Where There’s Light – There’s Hope
Over the last couple of years I have noticed a conversation occurring at work which, once upon a decade ago, would have been practically unheard of.
The “if I could leave – I would” discussion has now become relatively commonplace and is particularly noticeable amongst colleagues in mid ranking roles or with over ten years service.
It has even spread to Twitter and I found myself having such a conversation with a colleague just the other night. He described feeling out of place, like he couldn’t just get on with his job anymore. He described a huge amount of emotional turmoil but then said he felt like it was just him.
It isn’t. He is far from alone.
I admitted that, if I could, I would probably consider taking the exit door as well. This, if you think about it, is actually a startling admission for a fifth generation police officer with over twenty years service who has wanted to do nothing else since he was 3 years old and who lives and breathes the job.
So – why are so many people even thinking this? I can only really speak for myself but I think I probably echo others when I say that many serving officers are seeing a lot of things they do not like and do not understand.
Those who are working with fewer colleagues and increasing demand – often straying into areas of life for which they have no training and questionable remit as they plug gaps in other agencies’ provision are scratching their heads as they try to figure out how more IT experts or a degree are going to actually help one iota.
Why the sudden concentration on “professionalism” with the underlying narrative that we are inferior when police officers enjoy a relatively high level of public confidence and deal with some pretty terrible things rather well.
Why are we being told that we need more computer experts when there aren’t enough officers in uniform to attend the list of calls waiting on the control room screen?
Why are we being told that the future of policing should involve a “healthy churn” of staff? That what is wanted is for people to enter and exit regularly and a flattened rank structure whilst the force nationally is being criticised by the HMIC for lack of experience and supervision.
Imagine how it feels for someone who took up the role – due to a calling – to give a working lifetime of service to be told that senior officers (mostly toward the end of that working lifetime) are publicly saying they no longer see policing as a “job for life.”
For many of us “old-timers” it conjures up images of the future which involve an awful lot of very bright but very inexperienced staff being held together by a very small cohort of seasoned and ragged dinosaurs who simply refuse to leave so as to make sure that the whole thing doesn’t fall apart. Imagine characters like Colour Sergeant Bourne in the film “Zulu”. A situation where these more senior in service officers spend most of their time tutoring or mentoring new people – who then leave.
The new qualifications system has many officers asking “why?” We’ve seen many attempts at this kind of thing before and wonder what is different this time. More importantly – one of the “selling points” has been that it will provide transferable skills and something officers can take with them on a hunt for new employment.
Well – be careful what you wish for. You may find that you are actually paying to provide a lot of grateful officers with a one-way ticket through the escape hatch. Perhaps that is the plan. I’m not entirely sure.
And yet – for all of these questions and uncertainties and feelings of negativity – many, including myself, are still here.
It cannot be purely because of financial considerations, though those will obviously be a factor. It cannot also be purely down to the fact that many feel unqualified to do anything else.
So – why are we still here?
Again, I can only speak for myself but here are my reasons.
As I said before, I wanted to be a policeman from the age of 3 and it’s been a long hard battle to fulfil that ambition. I won’t bore you with my history but there have been times in this job where I have been treated appallingly (I’m talking YEARS ago and in another force) but I still had the desire to overcome that and do what my heart told me I was born to do.
That wasn’t easy. It came at immense personal cost – mostly to my wellbeing – but I will be damned if I am going to give up so easily.
There are many things I do not like about the direction policing is heading – but for as long as I have strength and a voice in my head and the ability to write – I will continue to point and question and argue (as constructively as I can) for what I believe to be fair and right for policing.
I’m not always right – far from it – but I am experienced and I think that counts.
I still love the job. I love what we do. I love what I do. I love my role. Very few things get me as animated or excited as when we actually have a “job on” and I can exercise my experience, knowledge and training to do real police work. It still gives me a buzz nearly 23 years down the line. Until that light goes out – and I don’t think it ever will – I have something to offer.
More importantly – the reasons I joined the job have not changed and still drive me to work every day. It’s a sad old interview cliche to say I joined to help people but I did. And I do. And I like that I do. And I am sure they do too. And that matters.
At my rank and role I help in different ways but I continue to fight for the welfare of people with mental health issues, I command firearms and other critical incidents and take all of these things very seriously and with passion.
Furthermore, I am now directly responsible for some 60 staff – all of whom need the support of someone who gives a damn and who recognises how hard this job can be sometimes.
So why am I still here?
Because I care. I care too much. I have a role and position which took years and hard work to achieve. I am lucky and honoured to hold it. It allows me to use whatever skills and talents I have to bring positives to a negative world. It is a position of huge responsibility and not one I would give up lightly. It has to be earned – I believe I am earning it.
Whilst I dislike much of what is being done to policing it is because I care. I love policing. The best way I can have any influence is from the inside. I won’t win many battles but I can speak up.
I still want to help. I still want to protect people. I care about society and I care about my country.
My job is to protect and help others – I do not believe there is a more worthy role in life than that. Not for me anyway.
Don’t get me wrong – not a day goes by without me expressing some dissatisfaction about something work related. But there is a huge difference between dissatisfaction and disaffection. The latter is a place none of us want to be.
So – if like me you are finding yourself questioning whether your future is in the job – I would urge you to soul search and get down to the very core of your being and the reasons why you joined in the first place.
If that light still burns – there is still hope.