Police Family

Tribe: A social division in a traditional society consisting of families or communities linked by social, economic, religious, or blood ties

Police Family – YOU.

When you read the word ‘tribe’ do you associate yourself with it? Or do you think of others? Other people are in ‘tribes’. The Amazonian tribes or the African tribes and other indigenous populations might spring immediately to mind. However, as the dictionary definition above shows, tribes are much further reaching than that. I have watched the Police Family go through the most trying of times in this last year or two. And we all know it’s not over yet. I have written some pointed and often unpopular pieces in an effort to push various groups to be more outspoken or innovative in their approach. I then stopped writing such things for a while, watching and supporting where I could, as the various groups within the Police Family retreated and licked their wounds from the sound political beating they have all received.

Why am I talking about tribes? Because what I am seeing emerge after the wound licking is a variety of tribes. If you are reading this, it is likely that you are part of the Police Family and therefore you are almost certainly a member of one or more of the tribes I see. These tribes could be the making of a new, vital Police Family. Or they could be its downfall. Let me explain.

There are four large tribes within the Police Family. There is ACPO, the Superintendents the Federated Ranks and the civilian workforce. I could write a whole piece on the relationships between these tribes, but to do so would be indulgent and missing the point. Within these tribes are further off shoots. People with different outlooks, or experiences or needs. There are differences – or perceived differences – between men and women, those of differing sexual orientation, those of differing skin colour or cultural background. I could go on. In fact, I will. There are differences – or perceived differences – between those with different educational or socio economic backgrounds, even those with different qualifications. There are differences – sometimes perceived – between different Forces. There are differences – sometimes perceived – between each rank. So there are tribes. And then there are tribes within tribes.

If I may, I’d like to use the Police Federation of England and Wales as an example of tribes within a tribe. The Federation is made up of Constables, Sergeants and Inspectors. It is one organisation. Or is it? Is it in fact three organisations under one umbrella? How it operates, how effective it can be, is largely dependent on how the three groups work together and support each other. I don’t see a lot of support for each other these days. I see quite a lot of self protection. Not of the individual so much as the group. I’ve been thinking about this recently and I’ve been observing behaviours in these and other groups. I was surprised to see self protection – or perhaps better described as group protection – in most areas I looked. Every group, without exception, has recently shown examples of two things. A clear wish for a new and more positive future and a siege mentality where criticism is deflected and self protectionist behaviours become entrenched.

Watching the way the various groups interact and operate together and against each other could be a very depressing exercise except for the fact that they very clearly all want the same thing. They each come at it from a different angle, a different experience or outlook, but ultimately every member of the Police Family wants the advancement and enrichment of modern Policing. They want to see each other protected from the vagaries of Political interference. They want a modern, well maintained and supported Police body, fit to do its sworn duty for the public of this country. Every single member of the Police Family wants this. Every. Single. One.

No one is going to do this for you. Yes – you. You PCSO, you constable, you DS, you civilian office staff, you Chief Superintendent, you DCC….am I making my point? YOU. Those outside the Police Family seek to meddle and change and experiment. You know what works. You know change is needed. You know change is upon you whether you like it or not. Do not retreat into your tribes where you are with like minded people or where others assume you belong. You are all one body, one family. There is strength of feeling, a passion in you all that many modern companies would pay good money for. You have a devotion to a single cause. You all seek the same end. History will look back to these years as a pivotal time. It doesn’t have to be the end. It can be the beginning. Together you are an unbelievable group of people, one tribe, the Police Family. My appeal to you – yes, you – is to try really hard to let go of the protective behaviours and take that scary step towards openness. Listen to each other. Engage and discuss. Many are trying to already. More of you can. You don’t all have to agree all of the time. But never forget you are one family and as George Bernard Shaw said, If you cannot get rid of the family skeleton, you may as well make it dance.

So now – let’s talk!

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23 Responses to Police Family

  1. julieanneda says:

    I am not a member of any of the tribes you have described here Cate. What I do see is the divides…as you know I believe in unity not individual power bases. As someone who cares deeply…find the commonalities people…dialogue and be strong together. Lay aside personalities and power… Move on.

