On the 29th of March 2016, it will be one year to the day since I started training to become a Special Constable. I was on a training course recently and my colleagues, who are far longer in service than me, were asking me if the job was what I expected it to be. I replied that it was, but it got me thinking about the changes I've seen in the last year and the lessons I've learned. I thought this might be handy advice for those of you looking to join, or a throwback for those of you "old sweats"!
1. "Regular customers" are often the most polite and compliant custodies you will have.
I cannot count the number of times I have been sworn at, borderline assaulted, and been obstructed by people who have never encountered or had little contact with the criminal justice system. On the other hand, I might deal with someone who has 30, 40, 50 previous convictions, who is the most compliant and cooperative custody around. Just because someone is a career criminal, doesn't necessarily make them a bad person.
2. Don't believe everything you hear.
This goes for everything. Caller reporting 20 males fighting with baseball bats in the street? It's more likely 4 or 5, and it's most likely a bit of fisticuffs over nothing. Female complainer making a claim of repeated domestic abuse over the past 20 years? It transpires that she'd been plotting to leave her husband for several months and had exaggerated claims of his controlling and possessive behaviour in order to get him out of the way to move her new man into the house. People make things up, people lie, and people are good at it - more often than you'd like to think.
3. Don't panic.
Might be a bit of an obvious one, but I used to go into calls fearing the worst. A concern for welfare would result in a body. A missing person would result in a kidnapping, or a body. A knife call would result in a desperate roll-around trying to avoid being stabbed. A 20-man fight would result in a panic button activation. I'd be deploying baton and spray left, right and centre. The truth is, you don't know what you're dealing with until it's in front of you. I've learned to stop assuming the worst and think of a logical plan without any assumptions. Think on your feet, don't try and plan everything before it's even happened.
4. OST is not real life.
I felt way more equipped to deal with violent situations after my OST, but the truth is that I've never used any of the techniques when I've been out working, except the use of cuffs and restraints. I can't count the number of times I've rolled about with someone trying to get a cuff on them and you end up cuffing them "any which way but loose" as my instructor used to say. So you've cuffed them rear back to back and both palms are facing the same way? It's fine, we can swap that round. Don't worry about doing it perfectly, just worry about doing it.
5. People do live in poverty in this country.
I have been in houses where children are being brought up with holes in their clothes, not enough food, a filthy house, and bare walls. I've seen homes that are at the point of ruin. I never expected to see it, but it does exist, and not always through fault or criminality.
6. You don't need as much sleep as you think you do.
I used to sleep for 10+ hours at the weekend. Those were the days. Now I survive on 6 or 7 hours over a lateshift weekend - with some assistance!
7. Caffeine is life.
See above. If you join and you don't like coffee, I hope you like Monster/Red Bull because you're going to need it.
8. Sometimes it's boring, but sometimes it's really busy.
You might get a locus, or a constant ob. You could drive around for an entire 10 hour shift and not catch a thing. Your partner might get stuck in the office with paperwork that you can't help with. It's not always as exciting as the telly would have you believe! But then you get shifts where you don't stop - I have been on a 13 and a half hour shift before. It was not ideal, but I was busy the whole time. I've been bounced about from call to call, bottoming out jobs and on to the next one. It happens. And it doesn't necessarily happen at the times you'd expect it to.
9. Your "normal" friends and family might not get it.
I don't have any friends who I knew prior to the job that were specials, so when I started working every weekend and fitting my friends and family around that, they really didn't understand like I thought they would. I'm pretty sure I've lost some friends over it, but at the end of the day it's only happened because they weren't true friends to begin with. You will learn quickly who is important enough to make time for and who isn't - not everyone thinks it's admirable, and not everyone likes the police.
10. You would do anything for your colleagues, and they'd do anything for you.
I used to think that the job would be like my regular day job - I have colleagues who are great, but I wouldn't go out of my way to help. In the police service the only time I find myself really fearing the worst is when a red button goes off or an assistance shout goes out. Everyone will pile out of the office for two people, race across the city and run to help no matter what they're running into. It's worse being on the receiving end - I've put out an assistance shout myself, and what was happening wasn't as bad as listening to the panic in the voices of others as they made their way over. The service really is like a family and no matter how long you've been in, everyone always helps their own.
What lessons did you learn compared to when you first started?