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.