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Reflections from the front line…….

Good morning my name is Graham Goulden.  Can I first of all thank the organisers for the invitation both to speak at this event and now as I’ve just found out to open it as well.

I’m here today representing LEAP Scotland.  This relatively new branch of the ‘Law Enforcement Action Partnership’ is a group of retired police officers who aim to communicate that the current war on drugs isn’t working and that we need a new approach to Scotland’s drug issue.

We also want to engage with others to reduce the negative outcomes of drugs misuse. 

I retired from policing in 2017 having spent the last 8 years of my career working with the VRU in Scotland.  Nowadays I continue to support wider prevention work in Scotland as well as delivering prevention training in different settings. 

When I retired, an old boss from my days in Lothian & Borders police called me up and said to me that despite no longer being a police officer I still had influence. 

So Here go’s…………..

I know we live in a country where people care.  We have more good than bad. 

We have more in common than difference. 

Many of you will be mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters.  You will be someone’s friend, neighbour.  I want to talk to you today as the professional but also the person.

I think it’s really important we share our knowledge to wider Scottish society.

Why? – because the issues you will be discussing today are issues for Scotland as a whole and not just the professional networks.

The whole ACE movement in Scotland I feel is one area that has captured our nation at both a personal and professional level.  We need more of that.

Have you ever sat in on a conversation and been captivated not just by the speakers but by the involvement of the audience?

A few weeks ago, I was part of a fantastic conversation on a subject that has in many ways shocked Scotland into action.  As part of the ACE Aware conversation series an event was organised to discuss trauma and its links to addiction and the resultant drugs deaths that have been discussed widely in our national media.

Along with many others I sat for the hour listening to individuals with front line experience of this deep-rooted issue.  I also spent that hour reading posts from attendees which both communicated the realities of the topic as well as a desire to respond.

I’ve said this many times before that the prevention of any issue starts in the community.  That night I saw that ‘Community in motion’. 

Questions were asked, points were raised, and it was clear that the community was ready to respond.  This all made me very hopeful that WE can make a difference and indeed reduce not only our drug death numbers but levels of offending overall.

I was a police officer in Scotland for 30 years.  I often say that my career was in 2 parts with two completely different mindsets.

Part 1 – Enforcement is the best prevention – this lasted around 20 years.  “God it was tiring”

Part 2 – For the remaining ten years it was – Health & Wellbeing is the best prevention – The challenge for policing today is where do they fit in whilst still holding people accountable for their actions

So I started my policing in 1987.  I was 19 years old – a boy

I was a Constable in Edinburgh working in the Trainspotting culture of the late 1980’s.  The term ‘shooting fish in a barrel’ comes to mind. 

Drugs and violence was everywhere and I was never short of a reason to exercise my powers of search, detention and arrest.

In fact, I was quite good at this stuff.  It was like I was proving my worth as a police officer.  In many ways to be a good police officer I had to be a good ‘criminal catcher’. 

You know – I often see ‘Ghosts from my past’ when walking in Edinburgh.  I see individuals (men in particular) that I hounded as a young police officer.  Hounded despite knowing their family backgrounds, their situation, their exposure to domestic abuse, their trauma.

Fast forward to part 2 of my policing career and my time spent with the Violence Reduction Unit.  

It started to become clear to me that in part 1,  I probably created more negatives than positives.

Those last 8 years of my policing career working with the VRU were the most productive and totally transformed my lens.  I was forced to go under the bonnet.

In doing so I started to see all of the issues that were at play.  All of the issues that were the backstory to the incidents I dealt with in those first 20 years –

  • Poverty
  • Domestic Abuse
  • Hopelessness
  • Harmful notions of masculinity (this is an issue we should be looking at in Scotland – that’s a whole event in itself)
  • Trauma

Trauma was a word I didn’t really understand. 

Policing didn’t talk about it. Back then the response would probably be “trauma, what’s that got to do with policing?”  

Whilst this is getting better there are pockets of police officers who are resistant to outside influence.  They know best – Tough Enforcement is the answer.

I intend to talk more about this towards the end. But you know what trauma has got everything to do with policing.

Policing simply focused on the illegal behaviours that were encountered.

In doing so I disrupted work opportunities, probably ended tenancies, split up families and as I say created more problems than I thought I was solving. 

I was assaulted on a number of occasions.  With what I know now about trauma I suggest I contributed to the violence used against me.

Criminal justice in its basic form creates more problems than it aims to solve.

I hear some of you say “What about the victims, what about their families what about society?

I agree but I also agree with singer Bruce Springsteen when he said

“Nobody wins unless everyone wins”

Does enforcement alone support long term prevention?  That’s a question that policing needs to ask itself.  The use of stop and search in London just now, whilst a tool for the short term will lead to more violence and demand on the police.

Furthermore, the simplistic prohibition approach to drugs has probably led to communities being far from safe.  It has cost the tax-payer huge amounts of funds to address the consequences of the drug taking.  The war on drugs has also contributed to violence in our communities.

For some these might be challenging statements to hear but how do we reduce trauma to reduce trauma.

I said above that in the past, police colleagues, me included, would have ridiculed others who showed some compassion towards those they were arresting. 

Whilst it’s getting better I know those attitudes are still present and these attitudes need challenged but in a way that aims to bring an individual along with the organisation.

For me becoming more trauma informed will

  • Reduce demand
  • Lead to safer communities
  • Lead to good community relationships
  • Reduce officer exposure to violence
  • Cops might even get their meal breaks again – I know cops are run ragged from start to finish when on shift. 

