In the world inhabited solely by those in possession of armchairs and agendas, it would appear that everything ought to be a priority for the police.
But, in the real world inhabited by police officers and staff, things are a little less straightforward.
In that other world, the police should be doing more of this – and more of that. And more of the other.
Back in the real world, doing more of one thing means – inevitably – doing less of another. Because resources are a little bit stretched just at the moment.
And, in any case, if everything is a priority, then nothing is.
In the real world, every victim of crime matters. But not all crimes are equal. Some have to matter more than others. Domestic Violence, for example, has to matter more than shoplifting. Any crime that has a child or vulnerable adult as its victim, has to matter more than one that doesn’t. And so on.
These realities have consequences for the decisions we make – and for the time and effort we invest in responding to any one type of crime.
But, in the other world, it doesn’t quite seem to work that way.
In that other world, it is possible both to criticise the police for failing to do enough about something as deadly serious as modern slavery and, at the same time, to criticise them for attempts (however clumsy) to raise awareness of the very same issue.
Equally, it is possible to berate the police for failing to do enough to engage with local communities and, simultaneously, to harangue them for attempting to do just that when they ought to be concentrating on something more serious.
The same people fail to see the irony in suggesting that the police do less Stop & Search, whilst demanding they do more to prevent murderous knife attacks. Or in complaining about visible (and smiling) armed police officers whilst expecting them to be ready, at a moment’s notice, to respond to the latest terrorist outrage.
In the other world, everything is binary – simply black or white.
But in the real world of policing, everything exists in shades of grey.
Those who offer opinions from armchairs have no responsibility for anything other than the words they write and the things they say. They are not the men and women in the arena, operating on the inside of the blue and white cordon tape – where everything is complex and broken and horrifying and terrifying, in circumstances where there is no place for faint hearts. You don’t need to be brave to write headlines or cast stones.
In their world, they have the luxury of hours and days and weeks and months – and the privilege of perfect hindsight.
In the real world, there are life or death decisions to be made in fractions of seconds, in the face of hostility and harm, without anything approaching a complete set of facts or a full understanding of a situation.
In their world, people aren’t forgiven for making mistakes and, in the headlong rush to apportion blame, are given no opportunity to learn from them.
But, in the real world, we make mistakes all the time. And we need the confidence to be able to admit to them and the courage to be able to learn from them.
In their world, it is perfectly possible to criticise the police for not taking victims of crime seriously enough and, the following day, to criticise them for taking victims too seriously.
In the real world, police officers tread endlessly blurred lines.
In their world, everything is easy.
In the real world, it is anything but.
I’m no blind apologist for policing. We are capable of getting things terribly wrong – and there should be no hiding from it when we do. The truth is that we are entirely imperfect – both individually and collectively.
But that’s how it is back in the real world.
And I refuse to take my place amongst the inhabitants of that other place – ‘those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat’.
That’s not for me. I’m a police officer.