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PSA President reflects on his career as he retires from policing

Reflecting on a career like no other

As he retires from policing, PSA President Paul Fotheringham reflects on his service.

“I joined policing at the age of 24, following in the footsteps of my father, with a clear and simple desire to help people and keep communities safe.  Over the course of three decades, that motivation has never changed.
“The service however, has changed almost beyond recognition, and the jobs that PC Fotheringham of the 1990s was dealing with, were a far cry from the demand my colleagues on the frontline are facing today. We say it so often, but the context in which we’re working changes at an incredible rate and will continue to do so.  What has been apparent throughout however, is that despite colleagues working in increasingly difficult circumstances, the reason they do the job, and the reason many of them stay is very simple.  To make a difference. 
“And I’ve seen incredible people doing just that.  Some of my fondest and most poignant memories of policing will be of the teams I have worked with and the people who have gone out of their way to ensure justice for a victim or family, or to make positive change to the way we deliver our services.
“I have been honoured to have held complex, interesting and varied roles. Policing is far from easy, and I have been involved in investigating some of the most challenging cases, such as Operation Sandpiper.  Jobs such as this will stay with me forever, not only in the horror of what we were dealing with, but also the absolute professionalism and commitment of my team who were tasked with handling the most extreme of crimes. This experience will have changed every one of us, and it is the resolute desire to carry on, in spite of what we’re facing in situations such as this, that makes policing a vocation for the thousands of people who rightly wear the badge of constable and who dedicate years to helping others.  As the senior detective leading a case such as this, you are often seen as the figurehead of an investigation and someone linked to a successful court case.  The truth is, a leader is nothing without the team of people around them, each working relentlessly towards their goal.
“It is cases such as this, which have shown me both the best and worst of humankind, that have led to my passion for supporting the health and wellbeing of police officers. To me, it is extremely simple to understand that our people will perform well and deliver brilliant policing, if they are happy and well at work.  It isn’t complicated.  Despite that, we are often sending our people out into dangerous and traumatic situations, or overloading them with work without the right resources, and simply leaving them to break.  At the height of the investigation we had the support of 27 forces, with many colleagues having to deliver the most horrific of agony messages to families.  I soon learned that the support these colleagues would receive in force, to respond to the trauma we were placing upon them, was effectively a postcode lottery.  Some received the highest possible levels of occupational health support and were surrounded by help in a force that cared, others received nothing at all. They deserve more.
“I have always done what I can to support colleagues, and before my time as a superintendent I was proud to serve as a Federation representative to speak on behalf of policing and drive change. As PSA President I have used the opportunity and profile to do all I can to enhance and improve the wellbeing provision on offer to our people, with the support of partners such as Oscar Kilo. I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved in this space in the past 18 months, and there is so much more on the horizon. Oscar Kilo, led by Andy Rhodes, has been an incredible ally to the association over these initiatives and I am grateful for their continued support of superintendents and the wider service.
“Now, we must build on this progress and do so with speed and commitment. When I think about my own career experiences, they mirror what so many colleagues will have gone through over the course of their service, quietly accepting that what they have dealt with is part of the job, and ignoring the often life-changing impact on their mental health. I have attended and investigated the most horrific deaths and crimes that most members of the public would never be exposed to nor imagine.  From the deaths of infants, to abhorrent child abuse cases and of course the abuse of bodies as discovered in Operation Sandpiper.  The incident and postmortem are just the beginning.  Dealing with grieving families is an entirely different level of trauma.  What work have we carried out as a service to truly understand the cumulative impact of this continual exposure? Through the Police Covenant, we have a solid national commitment to laying the foundations for the care of police.  The Trauma Tracker for example, is a new project, led by Police Care UK, which will look to identify the early signs for intervention in an individual who has been subject to severe trauma, but what about the layering of trauma that takes place over many years?  What impact does this have on an individual’s wellbeing and on the wellbeing of their own loved ones?  The only person who will truly know what it feels like is the officer responding to these continual calls for help, who is often not capable of recognising their own vulnerabilities, or who simply feels they cannot reach out.
“We must work to understand this and to build it into our standard health and safety processes.  I have pushed on various projects in this regards, lobbying for health checks to become standardised across policing, for psychological risk assessments to be carried out for superintendents, in addition to those carried out for those in specialist roles, but this isn’t enough. These are pockets of work doing excellent things, but we need to change our mindsets and embed these pro-active methods of support into our infrastructure.  Many police officers, myself included, see it as a privileged position to be entrusted to investigate a death and bring justice and closure to the family of someone who has been killed at the hands of others.  These same officers should also feel safe in the knowledge that this absolute commitment to helping people in their ultimate time of need, will be rewarded with the best possible workplace care.

“Within my role as president, I have continued to push for fair pay and reward, and to ensure our people are valued for the incredible work they do. I have been lucky to have worked with our national secretary Dan Murphy on this issue, who has worked relentlessly in recent years to ensure police officers are treated fairly when it comes to pay and pensions. I started my career in the service with Dan at Kent Police and it has been wonderful to end it working with him once again.  Fighting for fair pay is a long and constant battle, but something we will not back down on. This year, by coming together with our colleagues at the NPCC, CPOSA and APCC as one ‘blue team’, we were able to influence the highest police pay rise in a generation. Speaking with one voice works.

“This teamwork across the national policing landscape is powerful.  I have been privileged to have had the support and friendship of Andy Marsh at the College of Policing, Andy Cooke at HMICFRS, Martin Hewitt and latterly Gavin Stephens at the NPCC, who all welcomed me into the national leadership space, and have been keen to hear the views and insights of our members to inform the greater good of policing.

“I have been a vocal supporter of colleagues from under-represented groups who have a voice which simply must be heard. People who feel safe and supported in being their true selves at work will deliver better policing. Our core mission has always been and will always be to prevent and detect crime and to keep people safe.  This applies to all people, from all backgrounds, and we must reach out to those who don’t trust us to do this. We police all, we serve all, and our relationships with our communities and our teams, are critical.
“Working with our reserved representatives who each speak passionately for the many officers and staff who can be marginalised, has been key. As an association we have led the way in initiatives to make change in this regard, and it is one of the many areas of impact reflected so clearly in our most recent annual report.
“In summary, it has been a privilege and an honour to serve as a police officer. I would like to thank my colleagues at Kent Police for many fantastic years spent serving communities, and those at the PSA for their support and hard work during my time as president.  For more than 70 years, the association has been representing our service’s most senior operational leaders, who are critical in the delivery of policing.  I look forward to seeing the further development of our pro-active work to support supers and support policing.”