'Let’s be the change we need to see in society'

In his latest blog post, West Midlands Police Chief Constable Dave Thompson calls on his fellow male officers to do more to address the imbalance the powers they have give them over women.

Oct 5, 2021
Chief Constable Dave Thompson

Last week we learned the shocking facts of how Sarah Everard was taken from the street by a police officer abusing their powers and raped and murdered. How this happened is as much of a shock to me as it is to you.

I cannot think of anything quite like this in policing’s history. I am sure you feel as sick as I do.

There has been a great deal said about policing in the last few days. Most of it has been bad. This blog is primarily aimed at my fellow male officers.

To the dads, brothers, husbands, grandads, partners and sons, who work with me in policing.

I am sure many of the things you have heard this weekend about policing will have hurt, as they have me. Like me, you joined to protect people. The idea of a fellow officer abusing his powers to abduct, rape and kill a woman is against everything we believe in. I can understand the desire to see Sarah’s killer as a bad apple. Police officers are of course people that should be trusted. The facts are extraordinary.

This is the wrong lens through which to see these events.

An act like this is seen at the end of a continuance of a curve of misogynistic behaviour that women experience. Violence against women is not unique, nor are murders or predatory behaviour. Online behaviour can also be shocking. Too many public spaces do not feel safe places for women. This is a deep societal issue. It presents through sexualised views of women and stereotypical attitudes. It is a problem where men use power and violence against women.

Police officers have extraordinary powers and the fact these powers have been used to commit these crimes has damaged public trust. There is a deep concern, highlighted through media coverage, that colleagues did not challenge and concerns may not have been acted upon. This case indicates that misogynistic attitudes to women are tolerated in policing.

Policing remains a profession with more men than women. Men are 70 per cent of the police officer workforce in West Midlands Police (WMP). We know societal attitudes and behaviours are present in policing. We have also sacked officers in the last few years for misogynistic WhatsApp messages and abusing their position for sexual gain. We have run a project to tackle sexual harassment within WMP because it is needed as it happens too often.

Some individuals are attracted to policing because it gives them power, access to vulnerable people, an ability to coerce others to get their own way. Vetting and other safeguards try to catch these people. There is no place for them and we all have an obligation to identify, challenge and report concerns where we see them. We cannot sit on concerns.

We also need to look for signs where more mainstream behaviour in the force shows the wrong attitudes. Sexual offences are too often an area of crime where the term “alleged” can precede the word “victim”.

Things have to change in society. Men have to create these changes as this is about us. As the police we should be exemplars and beyond reproach on this issue and that is the challenge now for us all.

Ever since becoming chief constable I have talked about inclusion and diversity. I do this because inclusive cultures create healthier behaviours. Last week I was once again pilloried on social media for marching in Pride, the same happens when I fast at Eid with Muslim officers, support black officers or seek to support women’s issues. Some of you may feel this is political correctness or woke, certainly some in society do.

It is not.

Valuing the difference the minority bring. Reflecting more of their views to policing. Seeking more to join is so this is not a boys’ club. Policing has to be for everyone and include everyone.

We all need to do more. After a dreadful weekend, can I ask us all to set out a personal ambition to make policing an exemplar for the right attitudes and approaches to women.

I expect each of us to:

  • Ensure in our manner and appearance we look the professionals that people would seek help from;
  • Be confident and resolve to call out and report behaviour from a colleague that concerns us;
  • Make sure we do the best we can do in the cases we deal with where violence has been used against women; and
  • Discuss with your female colleagues how they feel about behaviour on your team. If you don’t have many women in your team why is that?

I do think we are also getting a great deal right. WMP came second in the UK’s top 50 employers for inclusivity last year. We have some strengths on inclusion that would put many organisations to shame. But we should be good, as we hold a unique position of trust. Yes women can and should trust us as hundreds of times every day we help them in their moments of need.

I am proud to have so many amazing women delivering policing in WMP. They hold some of the most important roles in the force and they do not tolerate such attitudes. I disagree with media narratives this week that women in policing are powerless in a culture of misogynistic behaviour.

Ultimately this is all about how men behave to women. So let’s be the change we need to see in society. We have a new strategy to tackle violence, abuse and intimidation against women and girls. Let’s ensure we are fully behind this and let us not forget why.

This article first appeared on the personal blog of Chief Constable Dave Thompson. You can read the original article here.

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