openly that I wish it was doing things differently and more inclusively. It’s true – I have viewed all of these with some suspicion and I have expressed my thoughts because I know I am not alone.

I will be honest and say that, as far as much of this is concerned, it doesn’t add up in my head. Why are we being driven towards professional accreditation whilst simultaneously talking about off-loading some of our core functions (including those involving witnesses and suspects) to unpaid volunteers? Who is actually saying that we aren’t “professional”? Is this an inferiority complex of our own making? Will a degree actually help anyone become a better or more effective police officer? Are we seriously moving to a position where someone has to pay for their own training before they can begin a career in the police?

Why are so many of these initiatives being “sold” with one of the biggest benefits being about leaving? Transferable skills to help you get another job; “high octane” recruits we want to leave after two years; “flexible workforce” where people can come and go – in and out at different ranks. A situation where the best leadership development is to actually leave the job and go and do something else instead – then come back.

In writing that out I think I have worked out what the problem is for me.

It is about the definition and meaning of service. Or perhaps MY definition of service and what it means to me.

We see many kind words spoken of many good people who have “dedicated a lifetime to public service.” People who have spent decades doing things for others not just in the police but in teaching and health and charity. Are these words which will become a thing of the past?

I certainly, and I think most of us, joined because of that sense of duty and the desire to help others. I said this at the start of the blog. To me – that meant joining something I felt strongly about and dedicating my working life to it. The ups – the downs. The trials – the traumas. Thinking that I might well see 30 years worth of heartache and misery and knowing full well that this could impact on my own life.

What’s irking me is that the narrative of these initiatives seems to be about getting what you can out of the job – for you – and then leaving through the fastest route. Get a degree – it will help you find another job. Join us for two years – burn yourself out – then go and do something else instead with “police” on your CV. If you want to advance in this job you have to leave it. Bypass all that irksome police work and start at the very top.

I am told that this is how industry works. That all of this is common in the private sector. Most other jobs are transient and that the police need to modernise.

Well – call me old fashioned (and boy do I feel like it) – but none of this rests comfortably with me.

I’ve expressed my concerns and doubts about degrees and other initiatives elsewhere. I don’t need to repeat them here.

Suffice to say that in all of these proposals and ideas I am yet to see anything that rewards those who choose to stay. They aren’t even being advertised in those terms (see degrees and “transferable skills” for details.)

For people like me, who joined decades ago with the intention of seeing their whole working life in a vocation, this is almost anathema. It makes no sense. It does not compute.

I don’t see it with the relentless optimism of others or welcome it with open arms as the new and bright future. I’m not scared of it – I just don’t understand it. I have not been converted and I am going to take some persuading that it is for the best.

This isn’t about being hostile to new ideas. I’m not getting the rationale for the new ideas. Is that because of the message or because of the ideas themselves?

Of one thing I am sure. Because of my presence on Twitter I can ask these questions quite loudly. You can bet your mortgage that there are many people, like me, asking the same questions and having the same internal battles more privately.

There are large pockets of people for whom everything *isn’t* fine. Who are not giddy with excitement at the new opportunities presented before us. For whom chaos is not comfortable and experimentation not something to be relished. Who are yet to be convinced by what the College of Policing is trying to achieve – for whom and who it represents.

I can’t help but feel that the service is about to be taken over by people choosing to dabble in policing. “I think I might give it a go.” People with much to personally gain by joining but nothing to lose by leaving. Career butterflies who will come and go like the seasons. This would lead to loss of organisational memory, talent and experience bleed and almost endless “transformation” (most likely to be cyclical) and change.

I have never felt more like Yesterday’s Man and it’s not a nice place to be. It’s not as simple as just opening my mind and embracing and accepting things. Some of us need to have it explained in more detail. Some of us need to challenge, ask questions and point out what we see to be holes and flaws.

I can be no more honest than this.

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18 responses to “Yesterday’s Man”

  1. JustAnotherBeat says :

    You are not alone sir.

