Back in October 2013, the 9th October 2013 at 11.31pm to be exact, I recall sending Tor Garnett, one of Police Now‘s co-founders, an email with some ideas for the name of a radically overhauled, compelling graduate-scheme offer for policing. I described the list as a brain dump, but at number three, was ‘PoliceNow’. At the time the scheme was still, it is fair to say, very much on the back of a fag packet and at times felt like a pipe dream.
Since then a truly immense amount of hard work has gone into Police Now from a large number of people – with Dave Spencer and Tor Garnett undeniably burning the candle at both ends to turn a vision into reality – and it was with a sense of great privilege that I attended the Police Now Summer Academy as a Visiting Fellow to give an input around being a Dedicated Ward Officer, tackling knives/weapons, using stop and search and making estates safer places.
I attended on Day 3 of the Academy and was hugely impressed by the pace and quality of the full-time team engaged in equipping 69 members of the public (now Constables) with the knowledge and skills necessary to become effective Dedicated Ward Officers in an accelerated timescale. I observed the lessons before and after my input and was also struck by the quality of many of the questions from the cohort, the open and friendly style of teaching and the efforts made by those leading lessons to inject an emotional dimension to proceedings.
I started to cringe (but only a little!) when everyone was asked to close their eyes. It is an unnatural state (for me at least, so some cringe is to be expected) but being asked to imagine being an older person, living alone in a tower block flat, overlooking a park, a park that was once safe to take the grandchildren to, but that is now used by people to take and deal drugs, and which now attracts groups of intimidating people to hang around and where there has recently been a stabbing was powerful. Made all the more powerful – and professionally painful – when told that as things had worsened we had, understandably, started to lose all confidence in police.
As I opened my eyes, I had that deep-rooted feeling of an injustice needing to be corrected. It is buried deep within the gut, almost as deep as the feeling when you hear that blood-curdling scream of a colleague over the radio, in distress and in need of urgent assistance. It is a feeling that makes you want to do something, there and then, to put yourself into harm’s way, to make good on the Oath every officer swears.
Having witnessed and been involved in the training, it is also fair to say that the programme is intense. As an example:
It’s the day after my first (and hopefully not last) slot at the Police Now Summer Academy. I’m in the station, going through the various sytems I use to brief myself on goings-on since I was last in when I hear over the radio a shoplifter has made off with stolen property from one of the shops on my ward. I run upstairs, get into my cycle gear as fast as is humanly possible. I have a reasonable idea of who it might be from the description and where they have probably gone. I carry out an area search and find the guy. I stop him, search him and he gets a little agitated. I arrest him. Get space and a van running. Get the van to swing by the venue on the way to custody to allow me to review CCTV. I further arrest him for another shoplift a month before. I book him in to custody. I interview him. I do the casepapers. I get him charged. I remand him and then I have to cycle back, through rush hour traffic, to the station from Brixton.
My day – despite being busy (and more than a little sweaty at times!) – felt less intense than the Police Now Summer Academy I had observed the day before. The quality, pace and intensity of the Summer Academy leave me feeling confident that Police Now’s Dedicated Ward Officers will be equipped with all they need to rise to the challenge before them.
While many on the programme may be “anxious, nervous, worried” (as Terri Coverly, DoSAC’s Head of Comms might say) at the prospect of stopping and searching gang members for knives in a poorly lit stairwell, with no CCTV and a hostile crowd forming, they are being well-equipped for the challenges ahead. The pace and quality of the training help – but, perhaps more importantly, I sensed a clear mission and vision running through the entire ethos of the Summer Academy.
The room was full of people – recruits and Summer Academy staff alike – with other options. They are not there for the pension or an easy ride, they won’t get a large six-figure bonus at the end of the year, they aren’t there to sit in plush air conditioned offices in ivory towers – they will instead end up sore and sweaty after exhausting shifts. They haven’t chosen an easy path and they aren’t part of Police Now because they were short of options or couldn’t find or think of anything else to do. These individuals have chosen to have a serious go at applying themselves to one of the toughest jobs in London today.
The sense of mission in the room was overwhelming and while many may still be uncertain as to whether they have what it takes to police the streets of London, it was clear to me that everyone in the room would likely share the view recently expressed by the Met’s own Chief Superintendent John Sutherland (@PoliceCommander), that “It’s a noble cause – a high calling. And it’s not for the faint-hearted.”
Police Now’s strength of purpose and clarity of mission will, I suspect, prove to be of huge value at the inevitable low-points that every officer faces in their career. To have such values running through an exciting, intense Summer Academy is to be commended and I am sure will serve only to strengthen the resolve of those who hit the streets and be a source of courage when, inevitably, the truly testing times arise.
Based on all I have seen so far, if I could have my time over, I’d opt for the Police Now Summer Academy every time.