by Simon Nelson
President | Disabled Police Association
The last few weeks of my police service bring me into my last Disability History Month in policing and my final quarterly blog for the DPA and Police Superintendents’ Association. The dynamic and challenging nature of our business offers us little time to pause and reflect, but the last few months have included lots of thoughtful conversations with others, prompting me to remember the many experiences during my 29 years in policing, including the last eight doing what I could to influence better disability inclusion and equality.
Countless things have changed and many of them for the better. When I walked through the gates at Sussex Police HQ in December 1993 (yes, the year after internet dial-up was first available in the UK!) domestic abuse without injury was considered to be a private matter, the age of consent for the gay community was 21 years-of-age, and discrimination due to disability was not illegal. As many of you know, I was diagnosed with cancer 18 years ago, and prior to the 1995 Disability Discrimination Act it was not unusual for those who shared their cancer diagnosis with their employer to be sacked on the spot – in history terms this is recent. Thankfully my Force was supportive, and I have tried to show my gratitude through the many years of commitment that followed.
Just eight years ago, it was not uncommon for key national police communications to list protected characteristics and not include disability. It may not always feel like it, but we have come a long way since then, with disability (including neurodiversity) featuring more within key discussions and a wider understanding of the benefits that come from supporting diverse abilities: developing talent and capacity by supporting what colleagues can do – and often very well – rather than disabling them due to a condition they may have to manage. Building support to sustain capacity will become increasingly important during the particular funding pressures I know policing will experience over the coming years.
The theme for this year’s Disability History Month is ‘Disability, Health and Wellbeing’. This offers an opportunity to understand how determined efforts to address ‘ill health and the non-deployable’ can have a perverse impact on those who have acquired lifelong conditions and have much to contribute – IF they are provided with the right support, and through good leadership. There is also an association between poor line management support for a member of their team living with a disability and the real risk of them experiencing additional mental health issues – supervisors and managers can choose to find solutions or promote exclusion.
During this forthcoming Disability History Month, please also take some time to understand how disability is a lifelong possibility for all and most colleagues, whether they be officers, staff or volunteers, and that those individuals are most likely to acquire or receive a diagnosis during their lives as I did, rather than being born with these conditions. Support the diverse abilities you may one day wish others to value in you.
The trust and confidence of all of our communities is essential and key to our legitimacy, so everyone needs to be behind the Police Race Action Plan, which will also benefit disabled Black colleagues. I have really enjoyed working with other national network leads for diverse groups to ensure intersectional needs are understood, and with suitable support and investment these networks could provide broader support as Business Reference Forums, also advising on the service we offer their diverse communities. I believe that how we value difference within the police service, both in terms of members of protected groups and how others treat them, influences how we then go on to serve diverse communities.
Earlier I mentioned how disability awareness and support is growing, and this is thanks to the efforts of many people I cannot name individually as they would fill this page! Whether you have played a positive part in the history of our Associations in my home Force, on a committee, as a senior leader, at the College of Policing, or have simply taken the time to be supportively curious and have some challenging conversations, I thank you for your voices, interest and time.
Several people have asked me what I will miss the most, and I have always replied, ‘The people’ – so many have been a part in my largely enjoyable time as a police officer. I always did my best for others and for the public; I did not always get it right, but it was always with integrity, a willingness to learn and with the best of intentions.
Keep safe, follow your purpose and create a better history for others. ∎
Inspector Tracy Betts of Essex Police has taken over from Simon Nelson as Interim President, pending the next Annual General Meeting in 2023. The DPA would like to thank Simon for his service, and wishes him a long and happy retirement.