Welcome to the second in the series of three blogs to be published this week. Yesterday the first blog – ” The #CrisisInPolicing ” was published. It set out the background and the recent history which has led to the #CrisisInPolicing. In this blog, I shall explain how the response to an interview I gave to Sky News in the aftermath of the terrorist attack at London Bridge convinced me that, to coin a phrase, something must be done and that fate had given me an opportunity to try and do it. The third blog – ” The #TrueBlueLineUK ” will be published tomorrow, Thursday 3rd August 2017 at 7pm. It will set out the details of the project and how people can support it.
GOVERNMENT CLAIMS ABOUT ARMED POLICING AND THE TERRORIST THREAT:
On the 3rd June 2017 there was a terrorist attack at London Bridge and Borough Market. Three terrorists killed and injured numerous people before armed police officers arrived, confronted them and shot them all dead at the scene. This took place just two months after the terrorist attack on Westminster in which a lone terrorist killed and injured numerous people, including a police officer, PC Keith Palmer, who was guarding the Houses of Parliament before he was confronted by an armed police officer and shot dead at the scene. And it was only a matter of days after a suicide bomber exploded a bomb killing and horrifically injuring many in a terrorist attack at the Manchester Arena.
It was therefore of major interest to the media who had, for pretty much the first time, been asking #QuestionsOnPolicing of the Government during the ongoing General Election campaign. In particular they were concerned as to how prepared the country was to deal with terrorist attacks. In the week preceding the London Bridge attack, Tory Party Ministers had been all over the media, telling the public that they were doing all that was necessary to keep the public safe and that the police had all the resources they needed. One Minister, Michael Fallon, had been particularly vocal. In one interview he had stated: “We are increasing the budgets of the security services and we’re putting more armed police officers available, right across the country“. This claim was simply wrong. In 2010 when the Tories formed the Coalition Government with the Lib-Dems and began Theresa May’s relentless series of cuts to police budgets and strengths, there were about 7,000 armed police officers available. By March 2015 the numbers had fallen to about 5,600 (a reduction of about 1,400). Following terrorist attacks in Paris and elsewhere in Europe the new Tory Government, elected in 2015, had belatedly recognised the insanity of the cuts and they set about increasing numbers again. Unfortunately you can’t just open a box and get some more armed officers – there is a rigorous selection and training process which simply takes time to complete and which has a limited capacity. It also proved difficult to find officers to volunteer to become armed officers because of the way the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) had treated officers who had been faced with situations in which they had had to pull the trigger. This meant that the Government plan (which wasn’t even fully funded in any event) was scheduled to roll out over several years, to achieve a total of about 7,000 armed officers again in 2019-20 (later brought forward to 2018-19). As of mid 2017 therefore the number of armed officers stood at around 6,300 officers – some 700 FEWER than when the Tories came into office in 2010.
THAT SKY NEWS INTERVIEW:
I knew the facts about the armed officer numbers when, in the aftermath of the London Bridge attack, I was asked by Sky News to come to the crime scene cordon for a live interview in the early afternoon of Sunday 4th June 2017. I was interviewed by Kay Burley and we discussed the Government’s claims about the numbers of armed officers. Unbeknown to me, Sky News decided to take the interview and put it on their YouTube channel. And from there it went viral! Over the next 48 hours:
- The clip was seen over 13 million times on just four of the Facebook sites carrying it (and there were many, many more sites carrying it too!)
- I gave interviews to numerous UK and international media – those I couldn’t get to interviewed other policing commentators on the subject
- Pretty much every newspaper carried reports on the story, many in their main headlines
- Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn (seizing the opportunity to raise the issue of policing again, after Diane Abbott’s disaster a month earlier when launching their policy to reverse some of the cuts) held a press conference criticising the cuts to police numbers and even calling on Theresa May to resign over the issue
- The media, for the first time in the 2017 General Election campaign, started to ask the Government #QuestionsOnPolicing – they really didn’t have an answer (they never do to the truth!) and there were several embarrassingly poor attempts to avoid admitting there were not more armed police officers than before
- The subject of police numbers was brought up repeatedly by the political commentators in the media, in vox pops conducted with the public and with the focus groups various broadcasters and newspapers in their last meetings before the election just two days later
- Various Chief Police Officers, Police and Crime Commissioners and other local politicians spoke out about the cuts (albeit in somewhat guarded and diplomatic language) – in London both the new Commissioner, Cressida Dick and the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, did so
I watched all this happening with increasing incredulity. With others, I had spent several years trying to get the media to cover the issue of the cuts to policing with very little success. There had been pretty much no #QuestionsOnPolicing asked during the 2015 General Election campaign and, until this point, pretty much none in the 2017 General Election campaign either. Now, suddenly and on the back of one interview, it was everywhere.
That week I REALLY found out what “going viral” means!
