What is it which makes policing so different to other occupations? What makes that something which runs through your veins and sends excitement through every pore when it’s most unexpected. It’s the feeling of wondering into the dark on your own with just your wits and your uniform as your primary protection shield. It’s the fact that you are one tiny part of a huge support network that will come rushing to your aid when called for, and that support is something that not only you know, but they out there know.
It is a privileged position to be in. You will see things that no others ever will. Many may recoil if they were to see what you see, but you are the one at that time and place experiencing things that no one else will. The grieving mother, distraught beyond any immediate help or comfort, but just a hand on her arm, to say she is not alone. To unwrap the body of that delicate little baby to check for bruises and note the one or two imperfections before gently wrapping her up again. That little dolls face never to disappear from your mind. Those moments of life and death, pain and utter fear, when your mere presence is enough to receive a “Thank God you’re here!” from that person with the phone gripped tightly in their hand. That is a special feeling. To be able to help, that’s all, not to solve or to conclude, but to change that spare wheel on the motorway for the elderly couple with the caravan when “George isn’t quite up to it anymore” That’s what brings the incredible satisfaction to the job of policing.
It’s to see the surprise on the faces of the group of youths, bouncing off each other with bravado and sense a stand off on my arrival. To know full well they expect me to say they must leave, but instead to speak with them, and chat to them, and have ‘bants’ with them, finding their interests, and then make a deal with them, an informal contract that they leave in 10 minutes after their goodbyes. It’s all psychology.
But then there’s another time where there is no mediation and there is that hostile aggression, and there is that need to show authority, and a “You’ve just mistaken my politeness for weakness” moment. That is the time when you need to use force in the way you have been taught and to have the responsibility to remember to use the most minimal force when they are fighting to hurt you, I mean really hurt you. Now that is what is special.
I look back at 27 years and think of my fun years, and of course they are always sunny days. I remember the laughing in the canteen, the meet ups in the bar for a quick beer before going home 10 minutes walk away, and I remember the special social bonds with the sports clubs, the Christmas pantomimes and the huge leaving dos when one of our clan left us. But the canteens have gone, the bars have gone, the sports are disappearing, officers now commute miles into work and there is no social events for the station any more. Time has moved on. Things have become streamlined, officers work alone, they self brief, they eat alone in their cars or on their desks. Mental health lingers like a shadow skulking around the next corner. And terrorism knocks on our door, regularly threatening to strike and our intelligence services keep knocking them back. But one day they will get in, and I fear that even though the police have realised things have changed, even the government are beginning to realise that things have changed, I fear that some very influential parts of the community are still trying to grab hold of those sunny days. Dixon of Dock Green would struggle with a man in his village with a Kalashnikov so surely we should not aghast when seeing less than 3% of our Force walking into a Tesco for their dinner with a side arm securely locked in a holster. These officers who have just been doing what I have just described up to now, and the complainers choose to chastise them and cry how things shouldn’t change from what they have been.
We are not ready to have every officer armed yet. But I speak as an armed officer who has been so for nearly 20 years. I speak as an Operational Firearms commander, a Firearms Tactics Advisor, and a VIP Protection officer. I say we need to protect those that protect us, and the least we need is what I describe as the 21st century truncheon. It’s called the Taser, and it’s far less dangerous than a wooden stick being forced into a soft body with brittle bones. Taser, in my honest view, has saved dozens of lives, mostly being hardened criminals and yes, even those suffering from mental health illnesses who can show the most violence themselves. And to hell with it, can we just stop being ridiculous and have a fine mesh to prevent a torrent of infectious phlegm from being sprayed into our mouths? Then we feel supported and backed up and we can carry on dong the job we love in relative safety.
Let’s move into the 21st century for the next generation.
PS Harry Tangye