A former Metropolitan Police officer today writes in the Havering Daily.
The recent arrest and charge of a Metropolitan Police officer for murder has led to yet another media outcry about lack of trust in policing in the UK. Pressure groups will use it to further their agendas to disrupt and damage the very fabric of how policing is carried out and monitored.
I completely understand why. We were taught as children that if we were lost, or in trouble, to look for a police officer who would help us.Recent events challenge those teachings. But if we can’t turn to a police officer, where can we turn? Private security officers? Vigilantes? Organised Crime Groups like people did with The Kray Twins in 60’s London? Where do the alternatives end and what, if anything do they offer that a police service can’t?
As a young police officer in London, I occasionally encountered distraught women in the street late at night, who had fallen out with a partner and were wandering the streets usually near night clubs, often in a state of inebriation, crying and unable to fend for themselves. I also recall similar situations after the office Christmas parties in central London.
I would ensure they got home safely. I never overstepped the boundary, never tried to date them – oh and by the way, it went against police regulations to give them a lift in a police car, but I did it to keep the women safe and ensure they got home ok. This was and probably still is repeated across the UK by many police officers who care about people and have an innate sense of duty to protect others.
Over many years, stories have emerged about police officers committing terrible crimes. When Dennis Nilsen was discovered to have killed unknown numbers of single men in London, the press made a big play of the fact that he had been a Metropolitan Police Officer many years earlier – even though he had only served for just 18 months.
This did incredible damage to the reputation of the police service and the concept of a police officer as a safe and trustworthy person.
Let me now turn to some examples in other walks of life and how they are perceived. Recently a fake court interpreter was found guilty of attending 140 court appearances despite holding no qualifications to interpret. Those court cases are now under review – how many innocent people were convicted as a result – and vice versa. The public outcry was against the criminal justice system for allowing it to happen, not against all interpreters.
When Harold Shipman was found to have killed unknown numbers of his patients, people who put their trust in him, patients continued attending GP surgeries. The outcry was against the individual doctor and not the profession as a whole.
We have seen a commercial pilot murder a plane full of passengers by deliberately crashing into a mountain, yet after lockdown, we will still trust the air crew who fly us to work and holiday destinations.
Every time the media carry another story about a rogue police officer anywhere in the UK, 132,000 police officers feel anger, betrayal, fear of reprisals and even greater scrutiny of their daily work and private lives.
Any officer stopping a member of the public for a legitimate reason will be met with sarcastic comments about being kidnapped and murdered. Criminals will use it as an excuse to refuse to stop their vehicles. Women and other vulnerable groups will genuinely fear for their lives at night if a blue light appears behind them on a dark road.
Even worse – it will become even more difficult for a male police officer to assist a lone female who is broken down at the side of a road during the hours of darkness.
A women who is alone in her house, who calls police for any reason, may feel nervous if a lone male police officer is dispatched or arrives before other colleagues to assist her.
In their private lives, a single, young male officer may feel unable to disclose his profession when dating someone new. There will be fear and suspicion again for a long time to come. The ramifications may be far-reaching for all.
The vast majority of police officers in the UK are doing a job they love. They put on uniforms, kiss their partners and children goodbye for what they know may be the last time and then make their way to work to protect the public whom they serve.
They do this without fear or favour, because they took an oath to do so.
They, like me, feel sick to the stomach every time a news reader tells the public that a serving officer has been arrested for an offence. I even recall a recent incident where a police officer changed a price label on an item in a supermarket and was charged. A member of the public may get a warning for this, but, quite rightly, a police officer in uniform doing the same act, deserves a prison sentence for the damage it does to the public trust in the police service.
As a retired police officer who completed 30 years’ service in the Metropolitan Police and who still works in policing, I implore you to trust that the vast majority of police officers will give their lives if necessary, to protect you. They run towards, not away from danger (as we have seen on London Bridge and Borough Market in recent years).
For the sake of your own sanity, for the sake of community cohesion, for the sake of continued crime detection, and for the sake of the morale of 132,000 good, honest and trustworthy police officers, I implore you to keep the faith.