It’s not like me to struggle for words when it comes to writing a blog but on this occasion I really am.
This blog is primarily meant to be about UK COPS, the superb work it does and the phenomenal strength shown by the survivors.
And yet – there is a theme around this that I am finding hard to verbalise. A theme I am almost uncomfortable in raising but raise it I will in due course.
Yesterday we gathered at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire for the major event of the UK COPS schedule.
It is such a wonderful, fitting venue. There are various sections within it for the different armed services but there is also “The Beat.”
This avenue of trees, within about 50 years, is going to look incredible. It is here that each force has its own tree alongside individual trees, planted by surviving friends and family, for many named officers who have lost their lives too soon.
Even now, in its relative infancy, when you look down this space and consider its scale and its simple beauty ….. Well, it couldn’t be more suitable nor more aptly named.
This year everything, including the trees, was a little bigger.
The Police Unity Tour who had cycled from London to Staffordshire, raising £40,000 for the charity, was at least twice the size it was last year in numbers.
The Blue Knights – well, their convoy just didn’t seem to stop.
The turnout – UK COPS say it was their biggest ever and I think a couple of the organisers were surprised and delighted in equal measure.
During the service we heard from several survivors, each giving a different perspective on their tragic experience, the loss of their loved one and the gaping hole left behind.
Then there was hope in their stories as they recounted how the charity had supported them and how it continues to support them.
How they have developed a network which allows people to support one another.
They cannot replace – but they can rebuild.
Once again it was the voice of youth which carried louder and stronger than anything else.
Last year, Nathan Dent’s words reduced those gathered to tears.
This year, a remarkable young lady – Vicky Moore spoke bravely and eloquently and gave us all serious food for thought.
Vicky’s father, Bryan, was a Leicestershire officer who was killed by a drunk driver in 2002. Vicky was ten at the time and she told us of that fateful night when she learned of the news and how she had then spent the rest of her childhood without him.
My son is ten. He and the rest of my family joined me for this years service and he heard Vicky speak.
He got it. He understood – as well as any child can – what Vicky was saying. He had made the association in his head that she was his age when she had lost her father. When he started asking me questions afterwards it sank in even further for me as well.
Then it dawned on me – this theme I am struggling with and it was this…
There should be more people here.
Vicky said that she didn’t understand the hero her father was and regrets that it is now too late to tell him how proud she is of him.
Vicky then said this:
“It shouldn’t take stories like ours for other people realise the sacrifice in police work.”
This struck me hard and I dwelt on it.
The service later heard from Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer from Cleveland who said that although she had sadly lost colleagues and friends during her service “to my great shame I just assumed that the families were supported.”
CC Cheer spoke of the work of the charity and how, unfortunately necessary but essential it is.
It hit me again – there should be more people here.
I have spent the last 24 hours wondering why there weren’t more people there and I think there are a few reasons.
First and foremost is lack of awareness. Lack of awareness of the charity and its work but also lack awareness of the events which necessitate it’s existence.
We should all be grateful for the fact that the death of a serving officer, on duty in the United Kingdom, is a rare event. Rare enough for very few of us to have experienced it in our service.
But it is not so rare that there are not many people who are struggling with the aftermath of exactly that event.
UK COPS exists solely to support these families but I am going to be blunt:
The POLICE family needs to step up to the plate.
It has become almost unfashionable to talk about “the police family.”
The police, as an entity, has taken a sustained reputational beating for the best part of two decades and has spent so much time looking outward that it is in danger of forgetting to occasionally look inward.
We should all strive to uphold and maintain the Peelian principle that the police are the public and the public are the police but we must never forget that there are some who are prepared to put on a uniform and who have paid the ultimate sacrifice for doing so.
Putting on that uniform makes you stand out. It means you can’t run away from trouble – you run towards it. It is a vocation and a calling.
We should never put on that uniform without remembering what it means, what it represents, who it protects and why it is there.
But we should never put on that uniform without remembering that others have put it on and paid a heavy price for it. They are our family.
And we should never forget those they have left behind. They are our family as well.
In her oration, Chief Constable Cheer said “I ask colleagues to ensure that we actively spread the word about COPS and fully support the charity.”
Over the course of the next twelve months and every twelves months after that – we must rise to that challenge.
It is the duty of each force to promote the work of the charity and ensure it’s long term survival.
It is the duty of each force to ensure that COPS can continue it’s essential work supporting the families of those who have worn their uniform and paid the ultimate sacrifice. Those families have paid the ultimate sacrifice as well and need and deserve that support.
However, it is also the duty of each force to support the work of COPS and indeed the PD Trust and Police Memorial Day by reminding serving officers of those who have gone before them.
The military gets this right – I am not yet convinced that the Police are in the same league.
It is right and proper that a senior ACPO officer from each force attends the COPS service and pays respects on behalf of their force. This should never change.
But wouldn’t it be fitting if each force could send a small contingent of regular officers, special constables, PCSO’s and – absolutely – Cadets to attend the service.
Wouldn’t it be fitting if the Police Federation could gather it’s Rep’s on mass – in uniform – to support the cause.
Would it not be helpful for each force to publicise the event on whatever internal communications systems it has and invite officers to attend and represent that force.
If each force sent a carrier with 7 people in it that would be over 300 officers for a start.
Wouldn’t it be brilliant if we could actually encourage our officers to attend and support the event.
We can mobilise officers to deal with anything the world can throw at us.
It should not be beyond us to mobilise for this.
Social media is a powerful tool but it is not enough. This needs active drive from the very top.
We need to promote the charity, it’s work and it’s events. It should be something we just DO.
We should do it and we should not feel guilty about it.
These were our colleagues – they left behind their families. Those families are our family. The police family.
The UK COPS service is a wonderful event which is going from strength to strength.
With some solid support from all quarters and if CC Cheer’s request is acted upon by her peers then the event, like the trees which line “The Beat” at the Arboretum, will grow and mature into something truly magnificent.
Pictures courtesy of NPAS Ripley and “Bullshire Police”
A second, shorter blog on the Guard of Honour and #100Cops will follow in a few days
UK Cops – From Small Acorns Do Great Oaks Grow