My Lightbulb Moment

I was a police sergeant for West Midlands Police with 27 years police service. I am also a fully trained Restorative Justice practitioner, trainer and RJ Case Manager. I say the “also” bit as I was aware that this position is quite rare within policing and I have faced negativity within the RJ world, purely because I am a police officer.

A speaker at an RJ event once told the room;

“the police don’t know the difference between RJ and a Community Resolution”.

I remember feeling outraged that I was thought of in that way, that just because I was a police officer, I wasn’t a professional RJ practitioner. I understand now where that point of view comes from after having many a meeting with senior officers, but I still often see a look of disappointment or confusion when someone finds out I am a police officer.

Any police officer can tell you about the horrific jobs they have to attend, so I won’t bore you with those, but on reflection, I guess I have always been victim-led as an officer. I remember quite early on in my service, helping a lady that came into the police station to report that her handbag had been stolen. One of the things she was most upset about was losing her cheque book cover from Barclays. She told me it was a beautiful bright blue leather cover that she had been given by the bank years ago. After dealing with the crime and doing the paperwork, and saying goodbye to her, I popped to the nearest Barclays in the city centre which was on my beat and asked the bank manager if they could send her a new one. The manager agreed but what I didn't know was that when he posted it to her, he popped a note in with it to let the lady know that i had requested it for her. I came into work about a week later to a beautiful bunch of flowers and a Thank you card from the lady. Her note said that she was so touched by my beautiful gesture that she had to say Thankyou to me in some way. I was so grateful that I had made her feel a little bit better, and it gave me a lovely warm feeling for a long time!

So, I guess reflecting back on my service, and how I have always tried to treat victims, it is no surprise that I landed, what I considered to be, the very best job in policing.

It was 18th February 2013 and my Detective Chief Inspector (DCI) called me out of the blue. My initial thought was “oh no, what have I done wrong”! He told me to come to his office at 3pm before I went home for the day. It was 11am, so I spent the next few hours trying to recall all the jobs I had been to over recent weeks and wondering where I had gone wrong, until eventually 3pm came and I was sat in front of him.

#NewJob He said, “I have a new job for you”. Puzzled, but respectful, I asked what he wanted me to do and he said, “what do you know about restorative justice”? I told him that I knew that there were a few people trained on my team, but in all honesty, that was the totality of what I knew (I wish I had one of those little emoji’s here with their hands covering its eyes to hide my shame!). My DCI went on to tell me about an exciting new project that he wanted to get off the ground and he needed someone who was passionate about victims to run the project. His words were, “I have no expectations but get yourself trained and see what you can do with it”. He gave me an additional two members of staff and told me that we would be working in partnership with one of the largest social housing associations in Birmingham, using restorative techniques to resolve ASB and long-standing neighbour disputes.

That evening I went home and did what everyone else does…yep, I googled #restorative

justice. Thankfully, I came across the RJC website and was inspired by many stories written by victims and offenders. If you need inspiration i would encourage you to visit their website, it truly is heart-warming to see so many wonderful stories of victims becoming victors!

Shortly after, I was trained to carry out RJ conferencing and one of my first cases was, what I later saw as, my light bulb moment. As the project was new to policing, we couldn’t sit back and wait for the referrals to come through. So each morning, I would trawl through the list of calls to the police looking for suitable cases. This is a great tip for any Restorative Justice manager. Don't sit back and expect those cases to come to you, in my experience, they wont!

One morning, I came across a call from a lady who had called police as “her last resort”. She had been complaining to her landlord for over 2 years about her noisy neighbours and had finally been so desperate she called the police. A few days later, after booking an appointment to see her, I was sat at her dining table while she cried. I wanted to cry with her. She described the torment she was suffering at the hands of the 4 boys who lived next door. Their age range was 9 through to 14 and she was in danger of losing her job as a carer because she would constantly oversleep due to not being able to get to sleep at night. She told me how she had prayed to God that he would send someone to help her. My heart went out this lady as I saw the true effect of what police would usually categorise as a neighbour dispute. I suddenly realised that being a victim of ASB, can in some cases, be just as bad as being a victim of a serious crime.

Where was this lady’s safe place?

Every night she was being re-victimised. I promised to do everything I could to help her and I genuinely meant it.

The next day, I went to visit the family next door. I admit, even after my neutrality training, I had a preconceived idea of what to expect. How foolish I was! A lady greeted me with a warm smile and invited me into her home to sit with her husband and herself and discuss the problems. During that conversation she broke down in tears, describing how hard she tries to keep the noise down, and get the children to bed, but the neighbour keeps banging the walls and shouting at her children. This makes her husband angry, so they shout back. Her husband went on to say that two of his boys were autistic and while he does his best to control their outbursts, he is very often at work and his wife is very tired. They admitted to shouting at their neighbour and both wanted a better relationship with her, wanting to be friends again, like it used to be.

After a few more preparation meetings, I arranged the conference at the local community centre, a short walk from their homes. I had made the conscious decision to take the boys into the conference as I believed that it would help.

After 3 hours, I watched, stunned, as the 4 children were play fighting over who was going to hold the neighbour’s hand to walk home and the two women walking arm in arm with each other like best friends. I had seen tears from all the adults present due to the emotion in the room. I had seen genuine reciprocal hugs between the neighbours and promises made to help each other more. I stood there at the window watching them walk home, thinking how utterly powerful that restorative meeting had been, and I felt a surge of pride in helping to make that possible. It was the best feeling I had had from my work in a very long time and I was hooked!

A few years later, the complainant retired happily to Jamaica. She sent me a thank you card before she left calling me her angel sent from God.

The feeling that my first conference gave me, will never fade, and the experience is something that keeps me passionate about what we do. Over the years, due to our successes, we continued to grow and 7 years later, I had a dedicated team of 7 police officers. With the financial support of both the West Midlands Police and our PCC, we had one of the largest multi-agency RJ Hubs in the UK. In 2018 the West Midlands RJ Service was awarded the RSQM. When we were told we had passed, I felt like we had finally, and rightfully, been recognised as a good RJ provider.

Our success cannot always be measured by numbers.

It is how the victims feel they have been treated, if they have got closure or peace, and also by using a more holistic approach around what we can do for the offender to help them. With this approach, we saw the reoffending rates reduce dramatically.

The below figures will give you an idea of just what we achieved in the last 5 years and shows what can be achieved when partnerships work:

• Over 2,500 referrals.

• More than 1,000 restorative processes conducted, over 500 of these cases were direct face-to-face conferences.

• No further calls for service occur in 87.5% of ASB cases since going through a conference.

• For hate crimes, only 6.25% of offenders went on to reoffend after participating in a RJ process, compared to 43.75% of offenders following criminal justice process.

• We had a rate of 98% victim and offender satisfaction.

Since that first restorative justice conference, I have not wanted to do anything else. I do remember that evening and my mind wandering back to policing and thinking how much more we can use this approach. Restorative Justice has since been my absolute passion ever since, and after achieving that success for West Midlands Police, I am constantly finding new ways in which to use restorative practice within policing and now the wider public. I cannot wait to help more people understand the power of what Restorative Justice can bring.

I may have left policing but I’m not ready to leave the RJ world just yet!

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