Chief Superintendent John Sutherland is a leader – we know this, because people follow him and listen keenly to what he has to say. That’s all you can judge it on, at the end of the day. He inspires people – he certainly inspired me. No doubt he will continue to do so for many years to come. Who was it that said, “A leader without followers is just somebody else out for a walk”?! I’ve seen plenty of senior people out for a walk on their own, over the years. Mr Sutherland is not one of them and this week, his final days in police service, I want to pay my own small tribute using the medium we’ve both found key to expressing ourselves – the blog!
It’s been my privilege to spend time in John’s company over the last few years and I’ve enjoyed that immensely. We co-presented at the Superintendent’s Association on policing and mental health – my own perspective on some of the external challenges we face followed by him cautioning his peers on the internal conflicts we face in policing as we try to rise to them. He’s consistently encouraged me to keep chipping away at this agenda and to draw enthusiasm that we are having a discernible impact on the national debate about mental health – but he’s not infrequently reminded me to look after myself, conscious of pressures he knows we all have. Ours is an important role to play, but we also need to understand the impact on ourselves and our families to protect against an experience like his own.
And this is what has often been missing in policing, for me – leadership in recognising the impact upon police officers of policing and the police organisation. Human beings are individuals and have finite capacity, they can caused to break. Perhaps those of us who didn’t quite break but got bloody close can still recognise that we’ve taken many mental knocks along the way, as we no doubt took the physical ones. Resilience is such a misunderstood concept; it’s not about what may have ground you to a halt – it’s also about having the courage to stand up again and find a new way to contribute. Mr Sutherland stood up again and inspired in new ways, on a broader platform, than he had done running some of London’s busiest boroughs.
Please watch this, if you haven’t already –
So, somewhere out there a man who used to be a boy in blue and became a police commander will enter a new phase of a life well lived, following service well served. And because we know he ‘bleeds blue’, like so many of us, we can only imagine this must feel full of daunting uncertainty. Given John’s reputation as a leader and a spokesman who has helped raise awareness of how mental health issues can affect any of us, I suspect he won’t be too far away from it all. Like all those men and women who ‘enter the hurting places’, who have been there and done it, who didn’t stand by, but gave of themselves, he will always be a part of that wider police family because he’s one of us.
And regardless of everything that will soon be history, he can proudly retire from the Metropolitan Police and rest assured that every contact does leave a trace – and his was nothing but positive, enduring and inspiring.
Sir, it was a privilege, thank you. Stand down: we’ve got this.
Winner of the Mind Digital Media Award.