Fourteen years I’ve been a police officer. Ask me why, and I’ll give you a rather mechanised response, “To help people”. And so will, no doubt, the majority if not all other police officers to who you pose this question. I didn’t join the police service to help people per se but it’s often a by-product. I saw policing as a job that didn’t confine me to an office, gave excitement and something different each day whilst offering security; ‘a job for life’. When asked, I’ve often thought about telling the truth but held back through fear of presenting as a fraud, concerned about public perception. What, you mean this officer didn’t join with sole purpose of helping people? Get rid! I hear them cry.
As part of a learning programme I began reading a research document entitled The 21st Century Public Servantwhich identifies eight attributes a modern public servant should have, and what followed was a moment of clarity; was this how Archimedes felt when he sat down in the bath?
Within characteristic five was the answer I’d been looking for: ‘behaviours are more important than values’. During the research phase, an interviewee suggested that it was acceptable for a public sector worker not to ‘give two hoots for the public sector’ as long as they make the member of the public feel valued. Do we expect all those working within the restaurant industry to be passionate about food? Well, we all eat it I suppose? If the food is well presented, tastes good and served with pleasant cordiality, beyond that do we really care?
Over the years, having spoken to numerous people about policing and motivations for joining, they reply, “I couldn’t do your job” or “you need to be a special person”. I gain the impression that people think it’s a calling, something innate within all police offices and downgrading policing to ‘it’s just a job’ will somehow undermine my legitimacy as a policing officer.
It doesn’t mean that I don’t care; when I’m at work I embody the below force values set out by Chief Constable Dave Thompson. I agree, ‘It’s the behaviours that affect quality of service the users will receive that matters more than someone’s personal motivations’. My day job centres heavily on building trust and confidence within communities, networking and empowering citizens to bring about change in their locality.
If I didn’t ‘give two hoots’ I could see a Betari Box situation where my poor attitude and behaviour influences others’ attitude and behaviour, relationships would dissolve, trust and confidence would ebb and the world of social capital would crumble at my feet. I couldn’t bring myself to let this happen, I’d feel like a failure. So there you go, whilst policing may not be my vocation, I’ll give it my all whilst on duty.
Needham C and Mangan C (2017) The 21st Century Public Servant
Written by PC Robert Mackay, West Midlands Police
Reproduced with kind permission of West Midlands Police