  2. panache2009 says :

    Whilst we have Officers of the calibre of this Police Officer there is hope for a return to basic core values & vocational inspired commitment to a profession which should put ‘service’ as its main concept. Police do an unenviable range of duties, mix with every element of human nature & cope with every eventuality imaginable. A career which develops, deepens & expands over time & circumstance is not a job for ‘2 years in/2years out’ scenarios. A job for life which grows is something to be applauded & beneficial to everyone, experience & knowledge has to be experienced first hand. Modern concepts are not always the answer & change is not a panacea for improvement. Good training, vocational aspirations, motivation, independence, professional leadership & support. never gives out of fashion. Political influence is trying to destroy & demean sensible approaches to restructuring Policing but eventually basic principles will be restored. Officers, like the writer, are invaluable and essential to maintain a balanced outlook whilst the so called ‘leaders’ play political poker. Long may the professional lifelong career in Policing continue. A job like no other, therefore never to be confused with other standard professions.

  3. Christopher Hearn says :

    In my head & heart, I applaud you for your intellect, intelligence, confidence & common sense! #support999

  4. Peter McCall says :

    Dear Nathan (if I may),
    This was an erudite and articulate expose, painfully honest and clearly very sincere. As a newly retired soldier of 34 years service I recognise many of the painful changes/reforms to which you refer. I do read your Twitter stuff, and frankly it does come across as negative and classic change resistant fare – but, this blog is a balanced account which gives a very different picture, of an experienced officer with much left to give and one who cares about doing the right thing – we need to harness that in the process of change not alienate.

    I know many will consider my comments politically motivated, so be it, that type of ‘punch and Judy’ politics bores me. I too have spent a career dedicated to the security of our nation and people, that’s what motivates me to stand as PCC, because, like you I have experience to make a contribution to represent the balanced views in the matter of policing – clearly not operational policing, that is very rightly the role of Chief Constables and Police Officers.

    The Police Force (old fashioned of me I know) like every area of the Public Sector is required to do more and more with less, it doesn’t matter which shade of government we have, there is never enough cash to do all we need or would like which is why priorities inevitably have to be made. That’s where the politics should start and end, I don’ think that is politicising policing, it is reflecting the views of the tax payer. How the police then deliver should be absolutely free of politics, operational policing must remain above politics and politically impartial. The role of PCCs in this has been badly explained in my view.

    Back to the point, it strikes me that we have a leadership issue if officers at your level are not being engaged in the change process, to be honest if these things just happen without explanation, anyone would be cynical and irritated and more of concern, disengaged.

    I have seen many of the issues in the military, we never thought reservists could add real value, they have served with distinction on countless operations in the face of the enemy, many have given their lives sadly. I’ve seen incredible service from specialists, medics, linguists, Int Ops, Cyber specialists to name only a few. Of course in an ideal world they’d be full timers, but the reality is we can’t afford it and many of them don’t want to be full time but very gladly give their free time (not sure I understand that but I’ve encountered it many times). All this to say these things can work in very serious, very violent operational scenarios, thus I do see mileage in some of the reform proposals. Critically, it all rests on balance, there will be and are situations where only a fully warranted, experienced police officer will do – and it is in harnessing the experience held by officers like yourself that we will be able to find and strike those balances and thereby minimising operational risk.

    Long winded way of saying, I understand you are a Cumbrian cop, as a Cumbrian I do appreciate your service and that of your fellow officers, if I’m elected I will seek to support – I won’t promise no change, we are both realistic enough to know ‘the world is changing’ to quote one of your own tweets! I would tho’ want to hear your very real concerns borne of front line experience and the one promise I will make is that I would listen, my question to you tho’ would always be “show me how WE can do this?” –

    I did appreciate your blog article, paints a very different picture to the Twitter bloke, I’d be very keen to speak and if you’re up for it drop me a message or email.

