Facing my firebomb alley

15 Aug

I was most surprised to be given the Sussex Police Authority lead member role for Public Order. As a child I wore my Anti-Nazi League badge and was pretty much indoctrinated against the police in public order situations. Added to the political parents living alternatively, were my respectable Welsh and Scottish relatives with whom I spent most holidays and bitter memories of miner’s strikes. I joined the Authority as reports on G20 policing were high in the headlines and asked a ton of questions. Perhaps this is why I got Public Order. I think its fair to say I was as much of a surprise to them as they were to me.

I love scrutiny and I believe that it can and should add value and improve service delivery and be respected by those it affects on all sides. But I was new to it and the thousands of questions I needed to ask to understand my brief properly never were, in my opinion, going to be learned from reports. Sleeves rolled up I was prepared for the role to be a learning cliff to climb. I went to command training on ‘Adapting to Protest’, I went on front line training and got to throw stuff ineptly and watch officers face ‘firebomb alley’ and it is as tough as the title suggests! Simulated prison riot tactics were fascinating. I also went to and still do as many protests as possible in Brighton and Hove to see what happens as it unfolds. Including my infamous Uncut Topshot protest moment when protestors were soaking and freezing so I went and brought coats for two of them..I suggested a ‘Coat Strategy’ and have never quite lived it down (partly because I still like it really). I have seen the debates on social media and I admire both the police and protest groups for their use of social media and the standard of debate and discourse (mostly hem hem). Most recently, I have benefitted from listening to Dr Clifford Stott and the movement towards Protest Liaison teams

I have seen officers come in having worked in full ‘riot’ gear in blazing temperatures having had bottles and manure thrown at them along with abuse. They were exhausted, sweaty and downbeat. They love the communities they serve and DO find it hard when they are in conflict.

I like the atmosphere in Operations mostly, it is generally quite humourous and affectionate. I have had really interesting debates about ‘kettling’, about Human Rights, about the history of policing strikes/ riots/ etc. One great recommendation I had was to watch the documentary ‘Who killed PC Blakelock?’  I felt that still lessons hadn’t been learned from this when I read reports from ‘Reading the Riots’ and feedback from officers in London.

There aren’t enough women in operational policing. There are lots of barriers which forces must do more to break down. Sussex still has a journey to travel as do many others. Having learned what I have, were I in policing I would be in Ops. One of the barriers that has been removed, not uncontroversially, is the Shield Run This test is seen as unnecessarily tough and potentially a barrier that puts women off. Women who do this have told me that its tough and maybe tougher if you are shorter due to the length of the shield but that its achievable. However, still only a minority do it. Now bleep tests are being used. But I thought, if a junk food eating, fag smoking, policy person can do it, perhaps it could inspire some interest in Operations. Sussex Police’s Evolve network (Women officers and staff) are supporting this effort. Money raised will go to a Brighton and Hove women’s counselling service. In the next blog I will describe what they do and why you should encourage me to continue my humiliation and pain by sponsoring me! Its not firebomb alley…but for me it is!

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7 Responses to “Facing my firebomb alley”

  1. Steve August 15, 2012 at 9:54 pm #

    ‘Coat strategy’ – got to be a self improvement book to be written out of that. Riveting stuff – look forward to next installment and the publication party.

  2. Jane Batcheler August 16, 2012 at 8:19 am #

    Emma, just one line that I think needs a little bit of clarity – there are lots of women in ‘ operational policing ‘ – there aren’t many that undertake the specialst roles, like the riot training that you are writing about here.
    To me, and most, if not all of my colleagues, male and female, we are as ‘operational’ as policing gets -I am a response Sergeant in Hastings, and that means I am responsible for the officers that ‘respond’ to the emergency calls, so we are the team that drive around with blue lights and sirens.
    We are the officers that are first to everything – the fight, the car crash, the murder scene, we are the ones who have to deliver the dreaded ‘death message’ but we are also the ones that are looking for the missing children, returning the elderly wandering male to his nursing home.
    This is the core of policing and as you might have guessed, I am very proud to be part of it but please don’t lose sight of the very good, and hard work, that officers, female and male, do at the sharply pointed, operational, end of policing.

    Good article, by the way .

    • huxley06 August 16, 2012 at 3:07 pm #

      Hmm…I guess I forgot the current tension around what constitutes operational/ frontline in wording this blog…I meant ‘specialist’ I guess. I won’t change as the comments then won’t make sense but good point, well made! 🙂

  3. Sarah August 16, 2012 at 8:52 am #

    I agree it is important to distinguish between operational policing and specialist posts. Females are generally still under-represented within specialist posts and not just within public order. Other areas which seem to continue to struggle are road policing units, firearms units, some dog handling units and CID. I believe it is a due to a combination of perceived barriers, equipment and culture. It takes a long time to change the culture of an organisation. There has been a lot of progress made and there is much to celebrate but still a lot of work to be done!

  4. Jane Batcheler August 16, 2012 at 4:08 pm #

    Emma, do you think you may have put women off public order stuff by talking about officers having manure and bottles thrown at them ?
    My previous comments where made out of pride for what I do, I’m not a political enough animal to get into a debate about Windsor and the issues there.
    But do you not think that some of the roles that have fewer women are those roles that women in general are not interested in ? On a straw poll of female friends, most would not consider joining the Police, not for any sexism issues, but more because they dont fancy the core work we do – they just dont like the idea of facing the stuff I do. Most women on ‘civvie street’ dont want to carry guns, or face the knowledge that they may have to shoot someone one day, or stand in front of a baying crowd having things thrown at them ! But then that goes for some men too !
    So perhaps some of the imbalance is down to the roles themselves, and I have no idea how that can be addressed.

  5. PoliceGeek August 17, 2012 at 5:34 am #

    An excellent blog

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