I wasn't the best copper in the world by a very long stretch, but I have by now - eleven years and more since I last wore the uniform - come to terms with the idea that I ended up the best copper that I was capable of being, and more than that would have been too much to reasonably hope or wish for. For most of my career I was in fact extremely insecure about my ability and competence; a feeling foist upon me ( I now realise) largely as a result of some persitent and fairly extreme workplace bullying I sustained from a couple of supervisors of different rank very early in my career. Despite reassurances from my peers to the contrary, I never felt as if I was good enough to be called a truly good 'bobby' - something which had been my ambition from the start.
These days there is nothing I can do to improve upon my years of service - they are what they are (or more accurately, were), but part of me still feels as if I am still there, still sharing the risks of policing with my erstwhile colleagues and friends. However...the years have inexorably passed, and the friends I made when we joined up together are nearing the end of their thirty year journey that they continued when I left England with my young family to reboot my life in far-flung foreign fields. I admire them greatly for their forebearance, their commitment, their stamina, and their downright simple, noble, innate goodness. Were I made just a little differently, I would no doubt still be there, five thousand miles away from where I now live, working with them towards my retirement day in June of 2014. Part of me wishes that I was - thirty years of service was a distant but very real target when I wore the uniform for the very first time.
The truth, of course, is that I, unlike my friends, was not cut out to stay that particular course. Despite all the challenging moments, the instances of intense professional satisfaction and the feeling of performing a truly important role in society, I grew weary of it. I grew weary of the constant pressure to meet the expectations of people who had either never been a 'sharp-end' officer or who had forgotten what it entailed, of striving to protect the community from crime when the court system repeatedly undid all our best efforts by almost immediately letting the scum of the earth loose on the streets again. I became tired of the fact that almost everyone I met seemed to think that they knew how to be a better police officer than I or any of my colleagues, despite the glaring fact that they had no specialist knowledge or experience of the job. Most of all I grew weary of wondering whether or when the serious injury (or worse) would happen to me.
I'd had my share of close calls - if life really did flash before our eyes in such moments, by now I'd know my entire life by rote. I have no idea of how many physical fights I was involved in ( happily, I had a reputation for finishing what other people started) but they were all hand-to-hand. Despite the proliferation of concealed bladed weapons I never wore a firearm or a tazer, I never struck anyone with a baton, and such physical confrontations were frequent. After a while, I found that to be less than an entertaining prospect. Having survived for so long relatively injury - free, I felt that the odds were shortening against me making it to the end of my service without a significant injury - or, of course, much worse.
In the end, following a medically-enforced transfer out of my favourite operational role and into a training one (which, by the way, to my astonishment proved to be an absolute blast), the decision to cut short my career was made as a consequence of deciding to relocate our family.
It was hard, even though I felt that it was the right choice. I left behind a culture within which I had grown from an adolescent into a man, within which doing the right thing was valued above all else, and within which I had made some life-long friends. It was bloody hard to walk away, but the needs of my children over-rode my misgivings, and so together my wife and I took them to a place where we both felt that they could flourish. Thank goodness we made the right decision.
Working in the private sector has been a shock, but it has taught me a great deal and has allowed me to widen my perspective upon the world. As a police officer (and let's face it, that is a life choice as much as it's a work choice), it is very easy to become burdened by the negative aspects of a society or community - the darker side of humanity tends to be very much front and centre in a police officer's consciousness. Since I made my choice and left that life behind, I have become more tolerant, less stressed and even more appreciative of the work that our emergency services do (although the sycophantic glorification of firefighters is the subject of another rant in the future). Running in the background to that perspective is the safe knowledge that, if called upon to do so, I could still do it. Sure; I'm slower than I used to be, but I'm wiser too - and I know from long experience that I have the skills to get the job done. I can't tell you what pride that stirs within me.
It also, however, reminds me of the crap that police officers in particular still have to put up with every day. They are sneered at behind their backs, openly insulted, threatened, attacked, expected to perform the most onerous tasks imaginable (sweep brains off the road, anyone? I've done that too...more than once) without blinking, yet also to be the most understanding and compassionate of society's shepherds when the need arises. I know dozens of people who are amazing public servants in this capacity - unsung heroes, every one of them - and I'm fiercely loyal to them. The public tends to complain about the police almost out of habit, with zero understanding of the parameters within which they operate and around which they try to work in order to do the right thing. Those that do complain are, frankly, idiotic.
The average 'Joe Public' has no concept of how the law works and is enforced, of the thousands of tiny nuances and guidelines in place, how many times a day a police officer puts his or her job on the line to do what is right rather than what someone else wants them to do,or most of all, how that scruple-free breed, the defence lawyer, has bastardized the legal system to the point where police officers are frequently dealing with the same people over and over and over again as they are released to commit more crime on the grounds that their rights are paramount. Your police are struggling to keep their heads above the rising tide, but it is a rare day indeed when they receive the thanks and recognition that they are due.
Are they perfect? No - who is?
Everyone seems to think that they know how to be a cop, but very few ever become that person in the uniform. That alone speaks volumes and leads me to say this; if you haven't walked a mile in that police officer's shoes, shut the hell up until you know even a thousandth of what they know and have experienced. Until then you have no idea - you don't even have a fraction of the understanding and experience that I amassed in eighteen years. Think of those wonderful people who have served for far longer, and who still serve. They deserve your respect and gratitude. They have mine.