    Peter

    • nathanconstable says :

      Peter, thank you for this feedback and your comments. I was painfully aware that I was coming across as negative and what was lacking was the context of why. This blog was something to try and address that and I am glad it seems to have done so in your mind.
      I am a very operational officer who has a keen sense of why I joined and I remain utterly committed to doing my best for those I work for every day. What I have been struggling with is the supposed logic and rationale behind some of these changes. Some are contradictory, some aren’t evidenced, some just bewilder me.
      I am not against change and have, in a previous role, been commended and awarded for initiatives as well as working on change programmes.
      I speak honestly and with as much courage as I can muster. On this occasion I was upset at being accused of negativity when what I had intended to do was question. I simply cannot “just accept things” without understanding why. It’s the way I am wired.
      I am not a Cumbria officer – due to the politics of PCC elections I would also probably be unwise to have that chat as it could be interpreted as assisting or getting involved. Nonetheless it was a kind offer and your reply was very welcome. Best wishes NC

      • Peter McCall says :

        Nathan,

        Understood. I’m rapidly coming to the conclusion that Twitter has its uses but addressing serious issues is difficult. Raising anything for sensible debate rapidly descends into ‘shouty’ politics which generally just panders to those with the same view. Your blog tho’ is a much better forum, maybe not so widely read (unfortunately) but better able to have sensible and considered debate.

        I’ve led thousands of soldiers in my time (doesn’t make me good, just old!) and I’ve always had good Int wandering the lines talking to the boys and girls – more importantly listening (2 ears, 1 mouth) some goes in 1 ear & out the other, but often little gems which need to be taken up. I’m sure (hope) your bosses would equally want to hear your views and would be very sorry, as would I, to think that experienced officers were leaving the service through disillusionment and not being engaged. We’re all grown ups and realise we have to make do, taking the team together has to be the most important thing.

        I understand the chat piece, I shall continue to monitor your blog for my education! I hope we might chat after May!

        Very best wishes and genuinely, thank you for your service.

        P

  5. Dinah Saur says :

    Dear NC

    Thank you for your article, as always, spot on with the issues.

    I’m heartened by the comments and support here for you.

    I would have responded earlier…..but was busy grinding my teeth at the
    ” Industry speak.”

    Definitely agree…the Police Service is not an “Industry “.
    Steel making is an “Industry”… and look at what is happening there.

    So step away from the armchair troll Twitterers with their well thumbed copies of: “The One Minute Manager” and the Brendan Rodgers “Guide to Endlessly Reforming your Team”.

    Not really people of any substance….one eye on being ” a bit of a boss” as my old Dad used to say.

    The genuine Thin Blue Line still is comprised of the likes of yourself, and JustAnotherBeat making a difference in increasingly difficult and stretched circumstances.

    Never ever think of yourself as Yesterday’s Man. Your values are ageless, decent and honourable.

    The cracks in all these savings and “reforms” are beginning to show… looking at today’s figures on the rise in violent crime. Nowt wrong with asking questions about endless changes for changes sake. Not negative at all,

    Thank goodness there are those who DO question.

    So hold your head up and be proud of your achievements.

    More leverage to your core competencies, and may you long continue to metricize the flow of some deliverables within the limitations of your remit.

    Sincerest best wishes to you and colleagues,

    ps (apologies for my name change….family in the job)

  6. doctorplod says :

    Dear Nathan, I am so sorry to see someone who has dedicated their life to public service feel so frustrated, anxious and can I say confused by the lack of coherent and consistent information in terms of the changes that are befalling policing at the moment. Having served 30 years in a career that I truly loved, warts and all, it is a difficult time for us ‘old’ boys and girls. I wish I could impart some wise words of reassurance, wax lyrically about how ‘it’s all for the best and will come good’ and so forth, but alas I can’t. What I would like to say though, is despite the best efforts of whatever the plan maybe, I meet young people on daily basis, who want to be cops, I teach young people at degree level, who are from of the the toughest walks and up bringing one could imagine. Young people who live parallel lives (tough on the estate but books in the evenings), Black, White Christian, Muslim, who want to be cops, and not for 5 minutes, I see the same steely determination and passion I’m sure I would have seen had I met a young NC. Part of my legacy is by providing my services and time for no cost as a mentor, advisor, critic. Sure, most of it falls on deaf ears, often it’s like pushing a huge bolder uphill with no water or a chock to provide some rest. But change is coming, I’m sure you would be amongst the first to accept that we can’t sustain the waste we have endured and allowed to occur from the past. All I can say from the tiny window that I’ve seen, is that there are a lot of good people who want to do take the baton from us and whilst I too am frustrated at what I’m seeing, I would not discourage a single one of the from doing it, I feel I don’t have that right. All I can do is be there to support their choice, the rest, one way or another will take care of its self. Btw I’m Doctorplod on Twitter, but for some reason WordPress won’t allow me to log in, maybe it senses a dinosaur!! Best Wishes buddy. Rob

