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Babel Fish 


Sat outside a Canterbury cafe in the sunshine allows me the opportunity to reflect on the speakers and conversations from the last few days at Canterbury Christchurch Uni’s conference on Evidence Based Policing. 

I would like to thank Emma, Jenny, Steve and team at CCCU for organising another amazing event.

I greatly enjoyed the event and the opportunity to speak. I’m not a huge fan of conferences as I often think it’s the same people talking to the same people about the same things. There is a danger of it all becoming very echo-chamber so I was pleased to be invited and have the chance to lob a grenade into proceedings. 

I couldn’t help but notice that there were some really negative comments on Twitter about attending an event like this in the middle of what is effectively a police resource crisis. This wasn’t aimed at me specifically. Not that there should be a need for me to justify myself I would say that I booked this is annual leave last March so I was here in my own time. 

Another sad revelation was the abuse some officers engaged in this were receiving from officers at supervisory level in their home forces. To those being so unkind I say this. Give it up. You have a choice. This is clearly happening and so the question is “do you want police officers involved in the design or not?” I would argue that “not” will lead to a system which simply doesn’t bear thinking about. So far removed from reality as to be unworkable. 

The other thing I would say is, whether colleagues realise it or not, these reforms are ploughing ahead with or without them. If they aren’t aware of them and the implications then that is fine – but there are some of us who are – and I took it upon myself to represent the front line with a large dose of “hang on a minute.” No one asked me to – but trust me – these things need to be said and they need to be heard. So to the critics I would simply say – you need someone in the arena who is prepared to represent you. 

The main reason I say this is because what became even more evident to me is the distance between the academic vision and the sharp reality of every day police work. We aren’t talking miles – in some cases we are talking light years. I shall come on to explain why. 

There was a great range of speakers across the two days and all of them (apart from me and a couple of others) have some role in or outside the police which will or could directly influence the way things go from here. This stuff is happening. It’s on a conveyor belt. It’s coming whether we like it or not. To try not to have my voice heard would have been a real missed opportunity. I wanted to point out a few issues which get in the way of the most purist visions. The reality check. 

The main things that struck me throughout the two days were things I already knew. Things I actually addressed in my talk. But at times they were reenforced to a point of concern. On more than one occasion, the other delegates I sat with – all serving officers – turned to look at one another with one of two expressions:

1: bewilderment

2: incredulity 

That’s not to say that there weren’t plenty of times when we could all nod in agreement at a theory or concept but there were times when we would be asking each other some very simple questions – what? Why? HOW? 

Academia and policing are still a very long way apart. Whilst there are many academic officers and plenty who are now seeking in-service degrees there are very many who are not and have no idea how to research or reference. I still count myself in that category – at least a very inexperienced novice. 

I know personally of officers engaged in promotion processes which are taking a more academic route. Where they are required to produce self researched essays as a compulsory part of the process. And I know that many of them are expressing concerns that they don’t know what they are doing. For many – it is long time since they have undertaken any form of learning which didn’t involve studying by rote or pressing a mouse button until the session was over. 

As I said in my talk – I am very concerned that this is just being nailed to career processes (promotion, lateral, appraisal) and that embedded is being confused for compulsory. 

Some of the speakers were at such an academic level that it was difficult to understand what they were saying. That’s not a criticism of them or their work but I know that if the audience had been made up entirely of police officers that a significant proportion would struggle to comprehend. And not even necessarily the concepts – but the purpose. I was sat with some officers who are hugely more academically qualified than me and we struggled at times. That’s not to say officers aren’t intelligent. What I am saying is that we are not speaking the same language and at times we aren’t living in the same world. 

The concept of a “university hospital police station” – a police station which is effectively a teaching police station is academically pure but operationally impossible. And if it isn’t operationally impossible then we are talking about completely changing the way in which policing is done. 

It cannot have escaped anyone’s notice that police resources are thin. Events have meant 12 hour shifts (or longer), cancelled rest days and an almost total cessation of pro-active work. Demand is rising, the threats are increasing but the number of officers is falling. Officers are facing burn out – to now be saying that they have to take responsibility for their own continued professional development (study in your own time) is insensitive and one has to wonder whether the motivation or resilience is there. 

