As 2013 approaches I’m getting ready to spend New Year’s Eve visiting every police area across Warwickshire and West Mercia to say thank you and see at firsthand officers and staff working through the night to keep revellers and party goers safe as they say goodbye to 2012.
As I dust down the SatNav and contemplate an early hours kebab I have been reflecting on the last year.
It is customary, if slightly tedious, to look back on a year gone and assess where it sits on the continuum of good or bad. However 2012 has been undeniably extraordinary and for a range of reasons, some more easily explained than others.
So, apologies but I wanted to reflect on the year that has been tumultuous and challenging both personally and professionally.
I think the opening lines of Dickens’ ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ captures the complexity and contradiction of 2012:
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way”
I can attest to my own fair share of incredulity and despair as I was still the Chief of Staff at ACPO in the first half of the year. I am of course referring to my commute to London which saw me immersed in the joys of train travel. I started tweeting as a form of traveller’s therapy.
It was during this time that I witnessed and participated with the wider service and Government, in the discussions and negotiations on Winsor, Leveson, Police & Crime Commissioners, the National Crime Agency, the future role for ACPO and the emergence of the College of Policing.
My diary read like an A – Z of police reform. I had a daily diet of strategic challenges and issues to manage. The times of exhilaration were matched only by frustration. It was a privilege to work with colleagues across the service in pursuit of wisdom. There was a persistent determination to convert the challenges for the service into real opportunities to make a difference for the communities we serve.
However, with so much going on there was also ample room for foolishness to take hold. At times the service presented itself as belligerent and unprofessional, feeding an already sceptical media and political landscape looking for reasons to question the legitimacy and legacy of British policing.
These debates and the need for wisdom to transcend foolishness will continue into 2013.
In the midst of the political hullabaloo the police service worked tirelessly to support the delivery of a safe and secure Olympics and the Queen’s Jubilee. They played their part across the country in making 2012 an historic and memorable year for generations to come.
It was during the summer that I took up my post as an Assistant Chief Constable working for both West Mercia and Warwickshire. I momentarily missed the commute (?!?) and settled into a unique role overseeing local policing across two force areas.
I was confronted by the reality of redesigning policing across both forces to maintain service and simultaneously save millions of pounds; the challenges of restructure sat alongside the business as usual of policing and I was looking forward to the task.
I also worked for two Chiefs (and now two PCCs). I am sure I will refer to this again in 2013!
It was the dream job both professionally and personally. I was now responsible for policing where I lived, where my children go to school and where local was now very personal.
So, this was truly the season of Light.
Then on September 18th evil struck and Darkness descended.
Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone embodied the finest traditions and the brightest future of British policing. Their murder shocked and horrified a nation and policing was once again confronted by the stark reality and risks of policing by consent.
Tradition and policing style were debated while families and friends grieved. I was so very proud of the colleagues in Greater Manchester who continued to police and of the wider service that pondered how to help and then did so in their droves.
On two consecutive days in early October I was honoured and humbled to represent West Mercia Police at the funerals of Nicola and Fiona.
In bright autumnal sun I struggled, like many before me, to reconcile a loving God with the events that had unfolded a few weeks before. In the beauty of a cathedral, resounding in memories of two vibrant and dedicated officers, echoing to the mournful lament of music and prayer I was in awe of the humility and humanity of Nicola and Fiona’s family and friends.
Before Fiona’s funeral I sat with some of her colleagues, so very conscious that they were burying two friends on consecutive days. I found the prospect of a second service daunting but struggled to comprehend how these friends were going to manage. I couldn’t answer the questions ‘why?’ and ‘will it get easier?’ All I could do was listen and offer a hand to squeeze and in a very small way be a part of the wider police family.
Over this Christmas I read a review of 2012 which completely failed to mention Nicola and Fiona but dedicated time and space to the unresolved events at the gates of Downing Street.
It is all too easy to despair at values that can consign to oblivion the lives of those lost in the service of others. But the response of the general public, who stood side by side with the police service and lined Deansgate on those chilly mornings in October, are symbolic of the continuing hope and belief in the service going forward.
So, 2012 has been a turbulent year for policing.
The long range forecast for 2013 offers little respite, yet this is not the time for the service to step back from the challenges before it. Beyond the glib headlines and point scoring the public have a right to expect the highest standards of integrity and professionalism from us.
We serve on behalf of the public and we are judged by our actions. On this basis I believe that 2013 will have everything before us to enable policing to underline its commitment to the public through leadership, service and celebration of vocation.
Have a very Happy and Peaceful 2013.