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Standards – to me they matter - A blog by PSA Gender Lead, Emma Richards

PSA Lead for Gender, Emma Richards, discusses why 'standards' mean a lot to her as she reflects on her time in service ahead of her retirement:

Standards – to me they matter

On Monday 15th August, I celebrated my 34th anniversary in the Metropolitan Police. It was also the start of my preparation for retirement, which has made me reflect on my entry to the Service and on one of the things I have held most dear throughout my time as a police officer. Standards.
At the age of 19, I left my hometown of Shrewsbury and travelled to London via train to report for my 20 weeks training.  Prior to this, I had received a home visit from a West Mercia police officer - I think he was slightly perturbed that I was not joining the local force.  I went on to explain that West Mercia were not taking new recruits until they were 21 and at the age of 19, this seemed an age away.  He asked me my weight, height and shoe size, I replied 5’10”, 11 ½ stone and size 8.  The response from him was: “you won’t blow away in the wind”.  This did make me smile as it is probably true, and I have spent most of my career working in public order.

I received the Initial Training Course Handbook.  The following extracts are really meaningful to me:

Page 8 – It is worth saying a word about discipline.  A high standard of conduct and appearance is required of the police officers at all times.  This affects you from the first day that you join the Force.

Page 12 – The following standard of dress is required during school hours: For Women: Dark skirt (black, navy or dark grey), dark cardigan or jumper, while blouse, and flat or low heeled shoes.  (Trousers are not acceptable.)

The Check List of stuff to bring:

Coat hangers
Black shoe polish and brushes
Whitening for plimsolls
Clothes brush
Washing powder
Alarm clock
Pressing cloth
Track suit (useful on recreation afternoons) PT kit is issued
Swimming costume (women a one piece costume suitable for life saving)
Writing materials (pens and exercise books are supplied for official use)
All important stuff, and it meant there was barely any room for anything else in my suitcase!
You may be wondering where I’m going with this, considering this was back in the 80s…..so what has it got to do with today’s difficult and challenging policing world, where the issues we face are exponentially more important than the kit list issued to new recruits?
To me, it has everything to do with one of the most concerning issues we face – legitimacy, values and public trust. 
These basics of professional standards, which started from that uniform list, have stood me in good stead ever since.  In fact, I’ve been known as being a stickler for the dress code throughout my service and rank.  Neutral nails, hair in a bun, net with a scrunchy (black), long sleeve shirts for winter, commissioner’s reserve and aid, short sleeve shirts for summer.  The long sleeve shirt was the cotton undergarment for the flameproofs, to make sure that if you were petrol bombed the cotton would not melt onto your skin.  Hats on head and a hair style that enables your hat to fit on your head (a bun on the top on the head will not work!)  I am a great believer that if you look and feel the part, you will do a better job. Understandably, the public also automatically make an assessment of you from what they initially see.
Of course, there have been changes to our uniform over the years, and this is right. We can always improve by listening to our staff and ensuring we are not having new uniform for the sake of it – but because it makes it easier to do our job, or safer to do our job, whilst continuing to keep our standards high.   
I can remember the time that we allowed small discreet earrings (assessment by the line manager). Commander Bray, who was the lead for uniform standards (amongst other things) at the Met, actually rang the BCU Commander to ensure that I knew about this before it was announced.  I think he was concerned about my blood pressure!
After my 34 years, I am retiring in October, but have long since handed in the uniform I wore with pride, as I used the vast amount of rest days I accrued before officially leaving.  It feels the right time for me to go, and I am happy with my decision. My only tinge of doubt was sown when I read a recent article in the Telegraph by Dame Lynne Owens, the Met’s new deputy commissioner.  At last, I thought - someone who is going to crack down on uniform standards, which I believe is the foundation of our professional standards.  Dame Lynne also posted a picture of a pair of smart leather shoes and hairnet on Twitter, writing “Time to get working on those shoes”.  She added “Standards matter, in my view, as they link directly to how the public sees us.” I couldn’t agree more.
For me, the very basic tenets of policing professionalism are smartness, care, politeness, manners (which cost nothing) and doing the best you can for the public.  Every contact leaves a trace, every interaction matters and I truly believe that when you look and feel professional, it exudes in the way you act and the way you are perceived. We have a lot of work to do to fix the relationship between the police and the public.  It will take more than a smart uniform to do that of course, but if we go back to basics in who we are, how we appear and what we see in ourselves, that is a good start.

There has never been a more grand and fitting demonstration of this than what we witnessed in our police service’s support of Her Majesty the Queen’s recent funeral. Every police officer involved looking incredible and I’m sure would have spent a huge amount of time on making sure shoes were shined, uniforms were pressed, hair was neat and hats were straight. What a wonderful example of the standards we hold dear and our important place within the much-loved tradition and heritage of our nation.
As part of my retirement, I will be handing over my role as the national gender lead for the Superintendents’ Association and my plan will be to have bright nails and avoid having to go through the National Decision Making Model when I visit my hairdresser for a change. I can have it whatever length I want without making sure it is short enough to be off the collar, or long enough to get back into a bun (no pony tails). I’ll miss the ‘standards’ haircut decisions - but it will also be one of the joys of retirement.