To implement the concept of a University police station would mean that you would have to ensure that officers had protected study and reflection time. A lot of it. Effectively suggesting that the entire probation period of a new officer studying for the new degree apprenticeship would only be available to do policing for a proportion of their time. That is simply not viable. Where are the teachers and mentors? That would be more officers diverted. Now think that academic progression is being implemented at every level and in every role. 

“But it works in other professions” say the advocates. This is as may be but I ask whether any of these other professions has the same demand profile of policing. Nursing may be busy – but one has to wonder why it is experiencing a recruitment crisis. 

Many of the talks were theoretical. There were a few good examples of practical – particularly the talk on culture change in New Zealand police – but that was a ten year project. 

I was hoping someone might explain what Evidence Based Policing was seeking to achieve but the answers to this seemed vague to me. Introducing academia into policing seems to be a means unto itself and the expectation seems to be that this will make policing “better”. 

There is always room to improve but I am still not clear on how this will make things better. The answer that keeps coming back is that there will be an evidence base and officers will be able to think critically. 

Time will tell if either of these actually happens. 

Pleasingly, I did get a sense that other speakers share my concerns about the obstacles and blockers. We should chip away at them but some of them are mountains. More than one speaker said that if these aren’t overcome then this whole concept simply will not work. 

My plea was that we slow down to speed up. Recognise the magnitude of the challenge and not rush by doing half a job and adding this to career processes. 

But something else became increasingly obvious to me over both days and it is about language. Roger Pegram is a passionate advocate of Evidence Based Policing. Roger is also an experienced and practical police officer. He is able to convey the messages (positive and negative) in a way which appeals to both the academics and the cops. He speaks fluently in both and, if this is stand any chance of “landing” (word of the week) then, as a Emma Williams so perfectly put it – every force needs a Pegram.


Douglas Adams’ Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy introduces readers to The Babel Fish. A remarkable quirk of evolution. A fish that, when placed in someone’s ear, feeds off other people’s words and automatically translates them directly into the wearer’s brain. A natural interpreter. I made reference to this in my talk but I’m not sure everyone had read the book or understood what I meant. 

But this is what we need. Evidence Based Policing has a lot of potential positives but the differences between academic purity and policing reality really need to be addressed. 

And just as importantly – if this isn’t to become a fad or tick box exercise then people need to fully understand it. 

For that you need a certain kind of person. You need people who can automatically translate and interpret. People who can explain not only the passion but the purpose. Who can make this seem real and relevant. Who can convince a sceptical workforce that this has a point. 

At the moment this message isn’t getting through and it feels like something which is again just being DONE to policing. The hostility is palpable.

If evidence Based Policing is to succeed and get into the culture and psyche of officers and the organisation then you need Babel Fish. 

They are out there – they need to be utilised. Otherwise this will sink in a sea of resistance and apathy. 

“Look for the Helpers”

The last few months have seen some truly awful events in the United Kingdom. The first incident was the Westminster attack. This was followed by the appalling scenes in Manchester and before anyone had chance to reflect too much on that, London was attacked again at London Bridge and Borough Market.

This morning we have seen terrifying images from the Grenfell Tower fire. Truly the stuff of nightmares. 

The country is no doubt feeling traumatised and there are many many questions to be asked and answered. The feeling of turmoil will not be helped by the state of UK politics but it is not my place to comment on any of that. 

What I am going to comment on are the two things which have been evident in all of these dreadful tragedies. 

Bravery and kindness. 

In all of these incidents we have heard of examples of incredible selflessness and bravery. These have ranged from:

  • Medical staff running onto the streets to treat the injured at Westminster
  • A Member of Parliament giving CPR to a mortally wounded police officer
  • Homeless men going into the foyer of the Manchester Arena to help injured children and others
  • Members of the public bravely trying to distract and fend off the London attackers with bottles and chairs and anything else they can get their hands on. 
  • Residents from in and around the Grenfell Tower helping others out or offering assistance and shelter straight afterwards.