So what does this mean for policing in Scotland and prevention. 

So here’s my tuppence worth……

  1. Maintain your focus on trauma awareness and how it can be used
  • Before interaction – so stop and engage becomes the default, rather than stop and search
  • During – An awareness of trauma will keep an officer safe and lead to better relationships with those they are dealing with. 

Remember the job still has to get done but done with a better-informed lens.

  • After – When that cell door closes be the bigger person and work to maintain a relationship with that person.  Every intervention is both a reachable and teachable moment.  As they say “Every contact leaves a trace”.

Aim to spark curiosity in your officers.  It was my curiosity that changed my lens.  Please Don’t over complicate this.

Leadership needs to be visible in talking about why a trauma informed approach is needed. 

What you promote you permit…….

Help the officers who get it, feel comfortable talking about it.

Build prevention conversations into promotion processes – I heard of a recent process on England where candidates were asked about their role in prevention and how they would engage their teams on this issue.

A simple question that in my view would spark curiosity.

When responding to trauma we aren’t simply talking about children – we need a focus on the parents and other adults as well.  Many of whom are dealing with their own unresolved trauma.

It’s pleasing to know that police are working with a range of partners to support vulnerable adults but let’s start using the right narrative around this group.

I love the work that Edinburgh division are doing with the charity Aid & Abet.  Two full time mentors with lived experiences of the CJ system are embedded with a team of police officers. 

This ‘cops and con’s programme is having a lot of success supporting those coming out of prison as well as those who have reached out for support.

By the way the ‘Cops and Cons’ descriptor came not from me, but from one of the mentors and my friend Kevin Neary.

I believe this work has extended to Glasgow with Aid and Abet supporting them in a similar project.

Public health approaches focus on risk/protective factors and what works – its great to see Police Scotland and partners embrace this and follow the evidence.  We need more of this model.  If it works why do something else.

I remember meeting my old Chief Constable David Strang at a school sports event and we were talking (at half time) about prevention.  He was someone who got the need to meet the marginalised at the margins of society.

We need more of this thinking from within the organisation.

It’s a complex problem that policing can’t deal with on their own.

I know policing gets that and I know that Police Scotland work with a number of partners.  Some of you will be working with police in your current role.

Developing a shared agenda with health/wellbeing and relationships for me is key.  Many of you here are experts in your field.  But one thing you share with policing is the focus on relationships. 

Step up with your expertise and aim to make things better for those you work with.  Whilst you may have a specific focus this will be entwined with a number of other issues in that persons life. 

The work of the Navigators in some of our A&E departments is a great example of people intervening and looking at all the needs of an individual.

Domestic Abuse – Domestic Abuse remains a badge of shame for our nation.  The Police Scotland decision over recent years to upskill its officers on the dynamics of domestic abuse will, I feel have a long-term impact on prevention.

Helping officers better spot and respond to DA will support victims and target perps.  We all know Domestic abuse is often the backstory to many of the issues we see in our society. 

In many ways there will never be peace on our streets until we have peace in the world

I still think, that just like trauma there needs to be continued communication around why such a focus is important for policing.  It’s not just about keeping certain groups happy it’s about reducing victimisation and ultimately offending.

I think you all have a role in communicating this knowledge outside your work corridors.

The war on drugs

The misuse of drugs act 1971 is now 50 years old.  It is piece of legislation that is no longer fit for purpose.

It’s encouraging to know that Police Scotland are talking the language of public health around these issues, but I also understand their role within this legislation.  That’s why LEAP Scotland plans to develop a narrative that engages wider society in its focus.

Recent narrative involving the First Minister and indeed the Lord Advocate suggests Scotland is coming together around these issues.

But more work is needed.  But I do feel Scotland is ready for that conversation

“Our purpose at LEAP Scotland is to reduce the multitude of harmful consequences resulting from our current drug policies, and to lessen the incidence of death, disease, crime and dependence. We advocate an evidence-based approach with a public health focus”

We aim to support this conversation and lead where necessary.

Check out our facebook site and join the conversation.  We plan to hold future events to maintain this focus.

So to close, enforcement and prevention need to run alongside each other. 

A prevention mindset needs to be embedded at all levels of policing and it’s not a term that should be reserved just for specialists. 

It may be uncomfortable for some but the evidence supports this approach.

When I retired I penned a blog  – some words of wisdom for police officers. 

As it the case for you.  Policing is currently being tested.  Covid has brought many immediate challenges for policing.  In my view they are responding admirably.

The aftermath of Covid will present even more challenges.  How policing works to build safe and supportive relationships with those who lack safety is key? 

A knowledge of the issues faced in communities – TRAUMA is key. 

We all need to learn to think differently

Laws are in place and the police job needs to be done.  Working with colleagues across the justice system I see real benefits in the phrase Smart Justice.

My old boss Karyn McLuskey talks about it.  My pal Ian Keegan Smith, a Scottish defence lawyer talks about it when in front of sheriffs and judges. 

In fact, we all need to be talking about it. 

Intelligence is not enough. It takes courage to change people’s hearts.

We also need smart policing where we are linked in with the whole concept of working smarter. 

To some, smart policing might be seen as soft policing.  I was often called the soft cop in my last years of policing.

There is nothing soft about caring for another human being and there’s nothing soft about being smart.

Policing has a clear role here, and together with you both as professionals  and as members of society we can support the ongoing work needed to deliver justice across Scotland and at same time addressing the multitude of negative outcomes that results from crime in Scotland.

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