Crossing the Line: Lessons from a Life on Duty by John Sutherland

Today I’m sharing my thoughts on Crossing The Line by John Sutherland. I’ve had this in my TBR for a while, but recent events have really made me think more about it, and made me push it up that reading list. Here’s what it’s all about:

Source: Owned Copy
Release Date: 14 May 2020
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson

About the Book

There is much more to policing than tackling crime. Every one of us will need the help of an officer at some point in our lives, often when we’re at our most vulnerable. Yet how much do we really know about the realities of policing? Using real life stories from his twenty-five years of service with the Metropolitan Police, John Sutherland invites us beyond the cordon tape to bear witness to all he has seen. In doing so, he offers a hopeful vision for how we can tackle some of the biggest challenges facing society today.

Includes a new Afterword on policing during the Covid-19 pandemic

My Thoughts

There is no getting away from it. The Police, most evidently of late and especially the Met, as an organisation and, in some cases, as individuals, have not received a good press. Quite rightly so. Misogyny, racism, violence, abuse and, the most heinous of all recent incidents, the abduction, assault and murder of Sarah Everard, have all served to dent public confidence in the very people who are meant to be there to protect us from all of this. The people who are meant to enforce law and order being responsible for some of the most bewildering and sickening headlines. It is easy, therefore to forget that the vast majority of those who serve are good people. Very good people. They very people who run into danger as others are running away.

John Sutherland, to me, is one of those very good ones. I was fortunate a couple of years ago to hear him in conversation with fellow former Police Officer, Matt Johnson, and his passion for and love of the job was so clear. It’s a job that has cost him dearly, and his first book, Blue, is an emotional and compelling look at the toll the job took on his mental health. I was absorbed by it, and would heartily recommend a read if you have time. Crossing The Line is not quite a memoir, although it does include some more moments from the author’s time serving in the police, alongside some of the real life incidents that impacted friends and colleagues. More so for this book, it is a dissection of the challenges that are facing the police, both in the days in which he served at varying grades within the Met, through to the challenges of modern day policing and the impact of the continual budget cuts and conflicting priorities that they have all faced.

The book is broken down into twelve chapters, in a way serving as almost as a series of essays on different aspects of policing. From tackling domestic abuse, to the impacts of alcohol and drugs on society and the most vulnerable, the author paints an often brutally clear picture of life on the streets. This is not a ‘woe is me, we had a really hard job’ portrayal of policing, it is a warts and all recounting of both the bad and the good of life in the police service. The book begins with the statement that the author is ‘no blind apologist’ for the police, their past and present, and that is certainly made clear from that point on. I part listened to the audiobook, part read the book, and to be honest the audiobook, read by the author himself, really captured the sincerity, passion, and compassion, of the man behind the words.

There are startling statistics, ones that will make your toes curl and certainly acted as an eye opener to me. There is an honesty about the many differing targets that officers were set in terms of crime clear up rates, and how they focused more on the quick wins rather than the underlying causes of crime. Imagine a structure that prioritises car crime over domestic violence and rape? Well, that’s what we had, because car crime is infinitely easier to resolve. That honesty, that glimpse behind the headline statistics that can, after all, tell you just what you want to hear, is, in some ways, shocking but probably also anticipated.

This is not a quick book to read, the nature of how it is presented allowing you to spread the book easily over a couple of weeks if you choose to. But for me, as someone who has never had to face the impossible choices the police have faced, never had to decide to arrest a drunk for no other reason than because a night in the cells will keep him safer than leaving him on the streets, it is certainly an enlightening and important read. It’s too easy to get lost in the headlines, the extremes of those who commit heinous acts whilst feeling protected by the uniform, and those who lose their lives, or their health, in acts of true heroism, and forget that there are literally thousands of hard working individuals out there, people who do take their roles and responsibilities seriously, and who do deserve our respect.

Most of us only see the police on some of the worst days of our lives, others will come into contact in a moment of conflict, where tensions are high and prejudice, potentially on both sides, exaggerates and inflates emotions. The reality of policing is far more complex, part crime solving, part community liaison and, sadly, far too much politics these days, but all of this is presented to us in a balanced and open way by a man who clearly still cares deeply for his former career. Whether you’re a police officer or not, probably especially if not, this is definitely recommended.

About the Author

John Sutherland is a married father of three, who lives with his wife and children in South London. He joined the Metropolitan Police in 1992, serving for more than 25 years until his retirement in 2018. Having won the Baton of Honour as the outstanding recruit in his training school intake, he rose through the ranks to become a highly respected senior officer. During his career, he worked in a variety of roles across the Capital, both in uniform and as a detective. He is an experienced Hostage & Crisis Negotiator and Premier League Football Match Commander. His last operational posting was as the Borough Commander for Southwark.

John is the author of the Sunday Times bestseller, ‘Blue: A Memoir’, which tells the remarkable stories of his policing life and describes his battle with crippling depression. ‘Crossing the Line’ is his second book.

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