After the HM Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) issued a warning last year that policing in England and Wales was in a “potentially perilous state”, a career in the Force has never looked so daunting: an 8% rise in crime, a budget to be slashed by £325 million, and a decline in officer numbers of 3,000 by 2021. And yet, the near- Sisyphean nature of these challenges has done little to dampen the sanguinity of Kensington & Chelsea’s final Borough Commander Detective Chief Superintendent Raffaele D’Orsi and his team. Over the course of two interviews with KCW Today, D’Orsi offered a series of candid insights into the world of policing and the immense toll, both professionally and personally, that a life of public service can bring.
“Murder, mayhem and pillaging sells newspapers” says D’Orsi. “Sadly, the everyday work that my colleagues deliver in extremely demanding circumstances does not”. Staring into the eyes of two journalists, the irony is not lost on D’Orsi: “some newspapers anyway”. But the Borough Commander is justified in his comments; in a typical day, only 30% of calls to an officer are crime-related and, as any newspaper reader would know, crime constitutes a far greater percentage of the column inches. “We want to show the community,” says D’Orsi, “that we are one of them and they are one of us”. While parochial news reportage does little to help achieve this goal, the 60% approval rating for the Metropolitan Police suggests that they are heading in the right direction. After D’Orsi ignores a quip about how the Prime Minister would dream of an approval rating that high, he launches into an analysis about the remaining 40%: “What are the social demographics behind this figure?” says D’Orsi, “and are we doing enough to engage with them? As our polling data becomes more sophisticated, we will be able to micro- assess which groups we are not engaging with”.
D’Orsi believes that one such group are economically disadvantaged young people and among this demographic, there has been a sharp upward trajectory in knife crime. Over a two-week period last month, there were 13 knife-related murders in the capital and fatal stabbings are at their highest level since 2010-11. In Kensington & Chelsea alone, knife crime has risen by 27%, which explains why the borough has the third highest number of stop and searches in London. “The ethics of how we are doing stop and search is key,” says D’Orsi. “We deliver 3% to 4% of all Met stop and searches between 4-500 each month.
“That’s positive to me because when I compare that to the complaints we receive, we are hugely reduced in comparison to the number that we had ten years ago and few are about its use”. Little is revealed in his facial expression, but the burly Borough Commander is clearly proud of these improvements: “What gives me the stamp of approval is when I meet community members at the Safer Neighbourhood AGM and everybody is supportive of the stop and search”. What is perhaps a bigger stamp of approval, however, is that young people are supportive of the searches: “I have young people coming and asking us to do more stop and searches!” says D’Orsi. “Because they want to feel safe too. If everyone else has stopped carrying knives, then they would stop too”.
Amid the groundswell of the #Metoo and #TimesUp movements, increasing transparency about sexual misconduct has led to a surge in the number of domestic abuse cases, of which 1.9 million UK adults suffer from. It is a deeply troubling statistic that, on average, a victim will be abused 34 times before they call the police, but D’Orsi is resolute: “We employ a very simple ethos, which I call the Mamma Mia test. “If you are not prepared for your mother to be treated or spoken to in the same way that you’re seeing, then get in there and stop it”. By taking this proactive approach, D’Orsi believes, victims are protected from being harmed further. “Those who suffer from domestic abuse are restricted and constricted for such a long period of their lives,” says D’Orsi. “but after they have gotten out of an abusive relationship, it is amazing to see them blossom”.
During his 30 years as a police officer, D’Orsi has come into regular contact with victims of crime and abuse, but it was not until August 2016 that the Borough Commander fully empathised. Having sustained a severe head injury while on duty, D’Orsi spent the next eleven months in recovery, learning how to speak and walk properly again. On March 15th this year, the perpetrator was sentenced for five years and four months. “I’ve never truly valued the understanding of what it means to get closure,” says D’Orsi. “It was not until I became the victim of a crime that I truly understood what a victim goes through”. D’Orsi’s bravery was later recognised by his staff at the annual Police Commendation Ceremony, which gave the public a rare glimpse into the level of sacrifice that an officer makes in their line of work.
The stories that emerged from the ceremony were deeply moving and, at times, harrowing. PC Collins, who collected an award for ‘outstanding professionalism, empathy and compassion’, explained: “Training is important but in certain situations being a police officer doesn’t even come into it. You see a person in front of you and you act on your basic human instincts. You have to be a human first, and be yourself ”. In training, officers are prepared for an innumerable number of eventualities and circumstances before they enter into the world of policing. From cyber-theft to terrorism, domestic violence to traffic control, homicide to paedophilia, the sheer enormity of their duties makes few jobs as dynamic, and demanding, as that of a police officer’s.
For any occupation that sits in the public eye, it is easy to overlook PC Collins’ final point: they are human too. In today’s media, through which stories of murder, mayhem and pillaging permeates into societal attitudes towards the police, one must distinguish the uniform from those wearing it. Over the coming months, KCW Today will be following some of the men
and women who form a vital part of London’s elite Metropolitan Police Service and the work they do for the sake of our protection.