This is before you consider:

  • The armed officer at Westminster who had the presence of mind to realise what was happening and bring it to a rapid conclusion
  • The unarmed officer from British Trasport Police who attempted to take on all three attackers in London – in their fake suicide belts – with a baton
  • The armed officers who arrived on the scene minutes later and did what needed to be done without hesitation
  • The fire fighters who went in to the raging inferno at Grenfell and spent hours inside trying to get people out and bring it under control 
  • The paramedics and doctors who worked for so long and so hard to save life. In the London incident – saving the lives of all 48 people who were rushed to hospital. 

There has been an outpouring of love and of grief. The One Love concert in Manchester was both cathartic and necessary. We have seen people donating time, money, clothes, taxi services and anything else which could possibly be of use. We have seen the public thanking the emergency services with cards and gifts of food and drinks. 

We have seen some terrible and truly awful things. We are seeing more “minute silences” than any nation should have to observe. We have seen the very worst of humanity.

But – rising above this – way way above this – we have seen the very best of humanity. People putting themselves in harms way to help others – both the public and the emergency services. 

It seems to have become “the done thing” to point out, after these awful events, the people who ran towards the danger rather than away from it.

It is right that we recognise and acknowledge this but I hope these don’t become tokenistic words which get repeated without real meaning in the aftermath. 

These events have, sadly, become horribly familiar in recent months but they are not “normal”, they are not “ordinary” and they are not “business as usual.”

Everyone – professional or otherwise – who has been involved or close to these incidents will be affected by it in some way or another. Awful, harrowing scenes which even the most hardened member of the emergency services will struggle to process.

It is right that we recognise the people who run towards danger but we need to make sure they have support when they themselves eventually get to walk away. 

The news has been truly awful of late and it makes you wonder what the hell the world is coming to – but I will leave you with the words I tweeted after the second London attack. They are not mine but those of a famous American children’s TV presenter from years gone by. 

Mr Rogers (Fred Rogers) is quoted as saying “when I was a little boy and saw frightening things on the television news – my mother would always tell me to look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

We need to go one step further though. We need not just to look for the helpers – as reassuring as that is – we need to look OUT for the helpers once the event is over. 

It is the very least that the various organisations, the people and indeed the government should do. 

They had our backs – we need to have theirs. 

To each of those helpers in all of these terrible events – whether you be public or a member of the emergency services – on behalf of a grateful nation – thank you. 

UPDATE: This morning (15/06/17) I watched London Fire Service Commissioner, Dany Cotton give a live interview on Sky News. Rarely have I been so moved and impressed by such a natural display of visible leadership. In fact, the last time I felt this way was when I heard Nick Adderley speak at Police Federation conference of his time as area commander when PC’s Hughes and Bone were murdered. 

Commissioner Cotton, in the space of a few minutes, managed to explain what could be explained, explain why would couldn’t yet be explained could not yet be explained and she spoke of her sorrow for the community. But in amongst all this she spoke of her colleagues. Her admiration for their bravery and commitment in an unprecedented incident. But she also showed tremendous forward thinking. She recognised that this event would have an effect on her people and promised to support them. 

“They are heroes but they also have feelings and many are devastated by yesterday’s events” 

Leadership like that – is priceless 

“Critical” – An explanation to my 11 year old

This morning, I had the unenviable task of explaining the current security situation to my 11 year old daughter. In doing so, I have one advantage – my job. 

I work in the world of firearms command. I have been familiar with Operation Temperer for a long time. I understand what the deployment of armed officers means and how they are used. 

Some of the reporting, particularly from Sky News, has been hysterical. By which I don’t mean “funny” – I mean panic inducing. If you took everything you’ve seen on TV as fact then you’d never leave the house again and I don’t want my children to live like that. 

So here – without hysteria – is roughly how I explained the situation to my daughter. It may help those of you struggling and with less knowledge than those of us who work in this world.

“What happened in Manchester is very hard to predict and very hard to prevent. This man has targeted a place where there were lots of people who would not have been expecting it. There would have been no warning and no way of knowing this was going to happen. 

We have been at a high level of security for a long time but part of this is having a plan to go even higher if we did become aware of a threat or after an incident. 

