Last week, PC Keith Palmer gave his life protecting this city that is my home.
He was a husband. He was a dad. He was a police officer. And he was a thousand other things besides. I never had the privilege of knowing him – but I know what he was. ‘Hero’ barely even begins to cover it.
I didn’t actually know any Coppers before I joined the Met almost 25 years ago. Not a single one.
I knew about them of course: I saw them out on patrol; I watched them on TV; I got told off by one of them once for something I hadn’t done.
But I didn’t actually know any of them – what they were like; what made them tick. They were inhabitants of a world beyond my experience and understanding. That’s how it remains for most of us.
These days, I’m proud to count any number of them as friends. And I want you to know that the finest of them are as fine as people can be.
They are brave
Dear God, they are brave.
They are the headlong rush of blues and twos: the first to the scene; the first to the chase; the first to confront; the first to protect.
They are the first into harm’s way.
And, sometimes, they pay the greatest price of all: a sacrifice that will never be forgotten.
They are kind
It seems to me that kindness is one of the most underrated qualities in society. It’s the one thing I try to teach my children before anything else. Be kind.
And it takes a particular sort of kindness to do this job well.
Each day of their working lives, police officers find themselves among the broken – the beaten and abused; the drunk and confused; the abandoned and addicted; the lonely and afflicted – victims of and witnesses to the unimaginable, souls hanging on by a thread.
The finest coppers are as compassionate as they come.
But don’t mistake their kindness for softness.
They give a damn
The painful privilege of policing is to see all of life – in all its shattered pieces.
The capacity to give a damn – to retain your humanity in the face of lives and circumstances that so many of those watching from a safe distance might turn their backs on– sets people apart.
Police officers cross roads not to avoid problems, but to deal with them head on.
They are the men and women in the arena – inside the blue and white cordon tape.
They are honest
Good Coppers are as true as they come.
(Bent Coppers have no place among them.)
They will tell the truth and tell it well – without fear or favour.
Justice is a thing that still matters you see.
They are funny
Police officers love to laugh: sometimes at themselves, usually at their colleagues; frequently at the apparent absurdity of life; occasionally as the easier alternative to tears.
And they love a good story. They will tell tales of foot chases; of dawn raids; of long nights in cramped observation posts; of the moment they cracked the case, caught the bad guy, helped the good one; of the guilty verdict at court; of the endless crime scenes; of the fragments of life that work throws their way.
They will share a knowing (and sometimes mournful) smile – because only those who have been there can ever fully know.
They are loyal
When the Urgent Assistance shout is heard on the radio, they will drop everything and come running.
Because colleagues are family: brothers and sisters in blue.
They work hard
They work long hours – and they work all the hours. Whatever it takes to get the job done.
They give far more than they take – and then they give some more.
They are humble
In spite of it all, they don’t think of themselves more highly than they ought.
They just get on and do their jobs.
They believe in hope
Policing offers a repeated invitation into the darkness – and a consequent challenge to give up on hope.
But good coppers would never dream of giving up.
There are still lives to be saved. And lost folk to find. And vulnerable people to protect. And men of violence to be faced down.
I truly love them for it.
Last week, in the face of the unthinkable, we discovered and expressed a renewed sense of appreciation for the men and women who stand on the thin blue line.
This week, we need to do the same.
Lest we forget.