When I was a police officer, if I was asked a question by a senior officer I’d normally say exactly what they wanted me to say. It’s the safest way, although sometimes . . .
I once refused an order by a superintendent. It is not a thing any police officer should do without careful consideration, and even then almost always accept the order. A police officer must obey a lawful order. ‘Lawful’ here means not unlawful, i.e. the order did not amount to an offence.
Many officers have stuck to their guns when ordered to do something unlawful and I doubt it has ever been easy. Most would have been disciplined and as many punished due to the procedure in the service which requires any officer complained about by a command officer to be found guilty. I’d already found that out.
If an officer is complained of by a command officer, superintendent or above, then he or she will be found guilty. This goes doubly so if it was for something they didn’t do or, rather oddly, was not wrong in any case. When found guilty they must be punished in that case as being too clever by half is probably the most serious discipline offence.
I was complained about by an assistant chief constable, third from the top, whose actions had caused the problem he had complained of. I was in the shit. Following my normal MO, I decided to fight despite knowing full well it would make no difference. I produced my reply to the accusation and submitted it. I was found guilty but, because I was innocent, I was given the most minor punishment; advice.
I was told by the ACC that I had been lucky to ‘get away with it’ despite him knowing I was innocent but had been found guilty.
So I had to go to the deputy chief constable (one up from the complainant) to be given this advice. I attended five minutes before time at the location stipulated to find the DCC missing. I waited for ten minutes, or rather until a passing secretary told me where he was. ‘Setting up’ I was told; obviously something very important to take him away from discipline.
When I got to the room stipulated I found he was rehearsing a speech while his senior secretary and a gopher ‘set up’. He made no attempt to cover his frustration that I had turned up for a meeting he’d arranged. We moved to a table not quite out of earshot of the two women setting up to be given my ‘advice’, which amounted to don’t do whatever it was you did but was not important enough for me to look it up.
After that fiasco – being found guilty of being complained about by a senior officer – it was with some trepidation that I refused the order from the superintendent. I knew I’d be complained about.
I was Ops 1, the senior officer on operational duty, working in the control room. We had a serious incident and I’d informed the on-call super, as I was required to do, for him to take over. It was night time, in the wee smalls, and I expected the chap to go to a police station and do his job.
He was having none of it. He told me that I should put an officer at risk. That’s not an unlawful order as many officers have been put at risk over the years deliberately. It’s part of the job. But in this case the super should have, according to force orders, contacted a specially trained adviser for the type of operation in question. I knew he hadn’t, so I told him that I would not accept the order until he had liaised with the adviser.
I was threatened with dismissal. I could never deal with threats and as I had an incident to deal with I hung up. About 30 minutes later I got a call from the adviser – not even the super – to go ahead with the plan that I’d suggested to him. I still expected aggro.
A few days later the super phoned me when I was in control of a major incident that I could not pass to anyone else. I was busy.
“Yes, sir?” I asked in a voice of a chap who was busy.
“I’ve been told I must apologise to you,” he said. “You were correct about the adviser.”
Two things: 1/ I thought I’d be disciplined but I assume, by the ‘I’ve been told’ that he’d gone to a senior officer to complain about me and been told he’d been a bit of an arse, and 2/ he didn’t agree and the apology meant nothing.
I was relieved that there would be no discipline.
“I don’t want your apology,” I said. “I just don’t want anything similar to happen again. I was put in a really awkward position.”
It wasn’t meant in a nasty way. It was factual. An apology means nothing unless a change goes with it, and in that case, there’s no need for an apology. But I think my tone must have got to him. He started to shout at me. I hung up again and my sergeant, whom I’d asked to listen in, gave me a high five.
A little while later I applied for the post of helicopter inspector. Oddly enough, I didn’t want it. I’ll explain in another post the intricacies, but enough to say that I was doing someone a favour – as well as myself as it turned out. The final bit, and the most boring, was the interview.
The day before I’d vomited blood for no apparent reason. I’d seen my doctor and I was going to be investigated. I was not in the frame of mind to concentrate. Just as well that I didn’t want the role. But I had to go through with this interview, which was to be headed by the bloke in charge of the unit, the same super who wasn’t that friendly with me. Also there was an inspector I got on with well enough but didn’t rate. He was a yes man. I’m sure neither wanted me in the post and I’m damn sure I didn’t want either as my boss. So I was relaxed and carefree in the interview.
It went along the normal lines, and then they came to one of the questions that such interviews always contain. I’d produced an answer but had gone off playing along, so I decided to be totally honest.
They asked: “What changes would you make to the helicopter unit during your first three months in the post.”
“None,” I said. The shock on the interviewers’ faces dispelled my belief that they weren’t listening to me.
There was a sudden silence, then the super came in with; “But why should we have you in charge if you are going to do nothing?”
They’d kicked the previous inspector, a friend, off the unit for something that one of the pilots did. The fact that my friend had been on holiday abroad seemed to lower his culpability not one iota. In fact, it seemed to make him more guilty. Many thought it was because they didn’t like him. So time to support him, I thought.
“I’ve been Ops 1 for two years, so I’ve worked with inspector [let’s say] Brown [the chap whose job I was being interviewed about] very closely and in that time I’ve grown to respect him. He’s been in charge of the helicopter unit for some years and if there’s anything he’s not seen in that time then I’m unlikely to see it straight off.
“Even if I did see something I thought was wrong I’d be a fool to change it without a lot of research. No, I’ll just observe for three months or so and then seek the advice of my staff and those we work with to see if anything I’d like to change would be useful.”
It was probably one of the most sensible suggestions I ever made. It is a shame I didn’t have the good sense to follow it whenever I took over different departments. I didn’t get the job of course.