It undoubtedly had an impact on the General Election – several people in the vox pops commented that they hadn’t realised the extent of the cuts to policing (20,000 fewer officers (around 15% of the total) than in 2010) previously. Several people in the focus groups commented that it had raised questions for them in terms of their voting intention as they now had questions if the Tories had really done everything they could to keep the public safe. In view of how close the Election result turned out to be, it may well have affected the outcome (though the claim I put in my Twitter profile that I “Once inadvertently brought down a Government” is something of an exaggeration!
The media and political attention wasn’t the most important aspect of the response for me though. What had FAR more impact on me was the absolutely incredible response from police officers – and the partners and families of police officers – from all over the UK. They got hold of me on Twitter, by email, by text, via LinkedIn and by pretty much any other means imaginable. If there was one, there were over two hundred (I didn’t count them and life is too short to go back and do so now!). With only one exception they were supportive – thanking me for saying what I had said and getting the issue of the cuts to policing (and the resulting #CrisisInPolicing ) into the public domain. Many went further than simply saying thanks, explaining the impact that it had had on them. They were incredibly moving. Here are some illustrative examples:
“Thank You. We breath a collective sigh of relief upon hearing what we know to be [the] truth actually spoken on air”
“Top man for saying it how it is. Staffing never comes close to meeting demand, stress through the roof.”
“Brilliant interview! My daughter and her husband are both police officers and I used to be one. They were at our house for Sunday lunch and we were watching the coverage together. You got a standing ovation here!”.
“Thank you for the massive support you have shown over recent events on Sky News. I work [as an armed officer] and you have caused quite a stir (in a good way) amongst my colleagues”.
“Thank you. You summed up the police cuts and figures perfectly. It was a sense of relief to hear it”.
“Okay. I hold my hand up. I couldn’t stop watching it.”
“Everyone on my team is talking about you today. You are a legend. Thank you.”
“You’re not quite at Champions League Final viewing figures yet … However, police officers up and down the country are truly grateful to you.”
“Thank you SO much for saying what you said on Sky. My husband is an armed officer and he is being worked into the ground. I burst into tears when you told it as it is, it was such a relief to know that it was finally out there in public”.
The sense of relief, expressed vividly in the last of the above quotes was palpable. Over the next few weeks I went to several events such as retirement parties and reunion lunches. I was treated almost like a celebrity. Serving officers I didn’t know queued up to say hi and shake my hand. Some even insisted on taking “selfies” with me! I was told time and time again about how their whole unit had been talking about the interview and about how much it had raised the spirits of serving officers. I was even recognised in the street three times – in London, Surrey and even Lincolnshire! – by patrolling officers who came up to me, thanked me and shook my hand.
THE IMPACT OF THE RESPONSE:
Frankly I found all of this totally overwhelming. I knew that there was a #CrisisInPolicing. I knew that morale was at rock bottom. I knew that things were bad. But even I hadn’t realised quite the depths of the despair that many officers felt across the country for the plight of the police service after seven long years of relentless cuts and, just as importantly, disdain and contempt from the Government and the media.
Having sat down and thought about it, and having spoken to a number of people I know and respect, I concluded that I simply had to try and do something more. The overwhelming response I got from police officers and their families from around the country vividly demonstrated that something needed to be done and the response from the media and the politicians showed that in the right circumstances even a single interview could have a huge impact. Having looked around, it became obvious to me that fate had decreed that the opportunity to do something had fallen to me.
I had no intention of launching a project intended to proactively get the truth about the #CrisisInPolicing into the public domain. I was quite happy going along, doing the occasional media interview on an ad hoc basis, whenever the media got round to inviting me. I had plans to develop my own Security Management business in the next few years before my police pension kick in. But having thought this through at length, I do not see any alternative but to give it a go.
DOING THE RIGHT THING:
A long time ago, when I was still serving, a very senior officer found himself annoyed by my refusal to go along with his directions to do something which I knew was contrary to the best interests of the public and the officers on my team. He eventually said to me (in a tone of some exasperation: “You’re very good at doing the right thing but not very good at doing what you’re told!!!”.
The “right thing” right now is to give the #TrueBlueLineUK project a go!
So what is the project? How will it work? Well that is for the third and final blog in this series – “The #TrueBlueLineUK ” – which will be published at 7pm tomorrow evening, Thursday 3rd August 2017. But, before I leave this blog, I’ll just leave you with three more of the comments I received after my Sky News interview went viral:
“Every police officer in the country wants to buy you a pint.”.
“Peter, you won’t ever pay for your own beer again if you decided to meet up with members of the Blue Family. Your efforts are appreciated.”.
“Come down and meet my team, Peter. Your interview is all they are talking about at the moment. They all want to buy you a drink!”.
Those comments are the ones which led to the final idea: how the #TrueBlueLineUK project could actually get off the ground!
(Thank you again for reading. The third and final part of this three-part blog, “The #TrueBlueLineUK ”, will be published at 7pm on 3.8.17)
(NOTE: If you are on Twitter, have a search for the various #Hashtags mentioned in the text of this blog for lots more illustrative examples of the points being made)