  2. Emma Daniel says:


    You are as always thoughtful and fair..making points without being pointed. I think now is the time that the term police family is at a tipping point, it could be positive or it could become negative. Which is what you observe also. It is important that family is inclusive rather than exclusive. The public must not feel different from the police, and some sections do. BME, lgbt, those in conflict with government policies, those in poorer areas. It’s not individuals officers or staffs fault. But it is institutional,

    I welcome the female perspective that enters and is beginning to shape this debate. Irene’s splendid debut. You and @dorsetrachel – challenging, but warm spirits looking for family to be more than tribalism, than willy waving in Westminster fashion. To be about communities and what is right ultimately.

    I think that root and branch change to PSD and how complaints/misconduct are dealt with would be a big step in building both community and police confidence that fairness and compassion are at the heart of policing. Because without fairness and compassion in judgement, I don’t believe there is justice.

    An eye for eye is not justice, is not community leadership and eventually nobody has eyes. What we need is for the rise of reason over division.

    Emma @huxley06

  3. Lynne Owens says:

    This is a very thought provoking blog Cate; timed to perfection. As a very proud police officer, police leader, wife and mum I recognise I belong to many families ……. I strive hard to always focus on the public interest and never forget the roots of policing (Peels principles, as valid today as they were all those years ago.) Contrary to much public commentary I do not define myself by any group ……. Neither when I was a member of the Federation, Supts Assoc or now, as ACPO has the sense of belonging to that “tribe” been part of who I am. Of course though it is easier for those who wish to criticise us or, indeed to hide their personal views, to cower behind the labels. Now is the time to behave with complete transparency, honesty and focus on what really matters; our service to the public.



  4. Gareth Morgan says:

    The police service never seems to be happier than when it’s having a go at itself – the bosses, the civvies, the lazy. We’ve monopolised the pejorative dictionary. Our strength as public servants should always be based on our legitimacy given to us from a model based on public consent & we should only progress on merit. We need to be able to question & challenge each other but we need to stop sniping and grandstanding. I’m not a member of a tribe. I’m proud to be a member of the best police service in the world.

  5. The police service has been riven by the “tribalism” you so eloquently describe for as long as I can remember. Until the last decade or so I’d never seen it as a majorly damaging issue – usually just good-natured banter & wind-ups most “tribes” got as much as they gave out.

    So what changed? I’d go back to the time of Sheehey & the start of politicians driving wedges between the tribes. Suddenly there were real differences in pay & conditions arising. And these were pointed up when some were identified as being sufficiently important to get an additional allowance & others weren’t.

    No matter how we got here, the police service is where it is…and, if it is to survive the sustained attack it is under, the “tribes” MUST put aside their differences and come together in all their interests and, more fundamentally & importantly, in the interests of the people.

    Someone (and I’ve no idea who!) needs to get all the tribes & sub-tribes together in some sort of “truth and reconciliation commission” to enable all the slights & betrayals (actual & perceived) between them to be acknowledged and, if possible, be addressed, allowing everyone to move forward together.

    The police service is facing a crisis not of its own making. I have great faith that it will overcome the troubles which confront it as, if there is one thing the police service IS good at, it is good at dealing with crises which are not of its own making. The only thing that is different this time is that the very future of the policing style which has served us well for 183 years is at stake.

    No pressure then!

  6. Cate you really made me smile in this thought provoking blog. Tribe ? a term I dislike immensely, To me it means closed, blinkered, unable to break from. I believe the police service is so much more than that.LABELS are for jars, I really hope we all keep it that way. Well done on promoting discussion. Lets see how listening to each other and working on the hand they have been dealt works.

  7. Woe To You says:

    Same old same old I’m afraid well intentioned but as incapable as any other dysfunctional family. Repetitive lessons blah blah blah. So tedious and fatuous can’t be bothered to comment any further..……..

  8. An excellent read Cate and I like the tribal idea. However, the fact is that the world of policing is in turmoil. Not only are they being subjected to the most radical reform for decades, but three of the tribes are also facing significant challenges. ACPO is facing a restructure and the impact of PCCs is starting to have an effect (see Lincoln Police). The Federation is facing a tough time in the wake of ‘Plebgate.’ The Superintendents Association seems to be the only one with any stability at the moment. They are all struggling to understand the political imperative and reform and are facing internal turmoil at the same time.

