I am reflecting on what has been an unbelievable and sad week. My thoughts continue to be with the family, friends and loved ones of Sarah Everard. The details we heard in court this week will be with me for a long time. I have watched with interest the statements that were made after the sentencing of her killer, and the commentary on policing. Today’s newspapers (Sunday 3 October) make difficult reading for policing across the UK.
What is clear and is something I said in the week is that there needs to be change. Policing needs to listen to what people are saying and really understand what it means before they take action. So far I have read only one tweet from a Chief Constable that talks about listening to people. Others have been quick to try and act or move things forward with suggested changes. Police Scotland have said officers who are working alone will proactively offer anyone who is stopped an identity check. The officer’s personal radio will be put on loudspeaker so an officer or control room staff can confirm who they are, that they are on duty and the reason the officer is speaking to them.
All this matters. I spent 20 years in police communication and throughout all that time was committed to try and increase trust and confidence in policing. It is trust that will encourage people to come forward and report crimes and seek help if they have been a victim of crim. It is trust that will mean people provide information about crime in their communities. It is trust that helps being the police and people closer, working together to make communities safer. Throughout my time in the police I worked with some amazing people who just wanted to make a difference and help people.
I have seen officers rush into dangerous situations to protect people. I have seen detectives deal with some of the most horrific crimes and push themselves until they saw the offender charged, in court and then in prison. I have seen family liaison officers spend hours, days and months supporting families going through the worst point in their lives. I know these officers and staff have been horrified by the details of what happened to Sarah. They are the same people who will be looking at what they do, how they operate, and how they can rebuild trust.
But in my two decades there were occasions when I did experience inappropriate behaviour, unacceptable comments and sexism. There was a moment when a newly arrived senior officer thought I was the secretary who was delivering the teas and coffees because I was the only woman in a meeting. There was the time when an officer would walk up behind me and massage my shoulders which was unwanted attention. There were unacceptable comments. These were dealt with by working to ‘fit in’ and brush off these moments.
The issues I encountered are not restricted to policing they will be happening in workplaces up and down the country. What is difference is that police officers have powers that set them apart from other people. This is why there has been such a strong response this week. Moving forward from this will be challenging but cannot be rushed. As with any crisis situation, policing needs to recognise that there is an issue and accept that action needs to be taken. After that there needs to be a detailed plan for what will change, followed by action. This is not about another strategy outside of policing. It is about focusing on what needs to change within policing. There is a long road ahead but the steps along it are going to be critical to rebuild the trust and confidence that has been damaged.