There’s no such thing as a typical week in policing and this last one was no different. It started on a high and ended, tragically, on the lowest of lows. I’ve been asked recently why I joined the police — what or who inspired me. My first answer is: Lieutenant Carl Downing. He was my divisional officer in the Navy and one day, though I went on to be the most unlikely copper you could ever meet, he turned to me and asked: ‘Have you thought about the police? You’d be great at it.’ I remember thinking: where did that come from? Nonetheless, five years later I found myself signing up. Or perhaps my career began earlier, with the Javid brothers’ crime-busting gang. Our gang had just two members, Sajid and me, and back when we were still in primary school we’d circle the neighbourhood on our bikes, communicating by walkie-talkie, looking for crimes to report. Sajid is my older brother but, as I like to remind him, I was the leader of the gang and by far the most street-smart. It’s fashionable to criticise the police these days, but to anyone considering it as a career I’d say: do it. There’s no other job like it. It’s hard but it’s satisfying. We believe in the oath we take, to serve the Queen ‘with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality’. Above all, we’re a family.
When I was 16, I swapped the bike for a motorbike and it’s still the way I like to relax. Last week, in the last of the summer sunshine, I drove to Eastbourne with friends. In one way biking makes me feel young, in another it’s an awful reminder of age. It’s my big five-o in a few months and as I put my bike away for the winter I felt my back and shoulders ache. It’s hard to admit it, but I’m a fair-weather rider now.
One of my jobs is ‘executive lead’ for frontline policing on Covid, trying to work out how to handle this strange and unsettling situation. The difficulty is finding the right balance. We don’t want to alienate the public but we need to uphold the law, and we must find our way without being too distracted by the media — and by critics who say we’re too hard one minute and the next that we’re not enforcing the regulations enough. The truth is that anyone who’s looking for certainty about how the virus will behave, or how we will respond, will be disappointed. But isn’t it better to be careful? Remember: most disaster movies start with the government ignoring a scientist…
I’ve been reminded this week of the vital importance of a good right-hand man. Inspector James Bister, my staff officer, has taken some time off (well deserved) and in his absence I really notice, more than ever, how much he does. It’s hard to find a decent wing-man but my strong advice to others would be to avoid a mini-me and to pick someone very different, whose skills complement your own. James is analytical and focused; I like to step back and gauge the feel of a situation. We work so well together that I’m considering banning him from leave in future, and offering him more cake to compensate. James likes cake. But would that be bribing a police officer?
I prefer a Cuban cigar to cake and a few days ago I enjoyed one with Saj. We reminisced about the time I’d taken him out on the beat to show him what it was like. That was 2006 and I remember, when we returned, we discussed our dream jobs. He wasn’t even an MP at that point and said he’d love to be home secretary or chancellor. My ambition was to be a commander in the Met. He asked if I thought I’d ever do it. No, I said, people like us don’t have the right contacts to get to those kinds of jobs. It’s funny: we were both doing well back then, in our mid-thirties, but the idea of going much further seemed for the birds. But this is a country of incredible opportunity. More people should know that.
My week ends in the worst imaginable way: with a phone call informing me of the horrific killing of one of my colleagues. I find it hard to think about Sergeant Matt Ratana’s last moments, but I think with great admiration about those colleagues who rendered first aid and the ambulance crew that fought to try to save his life, and about Sergeant Ratana’s family and friends. I’ve lost count of how many brave officers have been killed in the line of duty over the duration of my service. I’ve been asked why I joined the force, and I’m also often asked why I stay. The answer to that is that despite all the challenges I’d rather be here, playing my part in making my country that little bit safer, than anywhere else.
Bas Javid is a commander in the Metropolitan Police.