This plan involves using the army and has been ready for a long time but never used. Because of what has happened – the time has come to use that plan for a while.

The only way to effectively deal with a potential suicide bomber is with guns. The action taken by the police or army has to be instant and it has to work. 

The police are also busy trying to find out whether anyone else is planning anything and also to arrest anyone who might have been involved in the Manchester attack.

Lots of places need to be protected at the moment and that includes places where there are lots of people. Tourist sites, shopping centres and so on. 

The police and army do different jobs. The police are responsible for investigating the crime, responding to incidents and catching the bad guys but they can’t do that if they have to protect places as well. There aren’t enough of them. So the plan has always been to use soldiers to protect places if we ever needed to. This means that the police officers can carry on with their job and the places and people can be protected too.

The main reason the Prime Minister has chosen to do it at this time is to protect people. The police don’t yet know if they have caught everyone and until they are more sure – we need to be careful. There is a lot of work to do so the army have been called to help the police. 

If you see them – go and say hello. They are there to help us and look after us. 

I don’t think they will be around forever. I don’t know how long but until the police have finished their work. But when they do – things should return to normal.

As for you? I don’t want you to be afraid. If anything happens I want you to run away from it. 

But the police and army are now working very hard to keep us safe. I am looking out for you as well.”

There were questions – of course there were questions – but she has come home from school with a smile on her face so I am hoping – for now – I have said enough.

And Yet So Much To Say

Last night, terror encroached on childhood. 

Last night, evil robbed innocence. 

Last night, cowardice struck the defenceless. 

Those watching the early report of events in Manchester would no doubt have hoped that this was a small scale technical problem or an inconsequential structural failure at the Arena but as time went by, the images of ambulances racing to the scene, the sight of armed officers and then the arrival of the Bomb Squad began to confirm the worst fears. 

Confirmation was a while coming but when it came, via a briefing from Ian Hopkins, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, hearts sank and words seemed impossible to find. 

The images being broadcast – the brief video clips from inside – began to take on a new context. Now we knew what that noise was. Now we know why those people were running and screaming.

It is perhaps unfair to draw any comparisons between any terrorist atrocity. In any and all of them, innocent people have lost their lives terribly and for no good reason – but this one is different.

Once again innocent people have lost their lives. Once again the method was indiscriminate and appalling but the individual behind it has not just targeted joy – they have targeted our children. 

This has happened in other countries for sure and it is not the first time in the U.K. that children have been the victims but to walk in to a venue full of happiness and innocent young lives and do this…. deliberately …. is simply incalculable.

Against this backdrop of misery and the very worst of humankind we saw the best. The emergency services rushing to the scene, the police, ambulances, fire service, bomb squad. We knew that hospitals across Manchester were going to be inundated with young people with terrible injuries and the staff would do whatever magic they could to save life. The staff at the Arena; the taxi drivers who offered lifts; the hotels who opened doors and rooms; gig goers who rallied to help and support one another and a local community who sent out messages and displays of love and kindness to those who had visited their city. 

The usual press circus has arrived and whilst there is huge public interest in this terrible event we have seen journalists hounding desperately worried families and even interviewing young children and making them re-tell events to cameras without any apparent thought for their long term wellbeing. 

Claims of responsibility have been made but we don’t care who you were. We don’t care what you believed. We know that you were worthless and we know you were wrong. That’s all we ever need to know about you. 

The press would do well to ignore you completely and focus solely on the lives that do matter – those taken away at a time when they should have been on an all time high.

It is actually very easy and hugely upsetting to consider the happiness in that place moments before this happened. 

And now there is this – a nation struck again by something completely against human nature and without rational explanation. 

At times like this it is often hard to find words to comment on anything – but there is so much to say.

To those injured and killed – we are so very sorry.

To those involved and who witnessed events – we feel for you.

To the families – we can offer little but distant love but a lot of it.

To the emergency services and first responders – thank you.

To the people and city of Manchester – we stand with you. 

To Ariana Grande – an artist whose show was so mercilessly targeted – this was not your fault. You brought joy and music to these poor people before this happened.

Above all else – to our children – we love you. 

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