    Rarely have the three staff associations worked together to oppose a political or other type of threat and I do not think that they are in a position to do so at the moment. However, there is one common feature that should act as a binding agent.

    I agree with the comments of Gareth Morgan. I believe that the police are in danger of forgetting why they are there. They know what to do and how to do it but they are in danger of losing sight of legitimacy and social contract. First and foremost the police are public servants.

    As we see constabularies starting to recruit I wonder to what extent this fact will feature in their student training? Or will we see a focus on teaching them about legality rather than legitimacy?

  9. @Carcassian says:

    As ever, an interesting and discussion provoking post. I agree with your observation on tribes within the organisation – or rather organisations. I agree that there is little sense of unity between the staff associations, which is perplexing and troubling. While I certainly don’t want to criticise earlier posters observations that we need to be as one in pursuit of providing a service to the public, (my paraphrasing), I would say that the issues at play are rather more complex than this. In fact, the acrimony that exists between the federated ranks and ACPO in particular over the reform agenda shows no signs of abating. I can understand the position of both sides of the argument.

    The federated ranks believe that ACPO were far too eager to press for the reforms that Winsor recommended – in particular those that would effect the pay and conditions of rank and file officers. At this point, whether or not this is objective truth is largely immaterial. It is the popular perception. Ignoring the current strength of dissatisfaction will do nothing to make it dissipate. Behaving as though everything is “business as usual” will only paper over the cracks. To use the family analogy, it’s a bit like finding out that your spouse has been having an affair, being cross about it, but not talking it through. Inevitably the behaviors of the past will create a painful, harmful divide.

    I favour the approach suggested by Mr Kirkham. I would suggest that the staff associations speak to each other about purpose, reconciliation, respect for each other and – of course – public value. There is, of course, everything to be won from open and transparent discussion with the wider community, but I’m afraid we really have to put our own houses in order first. We need strong, decisive, level headed and clear leadership. So far, I can only look enviously at the Superintendents association in this regard. The PFEW is in a shambolic state, and in urgent need of democratic reform. I’m not certain that ACPO knows what it’s new role is in the policing landscape anymore, so it’s therefore not surprising that no one else does either.

    From a personal perspective, many of you will know that I used to post extensively on Twitter regarding Police reform and the current landscape. Alas, it started to feel like shouting at passers by in a supermarket. I find it wearing, exhausting, fruitless and ultimately depressing. A hearty well done to the brothers and sisters of the family who still have the energy and optimism for the discussion.


    • Jack Dees says:

      Some very valid comments here but a lot of wishful thinking. There was a strong ethos of family when I joined (1975) but I saw its importance lessen throughout my service.
      There have always been special interest groups and I’m guessing there always will be. Some of these were self help groups like the Masons, some were born of necessity like the BPA.
      There has never been a more crucial time for the staff organisations to pull together to fight the ravages of this dogma driven government without appearing luddite or seeking to resist constructive change.
      May I suggest a theme that even the government can’t contest? Lynne touched on it above. History. As well as the Peelian principles the history of British policing has much to admire. The achievement of policing by consent was a huge success.
      Unfortunately in a fast changing environment basic principles can be forgotten in the pursuit of the next government edict or PI.
      Every proposed policy or strategy should be measured against the long established benchmarks of legitimacy and integrity.
      Scarman was ditched too soon and if it hadn’t we might not have needed Macpherson.
      The service can reorganise without abandoning its history but it desperately needs to look more genuinely reflective of the largest family, the society it serves.

  10. Avers says:

    I’m a frontline bobby in a large urban northern town.
    I don’t always comment on blogs or twitter regarding the current crsis affecting the nations police services as my account is well known to be a personal one but also one in which I identify as a police oficer.
    I do have views on what is happening to our Service but choose not to promote them on social media although I have stated I support my force federation.
    This is a personal choice, I’m a simple person with simple views, I work I go home and enjoy my family life.
    Its not much I know But I’m happy with it.
    Sometimes its difficult to keep up with all that is happening with current cuts and I know that my pay and pension is being affected in the long term, but where I work (top 10 socially and economically deprived area) is affected much more by the current financial crisis and there are days where I really have to appreciate the fact that I have a job and a pension (however hammered its getting!) and some security for the future.

