In 2004, I was waiting on a tube platform and spotted posters asking: ‘Police – could you?’. I thought about that a lot and realised, at that point in time, I couldn’t. I didn’t feel certain enough that, in difficult situations, I would have good enough judgement to always do the right thing. Fast forward ten years and I’d done a fair bit of growing up. I’d worked in a police force and spent a lot of time with officers – both regulars and Specials. I saw how their work involved a hugely complex mix of skills in communication, split-second reactions, legal knowledge, and protecting the most vulnerable in our communities. I reckoned that, finally, I was up to the challenge and had time, skills, and commitment to offer. Turns out, that decision was the easy bit…
My journey from application to warrant card is a story for another time, but I’m four stones lighter, I laugh in the face of the dreaded bleep test, can reel off mnemonics like my times tables, have a new appreciation of effective fabric conditioner, and know the closing times of every good take-out place in Brighton. I’ve also found personal strength I never believed I had, fallen into step with ambulance and coastguard colleagues trying to save lives, and told a mother that she won’t ever see her son again.
My intention is to remain as a ‘career Special’. Because recruitment for regular officers has been so scarce over the past few years, most of those training with me as Specials did so as a route into policing as a profession. I love my day job and I have no plans to give it up. I believe that having Specials with workplace experience outside policing can bring real benefits to forces – not as substitutes for regular officers but to boost numbers and specialist skills, bringing in expertise in areas where forces aren’t yet able to offer training.
At a time when officer numbers have been reduced in all forces, I see how claims of Specials being recruited as ‘policing on the cheap’ come about, and how some officers feel that the money spent training Specials could be invested in training regular officers instead. I don’t think I can make that situation any better by quitting – instead I show up and do a good job where I can. We’re lucky; in Brighton, regular and PCSO colleagues are incredibly generous and step in often with offers of support, development, and opportunities. We have some brilliant long-term Specials who offer help and guidance to those of us who still have a shiny hi-vis and a squeaky stab vest. Every time I book on duty, I am grateful for the knowledge, support and humour of my colleagues, uniformed or not, paid or voluntary.
Not every shift is a good one. I’ve cried in the locker room, lain awake all night worrying I missed something in a search, and every week I wonder if I’m good enough to be doing this and wearing this uniform. Even on the toughest shift, though, the trust placed in me makes me stand up taller and listen more patiently, because I can choose to do this or not to do this – and I choose to turn up, turn out, and do what I can.
Featured image credit: Officers on beat by West Midlands Police. CC BY-SA 2.0 via Flickr.