‘Dear Chief Constable. I would like to join the police. Can you let me know when and how I can please? Thank you, Harry’.
Maybe a little too frank and to the point and lacking some descriptive content, but it’s the best I could do at the age of 10 years old just after I visited Newquay Police Station open day. I received a letter from an inspector in reply, and although I don’t think I still have it, the words I remember. They were welcoming words, saying how Devon and Cornwall Police looked forward to seeing my application when I was 19 years old. My career plan was set. In school I accomplished 6 O’levels mostly grade c and a touch typing certificate. I applied to join the Police when I was 19… and was rejected.
And ever since, having got in on the second attempt, when someone asks to have a visit to the station or to see around the unit, I do everything I can to help, because I know that if I had not received a letter back, or if it had been patronising negativity, it could have sent me on a completely different career path, one of which I am sure I would not have received such personal satisfaction.
26 years later on and I am an experienced firearms officer, who is an ‘Operational Firearms Commander’ a team leader basically, a Firearms Tactics advisor, a Pursuit Tactics Advisor, a Senior Investigating Officer in Fatal and Serious Road Traffic Collisions and a VIP Protection officer. I have stood next to President Obama, I have been side by side to Her Majesty the Queen on 3 separate occasions, spent further time with numerous other Royals and I have spent intimate holiday time with leading politicians. I am a lucky, lucky person, and I realise how lucky I am, but having tried to study why it is so, it has become clear to me. And here’s how.
Certain quotes I’ve heard are somewhat cheesy, but bang on. ‘Never sit in the comfortable seat’ for example. In other words, don’t be satisfied with going to work and doing what you know best and leaving it at that. Do the things that stretch you. Do the things that may make you fail the first time. It feels crap. I have felt it on my final advanced driving test, when I failed as I ‘kept my head down’. I drove like my grand mother trying not to make mistakes. I had a week of wondering if the traffic department was a lost career now. I felt sick to the stomach, and I admit to shedding a couple of selfish tears in private. My world was falling apart. The next week I drove it like I had stolen it and passed!
I applied for the 10 week firearms officer course and I couldn’t shoot for toffee. The constant assessments and training were taking their toll. The psychological stress was getting to me. I kept plugging away and then suddenly, there was the sound of angels and the sun glowed orange and the birds started singing in the trees, as it came to me, and now I find shooting an utter pleasure and qualification shoots the equivalent to a weekend golf practise.
The Operational Firearms commanders (OFC) course went okay, until my usual ‘instructivitus’ hit me. What do they think I should be doing now? Shouldn’t I be doing this? What is the trick with this assessment? No Harry, just do it as you see it and don’t mess it up. Give me a live job any day, and I outwardly revel in it. I love the way a team of people bring the whole incident together and hopefully to a safe conclusion. I like the fact an incident could go either way, but the bad guy is caught, and no one is hurt. Chuck a bit of adrenalin in there too, and it’s all the more satisfying. But give me an assessment, and I feel that sickness again. I hate it and I failed my first OFC assessment . So I had to wait 2 months before another course with ‘out of Force’ instructors. A course that was 12 hour days, more stress, more assessments and then the final assessments. And all that time thinking I could never be a Sergeant on Armed Response if I couldn’t lead my officers into operations. My pride would make me find another job within the police. But I passed, and I believe having done the course twice, even though different in content, I am the better for it.
The search training was a new search technique for buildings. It has come in as better and better systems come through, learned from the military from the latest war or conflict. Everyone hates these new courses and I have about 5 systems in my mind having been in the department for so long! You have chocolate coming out of your ears trying to bin the last system you have been learning for the past 5 years, in order to learn the next system. But you have to know it, and you have to know it well, as others lives depend on it, so you just buckle down. Except there was too much chocolate coming from my ears and I couldn’t shake the old system, and so with some others I had to re take the course, but by day 2, I was skipping through the hall ways wondering why I had found it so difficult before. The penny had dropped.
The search training changed again completely after just 2 years. It is better, but again, learning a new system with so many variables. Most of the Armed Response Officers hate the course, as so much relies upon it. Assessment day is horrible, but the relief on passing it first time is amazing.
When I list these failures, having not mentioned my couple of Sergeants interviews and other minor hick ups, I do come across as a bit of a failure, but I guess I just had good people around me who had faith in me. I could have become bitter and blamed the system or individuals as I do hear that from time to time, and people leave to take safer routes, but I have learned that if you try and just keep going, then it comes eventually. It is deeply embarrassing. It is a horrible situation which you may have to tread water with for several weeks or months in order to rectify a mistake, but you just have to do it. Otherwise, the rewards will not come.
I didn’t feel I would have stood a chance for the course of VIP protection officer. 3500 officers and only 150 Armed Response officers from that at the time in the Force, and yet only 15 VIP officers. I felt I would be thought upon as too brash, too loud. I knew that when it comes down to being professional then I except nothing short of it, even though I think it imperative to have fun at work, but I wondered if that message travelled. I was approached, and now I have had the utter privilege of being on the VIP department for the past 12 years or so.
So in order to eat canapes at Royal visits, in order to drive top of the Range Vehicles at 150mph, and to travel to London and stay in top hotels, there is an awful lot of stress involved in the run up, but boy, is every bit of it worth it.
And then there’s the other interest in my life. The challenge of trying to make road safety interesting, making it grab the reader or listener through their chest and shake them into the reality of the outcome of poor driving. And that is why I do the Learn2Live presentations. It’s real people with real stories which we tell to young people, and this is mine. https://youtu.be/UOW6yS0cVHU?list=FLHYP33zH2PwY26gSOHsoC_g
When you do look into as many cold dead eyes as I have, it does get to you. I have night terrors every night. I generally sleep well strangely enough, but I wake with a thundering heart bursting through my chest. I fall asleep again straight away but my poor wife is constantly woken by them. But I feel free, I feel happy with life, as I realise it is there to live, and to enjoy. Not to be reckless or stupid, but also not to take the silly little things too seriously. Move on, get over it. You don’t know what could happen next.
As a police officer, you get to witness part of life and death that no others do. I remember the bodies of an elderly couple washed into the river after a Ford was flooded, I don’t recall their faces, but how neatly they were dressed, side by side on the stretchers. I remember breaking into their house after recovering the bodies, and seeing a breakfast table set out for two they had prepared in advance. I remember a table of christmas cards written out with stamps on ready to be posted. And I remember as I levered my body armour through the window, hearing the kitchen radio, with a news reader speaking of an elderly couple who had been found dead in a river by police. I was in the most private place. I was witnessing the life and death quite literally, of a couple who loved each other and had been married for decades. I wondered around the lounge, looking at the family photos on the mantel piece. I see it as a privilege to be inside such private and surreal moment. To give myself the opportunity to think about my own family. To re set my opinions occasionally and my outlook on life .
I am fortunate enough to see things that no other people will ever get to see. Yes there can be some deeply sad moments, but I use them to remind me of how damned lucky I am, but I see moments of happiness and relief too, for example when I arrive at a road collision with an occupant who has terror in their eyes, and yet immediately calm with some soothing words.
What an interesting life, and I love it.