I felt the change. I knew something was afoot. I did not like it, but did not understand it so I could not challenge it. Many people saw it for what it was but were powerless to stop the change. What am I on about? I am on about the change deep within the police service, way back when…
It was around 2005, when I felt the government step up, in its interference and meddling in the Police. I can recall it clearly, being told that cops were no longer allowed to be ‘double’ crewed. Cops were hit over the head constantly with stats and figures, making us work harder for no extra pay and no additional resources. Cops tried to fight back with the ‘work to rule’ and it had some traction but there was something more problematic that had already occured in the job.
There had been a change in the a promotion process, all due to the ‘old boys network’ that once thrived within. People with shiny, posh looking portfolios were being given a real chance to start climbing the slippery promotion pole. People loved this new chance and many clambered to start their progression, flashing their ‘new age’ terminology about. A few years of allowing these pen pushers in, they had taken over the management of the organisation. Over the period of a few years the job had changed from having leaders, leading form the front, to managers who managed from behind a desk and was more interested in stats and figures.
Why am I telling you all this? Because it was these polished pen pushers who were the ones that came down hard on those that tried to ‘work to rule.’ They threatened disciplinary, poor annual reviews and lack of support for specialist posts or training because they had taken on the new givernment regime. The ‘manager’ had won and the true ‘leader’ was lost for ever. The damage and impact of the job, demanding cops be single crewed, working solidly for nine hours without a break and unable to offload to a colleague in the car after each job was down to these managers pushing the ‘agenda’. I believe that this is the real reason there has been such a sharp rise in mental health issues, especially in front line police officers over the years.
Now let’s rush forward ten to fifteen years. These pen pushers followed their ability to write a good job, no necessarily being able to do it and had greater luck at being further promoted further up that pole, time and again before they landed in the senior management team of the force. Their care and attitutde towards their staff had diminished, due to their want and desire for the next rank. High ranking police officers, who never had any care for their workforce were now in dangerous, decision making positions. There was no longer any ‘top cover’ for those that were doing the toughest of jobs and needed support.
The combination of a workforce that had deteriorating mental health issues and senior officers who see their staff as an inconveniance when ‘they play up’ means that officers can be, and are regularly mistreated. I was one of many who suffered severe trauma as part of the job that I did to make the UK a better place to live. I struggled for years with my mental health, even asking for help but was told by managers that there was none they could offer and to get back to my job. When it all went wrong and I found myself at the bottom of a very deep hole, facing suicidal thoughts, as my life crumbled aorund me, I hoped the job would have my back.
Instead managers decided I was too much of a burden. Fully aware of my mental health, they disciplined me. I was served forms for Gross Misconduct and threatened to take away the only thing I was living for, my career. Now you may ask what could I have done to warrant such a rough tactic. Perhaps I would deserve such a punishment had I beaten the cr*p out of a prisioner (trust me sometimes I wanted to) or had been caught drink driving (I might of had a drink problem due my ill health, but I never drove) or prefaps I said something inappropriate (I have always been polite and professional)? The answer is ‘NO’ there were no criminal allegations or professional misconduct complaints, the reason that I was disciplined was because I had a hobby.
My hobby was writing. I had written a book. Yes, it had been published but what may shock you to learn is that it was nothing to do with the police. It might help to know that I had a ‘Business Interest’ registered with the organisation AND that I had their agreement that I could run it as a business, although I only wanted a hobby, as there was a chance of money changing hands I wanted to be above board and transparent.
Confused? Well think how I felt whilst struggling to make sense of my world and be landed with forms. For two years I faced four separate disciplinary procedures. All of them were identical to the last. My final set was handled by the ‘Anti-Corruption Unit’ for… yes you guessed it, running an aunauthorised business as an author.
Four times I was served forms, four times I had to fight and show that I was doing everything above board. I was legal and completely open about my interest. Each case, after months of anguish and more trauma was closed as ‘No Further Action’ but the pain of their actions hurt and damaged me beyond comprehension.
What I am not telling you is that during those years and for a few years before, I was a problem cop. I had been a drian on resources. The job paid for me to go for specialist treatements, all for a condition that was caused because I did my job. They paid for CBT, two rounds of EMDR, Schema therapy and some more weird stuff, all of it failed. Being sent off for an expensive specialist report, which the outcome was that I might make a recovery in 3-5 years time was a lot to deal with. I had not been operational during any of that time, not able to do my job as a cop and was looking at riding a desk for another 5 years. I was as far away from the front line, as a cop could possibly get, yet I was still triggering and falling ill daily due to exposure and my condition. The matter had got so bad that the job was stuck with me and I, with it.
I could not and did not want to go anywhere. I had a career that I had worked hard in but I could no longer do the work. If I resigned, I would never find another job, not in the state that I was in and be thrown into the ‘unknown’. I had a mortgage, bills, a family to pay for. The job had no options left open, well apart from this one. It was probably a very easy decision to make, no concern about the impact it would have on me by managers who should have been looking after my welfare, but they had never had to properly ‘looked after’ a team so had no idea how to, so they had to find something to get rid of me. All they had was my hobby, the Discipline procedure swung in and they married them up to see what they could do about me being in the organisation.
I wish I could write something positive about this episode but I have little to say. I wanted to give up so many times, disappear and never come back but the fear of being lost made me hold on and take the punishing procedure on the chin. My fight and scenario is not the only story I have heard. Literally hundreds of cops have messaged me and I have heard the same familiar story. Where the job should be supporting and providing therapy, which is a part of their responsibility as an employer, managers have used a discipline sledge hammer to crack a very weak and tired nut.
What I can say is that my 19 years as a cop, wanting to see justice resulted in finding a hidden resilience, wanting to fight what I knew to be wrong. I was medically retired in 2019 and have had to rebuild my life from scratch. My message to those that have experienced the same thing, is that you are not alone.
The message for those that are going through something similar, there are people like me willing to support and guide others, keep your chin up and keep fighting. Use all of the anger, pain and feelings of embarrassement, shame and mistrust to keep going. If nothing else afterwards you can say you kept fighting to the end, rather than roll over and be thrown out the door, life does get better all you have to do is ‘keep going’.
If you are happy to share your own story, I want to hear from you. If you would like to show others that ‘they’ are not the only ones, please send me your story – firstname.lastname@example.org or use my contact form.