There has been much comment on Twitter recently about why one would join the Police. Most seem to have joined because they ‘wanted to make a difference’. That was not my primary reason, that came later.
In the years between leaving school and joining the Met I had been gainfully employed as a Radio-Isotopes Technician at a large, world-famous hospital somewhere in London. It was a great job, and I actually felt like I made a difference there as my ‘customers’ were all cancer patients. After a couple of years I got a bit bored with my life being ordained by Rota. “Why don’t you join one of the Forces?” asked Mrs Angry, hopeful of some foreign travel.
So I gave it some thought over the ensuing days; I pictured myself as Jack Hawkins, stood on the bridge of a destroyer with a white towel round my neck, but dismissed that, convinced I would die of seasickness. My father had been in the Royal Artillery, but I dismissed the army after hearing some of his stories. I obviously dismissed the Air Force too, but I honestly can’t remember why. Eventually the day came when I said to Mrs Angry, “I’ve been thinking about it, and I’ve applied to join one of the Forces as you suggested” “Oh really” said she “Which one?” “The Police Force” said I. I could tell she was thrilled, you just can, can’t you?
Over the next few months the selection process progressed, I was accepted and eventually a date was set for starting at Hendon Training School. This was memorable for two things; 1) My FIVE haircuts on the first day, apparently police officers are meant to have short hair, and 2) I have never encountered anywhere like it for the number of demigods in one place. I survived, they even got me to march with some semblance of normality eventually; and so to day 1 of my real Police career.
I was put on a green coach (remember them?) with all my ‘classmates’ and we went on a guided tour of London, dropping everyone off at their appointed Station. I was lucky(?) I got Wembley, home of English Football and Rock Concerts. I think I was about the third new recruit they’d ever had at Wembley, it was better known as a Defaulters’ Station. There was I, 19 years old (well, I’ll be 20 next month Sergeant) surrounded by defaulters and ‘old sweats’. I was introduced to my Reporting Sergeant. I shall never forget him, Bill Hawkes, PS 51, a veteran of the Palestine Police. The very first thing he said to me was “You’re an enigma to me son, but we’ll sort you out”. Bill Hawkes was the kind of man who has no place in a modern Police Service, but I believe that he was absolutely right for me. He gave me all the tools I needed to survive. In 1972 the world was a much different place to the one we live in now.
And so I set about my 2 years probationary period. So much was different then. Sergeants were called Sergeant or Sarge, not John or Peter. We had Women Police (yes really) who were like a mini Police Force of their own. Their job was to investigate Missing Persons, deal with children and female prisoners, and occasionally make us a cup of tea. OK, I didn’t say it was right, it’s just how it was in 1972. Over that 2 years I found out why I had wanted to join the Police Force. I wanted to bang up villains. You could keep your Traffic, your Horses, your River Police, I’d had a taste of banging up villains, and that’s what I wanted to do, help keep our streets safe.
That’s pretty much want I want today, only in a different way. I can’t bang people up any more, but I can shout loud and clear that the government are making our streets more dangerous.
I have total respect for anyone doing The Job today. People like me know that your career is not an easy one, made more difficult, in a lot of ways, by successive governments over a lot of years. I truly believe that you also have the respect of the majority of the British public. Some you will never win over, but I’m convinced that the majority are on-side. We’re not too different you and I, we kind of joined The Job for the same reasons. Our challenges are similar. Our satisfaction for a job well done is the same I am sure. Almost everyone I ever worked with was professional, cared about the public and wanted to do their best, do it right. I don’t believe that has changed. The Police are drawn from the public, so it’s inevitable that the odd bad apple will slip through the net, but it is just the odd one or two. You know this and I’m sure, deep down, the public know it too.
Do I regret joining the Police? Not really, I had a little wobble mid-service, but a change of direction in my career sorted that out and I never looked back. I got so disillusioned at one point that I promised myself that I would apply for the next job to be advertised, whatever it was, anything to get away. How desperate was that? Well, the next job to be advertised was Royalty Protection Officer at Buckingham Palace, so I applied. I spent a day at Buck House, was introduced to the officers there, had my role explained to me if I were to be the successful candidate and I returned to my Station and typed out my application. The weeks came and went, I didn’t get called for an interview and then I saw the job advertised again. I phoned up and enquired as to the current situation of my application to be told in no uncertain terms that even though I had been the only applicant, I had been paper-sifted. That made me feel great I can tell you.
My next application for something was more successful and I became one of the successful Escape Committee members, did something different and never looked back. Once again I knew why I had joined the Police, and so it continued until year 30.
I can’t say how I would feel serving under this government, I suspect that I wouldn’t be very happy. I have read that officers are considering leaving The Job because of the government’s actions. Whilst I completely understand that, I would urge you not to do anything in haste, you might end up at Buckingham Palace, or worse. If once you’ve carefully considered the options you still feel that leaving is right for you, then you must do what you must do, but this has been why I joined the Police, and I think I would stick it out.