This week our colleague and friend Chief Inspector Graham Goulden retired from Police Scotland after thirty years as a serving officer. Graham helped develop our MVP programme into one of the VRU's most successful projects embedding it in schools across Scotland. It's a programme which helps pupils tackle big issues like bullying, violence and sexting. We're delighted that Graham will continue to work with the VRU on projects despite retiring from the force. But here in his final personal blog before hanging up his hat Graham reflects on what he's learned as a police officer and has some sage words for the new generation.
Well, as they say, “That’s all folks”. I appear to have blinked twice since 1987 and here I am 30 years later retiring from a career which has given me so much. I’ve had many roles in my time, which seems relevant as my first police collar number was PC 57-D and just like the reference to the Heinz label I’ve certainly had variety.
I’m leaving a profession that faces many challenges. Recent events in Manchester and London clearly demonstrate that we live in a different world than the one I faced all those years ago as a new recruit. Despite the challenges I still feel that solutions are not as difficult as we may think.
I wanted to impart some words of wisdom to officers who continue to serve communities across the United Kingdom as well as individuals thinking of joining the police service as a career.
To my former colleagues you are doing a wonderful job and to those aspiring to join the police, do it.
There is no better career than the police service and it is one where officers find themselves meeting communities and individuals on the ground which they stand on. In many cases this ground is troublesome and chaotic. As Homeboy Industries founder Father Greig Boyle from Los Angeles suggests when he says, “we stand on the margins of society, with those who are in the margins.” I feel privileged to have served as an officer engaging with many different individuals and communities over the years.
My words of wisdom may sound too simple, but they are what they are. I firmly believe that community engagement is where the magic will happen. How we form and develop relationships with our communities will bring us wonderful results both for the short and long term. That’s it, simple – IT'S ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS.
For me, the key is that the service should better understand the people we deal with in our role. I can say hand on heart that over my thirty years I have only met two individuals who I was really scared of. The rest, the clear majority I now know, were individuals who before ten o’clock in the morning had already lived a day.
As a service I believe we need to better understand the chaos, the trauma and complex issues that many people in the UK face today. The evidence tells us that many of our societal issues are rooted in adverse childhood experiences faced in the first three years of life.
To my former colleagues on the force I would just ask that you think of the young people which on a regular basis you arrest, detain or search. Think also of the young people who taunt you when you drive past them. Are we as a service encouraged to think of the stories behind these individuals? How many will have been or continue to be victims of abuse at the hands of a family member of friend? How many will have witnessed parents fighting in the home? How many will have lost a parent through addiction or violence? How many have a parent in prison? How many will have witnessed violence in their community?
I know that we as a service are not encouraged to think this way. I look back at incidents I attended where I found myself struggling with a prisoner, getting a punch in the face by a young person I wanted to search or shouting at the top of my voice to try and establish control. Looking back I now wonder did I really know the people I was dealing with? No I didn’t and in many occasons this is still the case today. Sometimes we can be guilty of ignoring the biology of behaviour. We simply look at the behaviour and not at the pain behind the behaviour.
If a child is being abused they won’t have the words to tell you, the only tool they have is their behaviour. So it's vital to look beyond behaviours.
Now before you think I’m excusing behaviour, I’m not. I just want to get people thinking about why a person may be behaving the way they are. I’ve moved from simply thinking it’s about bad people making bad choices, to a position where I look at the adverse circumstances and experiences that have been endured. Again, I’m not excusing, simply trying to understand. Last week’s horrible events in Manchester presented us both the worst and best in humanity.
This image, a favourite of mine, was shared a few weeks back and shows an operational officer showing his human side. This officer, like me, is a father. It’s clear to me he is using this skill to engage with the young person. For me we need even more of this towards people who we often find in moments of their own crisis.
As I say behaviour is often how a person expresses how they feel. A better understanding of childhood trauma could help all officers in their roles supporting the way they build relationships in our communities. A great resource for developing knowledge on this subject is https://acestoohigh.com/
Well as I said at the start that’s my police career finished. It’s been a blast and I leave with a mind better aware of the complex issues that we face as a society. I think it's time we stopped looking at crime and behaviour as simply moral issues and started applying the scientific knowledge we possess. How we engage, interact and communicate with individuals will bring positive outcomes. We as a species are born to connect, so let’s connect.
I wish former colleagues all of the best in the years ahead. To the new generation of officers this job is what you make of it. Enjoy it, but always remember the privileged position you hold.