The police?! Me? I couldn’t do that job….no, seriously….

by Never Volunteer

I didn’t even consider joining the police when I was growing up.

Thanks to a family full of serving or ex-military personnel I always thought I’d join up myself. For various reasons which I won’t bore you with it didn’t, and I floated from job to job for many years, not really settling down on anything that might be considered a worthwhile career.

Then within the space of a few months I joined my local force as a civilian support staff-member and as a Special Constable. And life changed pretty dramatically for me.

I need to clear up a few things right from the start.

First of all, I live in Scotland, and I mention this straight out as it makes a hell of a difference when talking about the police.

Secondly, most people think of the police and they think of the actual full-time officers themselves. Support staff are quite often vilified in the press as being faceless officious bureaucrats, too many in number doing unnecessary jobs. A lot of people have never even heard of Specials, and those who do often seem to ridicule us as either wannabe coppers who can’t make the grade or as power-hungry twats who just like to boss people around. I know members of both groups who fit these descriptions though I’m happy to say they are in the minority.

So, support staff first. We do the jobs that need to be done in the police but that don’t need a cop to do them. So thats everything from the real back-room stuff (typists, various admin roles) to logistical support (like the mechanics to fix the vehicles) to the front-facing staff (custody staff in the cells, control room operators, CCTV operators etc). I’ve heard some right horror stories about the numbers of police staff in some forces in England outnumbering the cops by two to one, however as far as I know it’s the other way round throughout Scotland, which in my humble opinion is how it should be. Another big difference is we don’t have PCSOs in Scotland, all the street work is done by actual cops. Generally us support staff do a pretty good job of taking care of the things that police officers shouldn’t really have to worry about. Do we insist on rigidly following procedure? Personally, I do most of the time for the very good reason that not following it might result in some smart arse defence solicitor getting his client off on a technicality, which is not good. However you never quite know what sort of situation is going to crop up in this line of work, so some flexibility is called for. And I know a lot of cops appreciate that.

Which brings me nicely onto Special Constables. We are (despite what some people think) police officers with all the powers of a police officer, and get issued the same kit. We don’t get anything like the same amount of training though, and selection isn’t nearly as rigorous, which can be a baaaad combination. Most Specials that I’ve met want to join the regulars in the very near future and decide to volunteer to see if they like it and to get some experience. Which aren’t bad reasons at all, unfortunately it does mean that the ‘career’ Specials (like me) are pretty thin on the ground, and most Specials don’t have a lot of experience because of this high turnover. I’ve done reasonably well so far as I realised quite early on that I didn’t really know much at all about the job and should just shut up and watch how the regulars do it first. I’m fairly well thought of by my regular colleagues (as far as I know!) and tend to work with the same shifts quite regularly. I can quite happily chat away to people – which is the most important ability a cop can have in my opinion, I can take a pretty good statement (being somewhat anal retentive has its advantages!) and although I’m not the biggest or fittest person in the shift, I can look after myself and am pretty aware of whats happening around me (anal retentive and mildly paranoid, that’s me).

When I first started going out as a Special, I was constantly in a weird state of mind combining nervousness, fear, anxiety, apprehension and excitement. After a good few years I’ve gotten to the point where my pulse only slightly goes up when we’re blue-lighting it to a call about a guy with a samurai sword. Although I still hate crowds with a vengeance, waiting outside the clubs at kicking out time is my idea of hell. Still, I really enjoy being a Special, it’s something different from what the majority of people experience, I genuinely do feel that I have made society slightly safer on the odd occasion, and I enjoy the banter with the guys and gals that I work with.

It does make me wonder though. I hate seeing that an increasingly sizeable number of people in our society don’t so much live as exist, going from day-to-day with no ambitions over and above the thought of getting pissed, getting high, getting laid or getting their next benefit payment. I hate hearing various people speak about policing like they have a clue about what it’s actually like on the streets when they plainly do not. I hate some of the criticism we get in the police, again mostly by people who have no idea what it involves and what we have to deal with. I hate our legal system, which is so hopelessly out of date and seemingly intent on bending over backwards for the bad guys. I hate seeing that very small minority of cops (regulars and specials) who do act like complete arses to people and give the rest of us a bad name. And I hate the fact that Specials get all sorts of criticism and disdain when we face the same risks and hardships our regular colleagues do.

To finish the first post, I’ll tell a war story instead of ranting on. We turned a house one early morning on a drugs warrant. In goes the front door and we all go charging in shouting our heads off, “POLICE WITH A WARRANT!!!’, very TV-ish. I go running up the stairs as planned to clear one of the bedrooms while my colleague takes the other room. Nobody in my room, a quick search confirms it. I go through to help my colleague as she was fairly new. Open the door to find her holding a wee boy, 2 or 3 years old. He’s not worried in the slightest by all the shouting and actually seems to be quite happy to have a new friend. Mum and dad are down the stairs with another couple of junkie mates in the living room shooting up when we put the door in. We get to searching, and I do the room I initially went in and it finally sinks in that it’s the bedroom of a wee girl, probably about 10 years old. Turns out she’s away staying with the grandparents. I  search through her belongings, even more reluctantly lift what looks like a tick-list, a few SIM cards and some paper money from a box high on a shelf, out of her reach. Some of the cops come up the stairs to help with the searching, much to the delight of the wee boy, who seems to decide that all the strange people dressed in black are here solely for the purpose of being his new playmates, which amuses everyone no end. End result – a few arrests, various drugs seized, another small time dealer temporarily out of business. Decent enough result. Until I think about it later in the pub. About how the cheery wee boy with the drug-taking and drug-dealing parents is probably screwed and has a minimal chance of a decent life. About how screwed up it is that his parents were downstairs with their dodgy pals selling and taking drugs whilst he was upstairs. About how, except for a twist of fate, I almost scared a 10-year-old girl shitless by charging into her room at stupid o clock in the morning shouting my head off. And about how it would ultimately change very little as the people we arrested would probably be back on the streets quite quickly and between now and the court case they’d be dealing again. It was the sort of deep and meaningful thoughts that could potentially turn a guy into a basket case of self-pity and remorse and muchos depressing thoughts.

Then I had an epiphany. Just crack on with it. I didn’t make the world, I just live in it and deal with some of the more crap parts. And the next time I hear someone speak about how the police are shit, and how we do x y and z wrong, and how Specials are just pretend police, I’ll just smile, and nod, and think ‘You don’t know a bloody thing about this job, so your opinion is meaningless.’

So I cracked on, and had another pint.

And it was good.