  7. retiredandangry says :

    Nathan, I often hate the restrictions of 140 characters, it is so very easy to be misunderstood, whereas one can explain much better in blog format. I don’t think you’re being negative, I think you’re an officer genuinely concerned for the future of the Police Service. Personally I don’t see anything wrong in continuing to ask questions until you understand, much better than just shutting up and meekly accepting everyting. I too fear for the future of the Service, and I haven’t yet worked out how you all collectively can do everything that is expcted of you with tapidly dwindling tesources. Best of luck for the future and I sincerely hope that things start to settle down and the future a little clearer, and hopefully brighter, very soon

  8. angryofalton says :

    A really interesting point, well made.
    I have the privilege of being an outsider looking in at the Police service currently and offer the following observations:
    1. There are many things about policing that can be improved and need to change. Better support and education for those seeking to move up the ranks being prime amongst them.
    2. The seemingly default position that the “private sector knows best” is plain nonsense and needs to stop.
    3. The transient nature of jobs in the private sector is great for plenty of individuals, but a constant problem for companies, limiting their effectiveness and ability to improve. I know many organisations who crave the stability you have in personnel!

    The bottom line is probably something about babies and bath water.
    Oh, and always take time to fully understand what’s broken before you try and fix it…

  9. Andrea Bowell says :

    As a 20 year officer, working as a uniformed sergeant on the front line, I have never read truer words. I often feel I am the only person in the room looking around thinking a) this is bonkers and b) why is no one saying anything. Oh but that would be because everyone else around me is trying to meet the open to change competency to get promoted. I feel like I am in an episode of some show called the emperors new clothes. And your stuff on modern demands is nailed on

    • Dinah Saur says :

      Andrea, just had a similar conversation with a relative, You are so right It truly is like the Emperors New Clothes and very few will say it as it is for the reasons you describe.

      Scenario:

      Superintendent arrives at v. large building primarily.to take the credit for a cannabis farm “discovery” and to avail himself of a mega photo opportunity with press and other worthies. ( He likes photo opportunities and he would like to climb ever higher)

      Super to lowly officers: “So where is the cannabis then?”

      “Can’t you smell it boss… just follow your nose”

      Super ” Oh so THAT’s what the smell is… I’ve OFTEN WONDERED WHAT CANNABIS SMELLS LIKE”

      He didn’t take too kindly to the reply…..

  10. Retired says :

    I retired some eight years ago as a CI, certainly for the last five or so years of my service I felt ‘semi-detached’ from the organisation and had some doubts over the way it was going but felt that any discussion about change was forbidden. Don’t get me wrong, the organisation needs to change, and change rapidly but I’m sure the government are not going about it in the right way. I find it interesting that things that were being discussed when I joined in 1977 are still being talked about as if they are new ideas (centralised purchasing, reduction in number of forces, a British FBI etc). Theresa May talks about volunteers and a commenter above made mention of the way the armed forces use reservists. This is all well and good but the services will no doubt ensure their reservists are trained, equipped and supported before and during deployment, I don’t think this will apply for the police volunteers, Police volunteers will (hopefully) not face the same risks as a serviceman/woman in a conflict zone but as we have seen sensitive investigations and tasks carry other risks – will these volunteers have any form of liability insurance for example?
    All in all it seems change is something that is being done to the police just because the government can. Predictions for the future are largely meaningless as none of us know what will happen but I do believe that the problems caused by this governments agenda will not manifest themselves for a few years when it will then become apparent that the police service as a whole will have seen a serious erosion of their capability to deal with serious crime and the private sector will not take up the slack as it will be too risky/not profitable enough.
    Retired

  11. Malc Wyles says :

    This is so true but why are we letting it happen and what can we do about it? Will a change of government be a change in attitudes? Personally I don’t think so. Private enterprise is not going to be the answer. Common sense should prevail. The upper ranks of the police force appear to be frightened of losing their jobs and so say nothing.

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