    Although I’m not to sure on the use of the word tribe, I definitely think the idea of all “tribes” listening to each other and talking to each other to find a way to support all members during this difficult and uncertain time.
    Your blog is definitely getting people talking, and I think that now is time for us all to listen to each other.
    I have stated previously on twitter how much I love my job, I only ask that me and my colleagues are given the chance to do our jobs and support our families.
    I dont want a thank you or pat on the back, just the chance to do the right thing and to return home safe knowing I’ve earned my pay to support my family.

    To the people that are out there promoting this discussion and being a voice, thank you, you are encouraging interaction between all these “tribes” like never before and personally I think this can only be a good thing, whether it stops the goverment from hurting us or not, I for one have enjoyed the new interaction that I have with some of my forces leaders and am learning everyday.

  11. Cate, firstly an excellent piece of written work.
    Secondly, having read the replies, it is evident that a united front is required to take the service, as a whole, forward.
    One thing this government isn’t, is stupid. They have recognised that there are differences of opinions and ideas between the Federated ranks, the Supers Association, and ACPO. As a result of this, they have employed a classic ‘divide and conquer’ tactic, knowing that if we all can’t agree on how take to take the service forward, they will be able to do with us as they please.
    As others have said, the way forward is to get the relevant heads together and find the common ground and ALL work together towards it. The time for in-fighting, bickering and egos is over.
    Let us not forget why we are here. We are here to provide a service to the public. A public that, in my opinion, hasn’t had a decent service in years. If all we are going to do is fight amongst ourselves, then we have lost our real purpose.
    If we lose our real purpose, then the police service, as we know it, may soon be consigned to the history books.
    What then?

  12. Excellent post. I hope to address some issues around leadership by comparing how we lead and how leaders of tribes lead. There are many great examples of how we can improve our leadership behaviours by comparison with tribal leaders. Keep an eye on my blog!

  13. partly Pirate says:

    Interesting, yet another call to unity, using the Tribal metaphor and the ‘romantic’ notion of the Police Family.
    Whilst the tribe is a useful metaphor, the disunity is more the classic problem of operating within a restrictive hierarchical organisational structure that promotes self interest and has never been addressed appropriately.
    The hierarchical structure by default causes division & self interest – bureaucracy hindering change. Ineffective communication & sometimes conflict across departments, multiple layers of management and huge costs. Add to the mix, deeply entrenched hierarchal structures of rank, chuck in the bible (Regs) and a hefty dose of Government reform et voila, people polarised, disenfranchised, demoralised, dysfunctional, sniping & grandstanding, words that show an organisation in crisis.
    As the author and many outline clearly, there is common purpose ‘wanting a modern, well maintained and supported Police body, fit to do its sworn duty for the public of this country’
    The most amazing people make up the organisation, gifted, specialists and experts but occasionally there is a failure to recognise when the ‘family’ needs help, but help is exactly what is needed, urgently and desperately, facilitated by independent professional mediation.
    The self interest within the organisation needs not only acknowledgement, but needs to be understood, solutions sought to SUPPORT all parties interests to some extent in order to achieve the common purpose effectively and efficiently.

    ACPO the self professed ‘professional voice of policing’ under enormous pressure, an uncertain future, increasingly weak & overwhelmed, do have a final opportunity to get their shit together. There’s merit in a pause from voicing & ‘re-imagining’ to focus on a ‘professional ear of policing’.
    I note the comments of senior officers posted, pride and criticism. Yes you should feel proud but would offer a move from proud and status orientated to a position of being humble, concentrating on serving the workforce. Criticism is valuable feedback, constructive or otherwise, its a gift, what one does with it key, but whining and ignorance, is folly.

    Finally and most important, the elephant in the room. An important voice missing from the debate. Someone suppressed for the openness and transparency to which CC Owens proclaims. Until ACPO can demonstrate an ability to bring THIS trumped up situation to swift and acceptable conclusion how can its people and the closely watching public have any confidence in ACPO’s suitability to continue its stewardship of the service.
    334 members, cannot effect the simplest but one in a series of damaging errors of judgment. Seriously, my parrot could do better!

    ACPO must regain credibility if it is to lead a demoralised police service through these difficult times in a climate of austerity. If the finest police service in the world is to survive, it needs strong leadership and it needs it now, lead by example, show character, restate and commit to Peel’s principles, dispense with manipulating reputation, because quite frankly the public deserve better.

