Category Archives: Blog

You are part of our history

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.

DPA statement following the sad passing of
Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

We are incredibly sad to hear of the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, for whom it has always been a privilege to serve our communities. She was and always will be an inspiration to us all, particularly to those of all ages who live with challenging conditions and constantly demonstrate resilience, persevering relentlessly and with a strong sense of duty.

The Disabled Police Association sends its heartfelt condolences to the Royal Family and pledges to continue with this strong sense of responsibility and commitment to those who need us, as she would have expected and on behalf of the King.

Simon Nelson
Disabled Police Association

Risking offence

by Simon Nelson
President | Disabled Police Association

Welcome to my latest one-page blog which I publish, in the hope they will stimulate thoughts and discussion without taking up too much of your busy time. Please feel free to contribute, challenge and share any comments and ideas about the points raised.

On this occasion I would like to share some pragmatic thoughts and observations about our use of language and the impact this has; how we might respond to that; and how we may explore ways in which we can finally achieve something better for all. This is also respecting the many colleagues I have met at all levels who genuinely care about others, even if they are not always effective or consistent in how they demonstrate it.

The low points in my working week often include the latest examples of what has been said to disabled colleagues who remain committed to serving effectively in a variety of roles, despite what they need to manage as their ‘normal’. This week has included further examples of my peer group in other parts of the country referring to those with disabilities as ‘the sick, the lame and the lazy’, as well as an officer being asked by one if they had ‘soiled themselves’ due to the way they walked because of their musculoskeletal condition. This occurs across the country, so please do not immediately think of reasons why it would not happen where you work. I have mentioned previously the 2019 NPCC Diversity and Inclusion Survey, delivered by Durham University and revealing, amongst other things, that 42% of respondents with disabilities had been subjected to ‘incivility’ relating to their condition during the previous 12 months. Currently there is still no tangible plan to address this – the impact on individuals continues and some continue to leave.

I need to be clear that much of what happens would not necessarily amount to formal misconduct, and we should recognise that the challenges and routine exposure to trauma experienced by police officers requires cohesive and familiar police teams to cope with that. Within these there is often humour at the expense of others, but I would never wish to see the loss of good humour and supportive humour I have experienced and enjoyed at its best.

It is worth colleagues considering two things: what they say (the intention may be innocuous), and the impact that may have on the individual. Are they making fun of something that cannot be changed, such as a disability, gender, sexual orientation or other differences – a difference that may have caused challenges and derogatory comments for many years? The recipient smiles or laughs in response, but please understand that there is a pressure to do that and beneath that could be a profound effect on their levels of confidence and sense of belonging. Consider how inconsistent this might be with how we feel about them as a valued member of the team when they ask for backup.

Words are sometimes used within teams the equivalent of which would never be tolerated for other protected groups. In June this year the musical artist Lizzo included the word ‘spaz’ in the lyrics for her song ‘Grrrls’. In fairness to her, she responded positively and removed it when objections were raised about its derogatory association with those who live with cerebral palsy and other conditions that cause involuntary movements – but the fact remains that some of these terms are still tolerated and regarded as normal in society.

I have mentioned to Chief Officers and others the opportunity of having a ‘Rethink your Banter’ programme or similar, perhaps produced by the College of Policing, that supports police forces to facilitate discussions about differences within teams and the impact of issues I mentioned earlier. This would not be ‘training’ – simply time to reflect, speak openly and consider the impact of language and behaviour – a team contract supported by professional and supportive supervisors. Yes, this creates a time demand, however the positive impact on individual wellbeing and performance offers a good return on investment.

Finally, I would like to mention the role and responsibilities of staff associations, including the DPA, and the role we can play in this. Very often senior leaders are wary of having conversations relating to protected differences, due to the perceived risks of ‘getting it wrong’ or causing offence. Some conversations include necessary challenges, but I believe it is essential to support others to be comfortable with feeling uncomfortable with what needs to change. In the process of being supportively curious some will get it wrong and how we then respond could encourage or inhibit progress. If we are proportionate in how we react, inform, and give others who are not obviously or routinely offensive permission to get it wrong, we are more likely to achieve the meaningful diversity, equality, and inclusion we seek – through strength in unity and authenticity. ∎