Column: When does bravery begin?

Dr Alan Billings.

Dr Alan Billings.

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The terrorist attack in London in which a police officer died reminded me of a conversation I had recently with a South Yorkshire police officer.

She was recovering at home from injuries she had received while on duty. We had a cup of tea and a chat.

We had met briefly at a police awards ceremony where she and a colleague had been commended for their bravery.

These ceremonies happen each year across the county to recognise and celebrate outstanding work that particular police officers, PCSOs and staff do.

For obvious reasons, perhaps, South Yorkshire Police have often been reluctant to draw attention to any good work because it can trigger immediate criticism, especially on social media, from those who only want to remember past failings.

But if the police service is to move to a better place, it has to be able to point to excellence with confidence.

It needs to be able to celebrate what is good and take pride in it.

The police officer I called on had also been recommended for a national award for bravery.

But she didn’t feel this was quite right. ‘I wasn’t brave,’ she said, ‘I was just doing my job.’

This is not the first time an officer who has been commended for bravery has said this to me.

And they often go on to say, as this officer did, ‘Any of my colleagues would have done just the same.’ And that is true.

It made me think.

Perhaps we are wrong in locating the point of bravery at the time of an incident, whatever it is.

The officers will do at that moment what they have been trained to do to keep us all safe, and to do it without hesitation.

Much of what happens may be instinctive by then. It is how they deal with every situation every day, it’s just that on this day something out of the ordinary came along.

This doesn’t mean officers are not brave. It just means that the point at which they opt to be brave is not at that moment, but further back.

It’s when they first join the service and it’s every time they start their shift.

They know then that every day they potentially put themselves in harm’s way – for our sake.

The bravery award simply recognises what that means.

On this day they were the one who answered the call and the bravery that is there every day was revealed.

She was brave and she deserved the award.

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