Happy Valley shows how policing should be done – how does the BBC get this, and not the Met?

I’m not usually a fan of police dramas. After 30 years working for the Metropolitan police, in a career that has spanned shootings, hostage cases, murders, riots and domestic violence, I am routinely frustrated by the inaccuracy of television’s portrayal of policing ( I know, this is sad). But then Happy Valley has come along again, and instead of resisting, I decided to watch it.

What have I learned? Apart from the fact that police procedurals are still pretty unrealistic on TV (lost mobile phone data analysis; a survivor of a kidnapping and sexual assault joining the force and being allowed to work in the area where the offenses recently took place), I was most struck. that the writer, Sally Wainwright, and the BBC commissioners had realized something that the police still haven’t: that diversity matters. I was the only handsome person out of 300 new officers when I joined the force in 1983, and you could count the number of Black and Asian chief superintendents even when I retired in 2013.

It was a joy to see Ramon Tikaram play Ch Supt Praveen Badal in Happy Valley – the man in charge of the Primary Command Unit that the main character Sarah Lancashire works for. It is worth noting that the Met currently does not have a single BCU color commander. Although I noticed in series two that the wardrobe department got the wrong shoulder – a superintendent rather than the superintendent – ​​it’s still a joy to see this portrayal on screen.

Meanwhile, Sergeant Catherine Cawood (played by Lancashire) is a lesson in the realities of policing, and shows how it should be done. Take his monologue in the opening scene of the first season of Happy Valley. She is talking to Liam, a young man who is standing on a climbing frame in a park and is threatening to set himself on fire. “I’m Catherine by the way,” she says. “I’m 47, I’m divorced, I live with my sister – a recovering heroin addict – I’ve got two grown-up children. A dead person and a person who does not speak to me.” It is brilliant, and human. It also shows how police officers, like many of us, face challenges in our private lives that can create conflicts of interest.

Related: A lowly sergeant, but Happy Valley’s Catherine Cawood tops the police | Rachel Cooke

But these can also improve our jobs. Catherine rescues the young man long before the highly trained hostage negotiator (in my experience, usually a white man) arrives.

In season two, Catherine was awarded the Queen’s Police medal – nominated by senior officers. Senior serving officers would do well to look at this incident and reflect on it – too often awards like this go to their senior colleagues, rather than the rank and file on the front line. As part of their homework, senior officers may demand at the start of the third season to see what hard-working officers really think of them.

We see that Catherine is met by a senior officer and a pathologist from the Home Office, who asks her, laughing, “What’s his favorite sandwich?”, when she gives them details of a body being dredged from a reservoir. She returns with full details of who the corpse is, based on her deep knowledge of the community and because she used him once, she would recognize his teeth anywhere. She then leaves the men, joking about their “twats” breath as she walks away.

Then we find out that Catherine is being investigated for racism after encouraging an Asian officer to apply for a fictional role working on alien spaceships that the high command asked her to write for him. This shows how police leadership not only often fails to apply common sense, but as a result becomes bureaucratic and ignores the obvious.

Take, for example, the number of Met officers accused of racism, and the epidemic of sexual violence perpetuated by male officers against women, both in their private lives and at work. Meanwhile, homophobia is rampant in the police leading to the tragic deaths of young people. Troubled forces, including the Met, could learn a lot from programs like Happy Valley.

I was told 40 years ago, working for the Met, that I was naive and didn’t understand how the world worked when I wanted to see senior officers of colour. Well, I make no apologies for criticizing the glacial pace of change in the police. If the writer of Happy Valley and the BBC can clearly see what the next generation of police and their leaders look like, why can’t forces like the Met do the same?

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