Today, I left the Met. There was no fanfare, no big goodbye, no collection, not even a card, let alone a leaving do to celebrate 10 years, 4 months and 28 days service. Just a few handshakes and wishes of good luck. I turned in my warrant card and left the building almost a civilian – 11 days of annual leave are all that stand between me and being gone officially. It’s a strange sensation, walking around without the leather holder and piece of plastic that gives you your powers. I can no longer flash my badge, gain instant authority and take control of a precarious situation.
The past weeks have kept me busy, moving house and travelling backwards and forwards across the country has denied me the opportunity to pause and reflect upon the magnitude of the decision that I have made. Of course, I have had brief moments where I think, “what the hell am I doing, giving up a career?”, but no time to sit and mull it over.
Being a police officer defines you; well it certainly defined me. It sets constraints on the way that you live your life and how you conduct yourself. You cannot escape the expectation to be perfect in almost every way, or to put yourself in harms way to protect total strangers. They were responsibilities and expectations that I took seriously. Maybe too seriously at times.
Yesterday I walked all over London, head up, looking around… I took it all in. London is a special place in the lead up to Christmas, decorations everywhere, Christmas themed window displays in the major stores and people searching for presents for loved ones. It made me realise how much I am going to miss the place. It has been my home for 33 years. Sure, as I have gotten older I have moved further and further into Essex, but I have still maintained the feeling that London is my home.
As I trudged along those famous streets – Hatton Garden, Shaftesbury Avenue, Regent Street, New Bond Street – I became sentimental. I started to think that maybe I was making the wrong choice. Maybe I should have given it another crack now that I’m in a better place mentally. Maybe it would be good to work right in the middle of town, surrounded by famous streets and landmarks, as opposed to crack dens and housing estates. And then I saw a lad that used to work in Hackney. He was stood in Leicester Square, high viz jacket and beat helmet on, the very model of a London Police Officer, and he was soaked. He stood there in the pouring rain, giving directions to tourists, “Sod that” was my immediate thought, shortly followed by “you don’t want to be doing that anymore”.
It was definitive, I am no longer willing and able to do that. I do not have the patience, the inclination. I have done my time. I have served London and it’s inhabitants, laying my body on the line to protect them or giving up my days off to ensure that there are enough boots on the streets to maintain the peace in troubled times – and pretty much always without thanks. That is no longer my life. It’s a marvellous feeling really, a weight lifted. The future is unknown, but it looks bright regardless. I hope to wake up everyday, looking forward to the day ahead instead of dreading it.
Many of my colleagues are as disillusioned as I became, whilst also feeling trapped by a mortgage, kids and the promise of a pension. Thankfully, that way of thinking didn’t permeate my thoughts for the future. I was not weighed down by the promise of a pension; a pension that has already been subject to reform during my service, so who knows what I would end up getting. If I had stayed I would have had another 25 years in the job, with a further 2 years retired, before being able to draw my full pension. That’s almost as long as I have been alive and in my opinion, gives me plenty of time to go and try my hand at a new career, instead of being stuck in one that is heading nowhere.
The MPS as an organisation is crumbling. In my opinion they simply cannot provide the service that is expected of them within the current financial constraints. Emergency services are never going to be cost effective, they are not businesses trying to turn a profit, but instead exist purely to serve the people. Sure, financial streamlining needed to occur, but you have to draw the line somewhere.
However much I will not miss the job, I will certainly miss the people. On the whole they are an under appreciated bunch, stoic but with an ability to find humour in almost any situation. I’ve found that the majority of my colleagues are honest, hard working people who really just want to help others. It saddens me that this gets overlooked by the public and the press, not to mention the job itself which does its best to make them feel marginalised and unable to provide the excellent service that they strive for. To most of the public they are just a uniform, a number, to me they are much more than that. Hopefully the time will come when they get the recognition that they deserve.
Upon leaving I have been issued with a certificate detailing my length of service and describing my conduct as “exemplary”. I take great pride in that description because I think that it’s well deserved, after all, I did somehow manage to survive the better part of 10 years service – within one of the most challenging areas of London – without a single complaint from a member of the public.
I’d like to think that’s because I helped people. I was never overly officious, I always conducted myself professionally and if you were a bad guy, I made my rules clear, “First I’m gonna ask you to do it, then, I’ll tell you do it and if that hasn’t worked, I’m gonna make you do it”. I inserted myself into dangerous situations to protect people I didn’t know and would never meet again, I consoled mourning relatives, gave unheeded life advice to young men on the slippery slope of criminality and did my best to look out for the people who needed looking out for. So, despite how the system often treated me and how regularly being a police officer had a negative impact upon my personal life, my overwhelming emotion upon leaving remains that sense of pride. And that, is no bad thing…