Archive | July, 2012

Petticoat Policing

6 Jul

Being Diversity Lead on the Authority isn’t quite all I thought and if there is one area I feel frustrated I haven’t achieved more in, I would choose the progression of women and more women joining operational units. The police is still seen as a male orientated world and this isn’t surprising. Look at crime watch and nearly all the appeals are made by male detectives, look at the ACPO (Chiefs of Police) profile and again, it is depressingly male. Thus, the public face of policing is male and this is why I spend too much of my time correcting people who say ‘Policeman’ rather than ‘Police Officer’. It isn’t pedantic – it is embarrassing for policing to still have this gender specific dimension. The women at my daughter’s nursery said ‘Oh thanks to you a Policeman is coming to visit’ in front of the kids. I corrected this as always. Because I want my daughter growing up believing that policing is an option for her.

Beyond that I want her to think Operational Policing is for her, should she choose it. This is a complete change of mindset for me and I was a bit staggered to be chosen as lead for Public Order and Firearms (it could be my own fault for asking so many questions). I also wondered if this was a cynical move to have a female authority member giving credibility to sections of the service which have a genuine problem with their gender balance. However, I rolled my sleeves up and tried to learn and understand both their work  and their motivations. I felt that scrutiny should be as close to the front line as possible and did my best to get to know the teams, the training, and the work.

I am not going to dwell on public order as much is changing there with more and more women opting to train. Although I was depressed to read in the Guardian’s ‘Reading the Riots’ reports female officers couldn’t have toilet breaks due to their one piece suits. (REALLY!? We can get stuff to Mars, but we can’t design clothing women can get to the toilet in?!)

I am going to ‘pick on’ firearms and roads policing here. For many forces it is almost entirely the preserve of men. There are some things I have learned and observed.

I was extremely anxious around firearms and didn’t want to handle them at all. I don’t know why, it is just how I felt. They are no more dangerous without bullets in than a hammer but just the look of them means ‘danger’ to me. The trainers that worked with me were not at all fazed by this and were really encouraging. They said, this is the best attitude to start off with and we can build your confidence but you must have respect for the potential of this kit. Indeed by the end of my next training session I was able to use a simulator which they use to test officers on and I was accurate and had good decision making times. This exercise completely changed me, I realised that I enjoyed the decision making framework and the perfectionism of the training. I felt that if I were to join the police I would probably join firearms as I would appreciate both the discipline and perfectionism, the absolutes of skills. Its an area where you know exactly where your skills rank to the milisecond and the milimetre. I have observed Silver Command and also, had taser training. I really liked the skill, teamwork and dynamic decision making.

I was ‘dragged’ out by a female friend who works on Roads Policing which again is highly male dominated, to stand in the hail and see the drink-drive interventions firsthand. Though I knew it was male dominated it is still quite strange to walk into it. Saying that, the team are fantastic, completely fun and welcoming and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to women. I know my friend adores it. Again, it is the world of the black and white and not many shades of grey! But, people skills and empathy are essential. The collisions we saw that night involved people who needed reassurance and compassion and I felt my friend provided that amply. She also, quite happily picks up a broom to clear stuff off the road too!

If the police is truly to be ‘for the people and of the people’ the final stretch in gender equality needs to be achieved. The men within the police, especially in leadership positions are the solution to this. They are bright resourceful guys and I think they have all the tools they need to crack this, if they want to. Where there is a will, there is a way!

Select good pioneers to join units they may not have considered, not alone! In groups. Women who are good networkers and able to bring to life their positive experiences in operational policing. Then let them do that.

Give generously of your experience in helping women have the confidence to access promotion, but don’t try to turn them into you. Let them be the leader they are.

Deal with the hygiene factors, kit, facilities, rotas that might be barriers for women. Does a strategic leader need to work full-time? Really, they can’t work 4 days usually? Challenge every assumption about these sort of ‘necessities’ for the post! If women aren’t getting through boards, perhaps you are asking the wrong questions! If your selection process isn’t getting the people you want, maybe there is something wrong with the process rather than the people?

Never stop dealing with gender inequality in policing – don’t put it on the back burner. Don’t think well we have a few more women in senior management, we are done here. Don’t accept less than full equality. Policing is all about fairness and justice. Until policing is a fair, just career for women – this work isn’t done.

Awards ceremonies

1 Jul

I felt that I wanted to tell people about something I get to do through my role on Sussex Police Authority that many of you would want to do given the chance. I get to give out awards to officers and staff for outstanding actions or projects they have done. Saying that it is an honour and a privilige sounds trite but it genuinely is. Having said that, I always find it one of the most difficult jobs I do. First of all, standing up in front of rows of amazing, clever and selfless people, their proud families and friends feels ridiculous. Who am I? The only way I can get through it without feeling like I am not good enough is to remember that the whole point of independent members of the authority is to represent the ordinary person, the mother, the neighbour, the daughter in law who is grateful for the work of public servants. So it seems right to share some of that publicly and let you know what some of the certificates I have given out have been for.

First I will tell you about the worst awards ceremony where I basically broke down and just cried, I nearly threw up in front of all the people there. I gave two teams certificates for their actions in bringing to account the following:

1. A mother who had used hot knives to punish her primary school aged daughter, as well as punished her with shoes, leaving perfect imprints of them on her little body. The officers had to interview this little girl as she told them about her punishments in a completely matter of fact way. “Well I was naughty…”

2. A man who had kept his partner imprisoned whilst he tortured her, slicing her palms and the soles of her feet amongst other injuries.

That was the worst awards ceremony, I wanted to cover my ears and run to the toilet to throw up in private. The officers I gave certificates to were so kind and told me “Its alright” and kept me going,. All I had to do was listen to what happened. Not witness it.

Many times awards are given to staff who make sure equipment, people, evidence are where they are supposed to be. These are ‘back office functions’ which are denigrated in the press and I am so depressed that their work is seen as a waste of money by many in positions of power and influence. Most notably I gave the team that got Sussex Police to Croyden during the riots, sorting out cover for Sussex and negotiating all the issues that occur with that kind of deployment. Remembering, the email from a woman in Croyden received just after the riots saying how her children were terrified and inconsolable until they saw the police van with ‘Brighton and Hove’ roll up outside and felt safe.

The officer who physically climbed over a motorway barrier and hung on to someone who wanted to jump until futher help arrived. The grim determination of that action and the physical feat is far more impressive than any Olympian for me.

The Sussex Lowland Search and Rescue Volunteers who give up their time for free to help locate vulnerable people.

The officers who saved someone from hanging themselves off the railings at Brighton beach, the many who have plucked people out of the sea at risk of their own lives.

I have missed hundreds here but I hope you feel like I have done something to highlight the bravery, skill and humanity that I have seen and praised on your behalf.

I am not saying Sussex Police is perfect, and that they couldn’t at times improve…but it seems unfair to see the ‘transformation’ and the performance targets without a bit of this stuff in there too.