    • A very good point, and it made me go back and re-read Lynne Owens’ comments. Honesty and Transparency have been trampled underfoot by the elephant. Surely use of SM is one area where we need a National Policy and for the practitioners to know what that Policy says

  14. bernardrix says:

    Good blog, Cate. My first reaction is that you’ve missed some key groups. You said:

    “There are four large tribes within the Police Family. There is ACPO, the Superintendents the Federated Ranks and the civilian workforce.”

    How about police volunteers? Police suppliers (public sector, private sector, third sector)? Academics focusing on policing? And there are more.

    The College of Policing are having a similar challenge in defining the “police family” (I blogged about this myself recently).

    Another quote from your blog to end my reply – with a small [bracketed] amendment from me to reflect this [wider] group:

    “…every member of the [wider] Police Family wants the advancement and enrichment of modern Policing.”

  15. Stan Evans says:

    I’m afraid to say this Police ‘family’ term is not positive I wish the Police themselves would stop keep warmly repeating it for their own reassurance and comfort, its just a negative Us and Them barrier between the Police and the public.

    This is a term that I’m sure makes officers feel they are all part of the same club, but for those outside the club it now has very negative connotations!
    It seems that even within the police there are differing tribes/families. Again, where is the positive in that except for recognising that it is so?

    The term ‘police family’ is now creeping into the general media on a regular basis, it’s no longer an internal Police term. It will and is being interpreted differently by a member of the public than it is by a chief constable commenting here on this blog. That is understandable but what is worrying is I cant see how any officer (especially senior officers) can really see the external view, as simply (observation and fact – not an insult) they are institutionalised (independent of the fact that these same senior officers are also mothers and fathers etc.).

    I’m glad that ‘principles’ are referred to, but rather than Peel principles lets get with the program and install strong post-2013 principles. The first step to do that is to really connect with the public, dumping the term ‘family’ would help. The Police are just civil servants, paid for by the public, also members of the public – so become the public again whilst doing the same job that mostly goes respected and appreciated, without the old ‘family’ stone hanging around your necks.

    The term ‘family’ in 2013 is nothing to be proud of (I guess you guys read the papers?), I say dump it, move on, move forward and reconnect with the public and adopt much better principles than those that have been unfortunately reported upon over the past many months!

    Cate, for goodness sake, why is your conclusion that things don’t need to change and that external people should not meddle? You are so out of touch and naïve it beggars belief. Even our new head of the IPCC accepts that things need to massively change, so does the government. Change in the Police is progress. The new Police College was not set up to leave things as they are, its first actions re ethics are a priority due to the fact that there was no change!

    Cate, you are simply wrong and your romantic idealism belongs firmly back in the time of Peel. Move on!

    • catemoore says:

      Thank you for this response and I take on board your concerns over possible negative connotations of the term ‘Police Family’. It’s actually the first time I’ve used it and I understand your point. However, I would like to stress that I am not advocating ‘more of the same’ – quite the opposite. Change is upon us. Change is happening. I’m advocating taking ownership of the changes and achieving some positive outcomes.

    • partly Pirate says:

      Have some sympathy with this view of the ‘Police Family’.
      Obviously there are many dictionary definitions of ‘family’ I favour the following

      1. A bunch of people who hate each other but eat dinner together
      2. A locally independent organised crime unit, as of the Cosa Nostra
      3. A group consisting of parents and children living together in a household
      4. A group of people generally not blood relations but who share common attitudes, interests, or goals.

      Essentially, it means different things to different people.
      Traditional roots of the informal term reflected the unique bonds of trust, security, safety and support within ranks. The bonds remain.
      As the government would say, lets be clear. The Police, everyone else is the Strategic Supply Chain.

    • Jack Dees says:

      Your comments are way off the mark Stan. British policing is not perfect but it is widely respected throughout the world. This is for a number of reasons including its history. To abandon it would be to ignore the lessons learned apart from all of the positive aspects.
      A huge proportion of errors made by the police in recent years have been because they have failed to consider history.

  16. I have nominated you for the Reality Blog Award. Maybe more people will find your blog and the insight you share. Thank you for your posts!! You can check it out at http://justcanadian.wordpress.com/2013/04/14/90/

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