Joining the Police - An interview with Tracy, a Chief Inspector
Top tips from Tracy: 'Students could think about being a Special Constable while they're at university. That involves 4 hours work per week. It gives you an insight into the job. Because the job isn't for everybody.'
Deborah: What first attracted to you joining the Police?
Tracy: I always wanted to be a police officer - right from when I was very small. I applied when I was 18 and joined when I was 19 and a bit. I wanted something that would be challenging and exciting - it's not all exciting, obviously! - and where I'd be able to make a difference.
D: Tell me about the selection procedure you went through to successfully join the Police?
T: I joined 22 years ago, and the process has changed since then. When I joined, it took around 6 months to get in - you had to go for one day each month to do selection tests such as a written exam, a fitness test, discussions and exercises, a medical, and a formal interview. Now, there's an assessment day where candidates do a written exam and role-play scenarios and there's a final interview after that - so it's a lot shorter now. It is very competitive to get in though - only 1 in 10 is successful. And once you have been accepted you need to wait for a vacancy. You might wait for up to a year.
D: What was the training like?
T: When I joined we had to go away for 14 weeks (you weren't allowed to go home for the first 7 weeks!). We were taught the law, and first aid and self-defence. After that you had a 10 week attachment with a tutor. And after those 10 weeks you were on your own - although you would be monitored weekly by a Sergeant and you'd have the support of your colleagues. Now, the training is done in-house, so you don't go away. You have a 2 year probationary period.
D: Tell me about being a probationer?
T: I loved it! I walked my area alone at night (these days, nobody - male or female - works alone at night); I knew everything about the area - every street and alleyway - I knew the people who lived there (I'd get given cups of tea - which I came to like; previously I hadn't been a tea-drinker at all!), I knew the criminals. You never knew what was going to happen each day - you could be stopping a vehicle, dealing with an accident, intervening in a neighbour dispute....
D: What were the most significant challenges you faced in your early years in the Police, and how did you deal with them?
T: The most significant challenge was being 19/20 years old and being asked for advice about people's marriages and how to deal with teenagers. I had life experience prior to joining the Police, but I didn't know a lot about those things! You learn quickly.
D: Did you ever feel fearful going out on the beat?
T: I wasn't fearful going out. I think it would be a difficult job to do if you were scared going out. But you do feel the danger. Over 22 years in the job the number of times I've been assaulted is in double figures. One of the worst injuries was inflicted by a stiletto. The woman involved was drunk. Drink is a huge issue.
D: What were your early highlights that made you feel that you'd chosen the right career?
T: Everything! Making my first arrest was fantastic - I dealt with the theft of a motorbike; I made enquiries, made an arrest and then interviewed the suspect and he admitted the offence. I love catching criminals. I also enjoyed reassuring people, giving advice, making life better. Every day brought a different challenge. I was a foot officer, but I always managed to get to crime scenes quickly - I'd stop a car to get there. There was a lot of paperwork, of course. For every 5 hours on the beat, there's 3 hours of paperwork.
D: Tell me about how your career has developed since you first joined the Police?
T: I was a PC for 7 years and in that time I was in uniform at 3 stations, I was in CID, I was involved in a surveillance team - which was very exciting; there's nothing more rewarding than finding someone in the act of burgling a house and being able to get the property back for the victim - and also worked specifically on shoplifting. (There are lots of opportunities in the Police. Your contribution might be noted and you might be picked for an attachment by an Inspector, or you might apply for jobs that come up in CID for instance.) I was promoted to Sergeant after 7 years. There weren't many female Sergeants at that time; they're more common now. I went to a new town as a Sergeant and people there didn't know my reputation; I had to earn their respect. In that job I was managing 8 police officers. After 18 months I went to a plain clothes intelligence unit. I was a Sergeant for 8 years (during that time I had children and worked part-time hours while they were young). After 15 years service I was promoted to Inspector. I did 2 years working in CID - particularly working on the issue of distraction callers, where people get into older people's houses by pretending to be the gas man, for instance. That was regional first and then it went national. It was a very important time in my career - I was on a Home Office working group about distraction callers; we were making a difference, protecting older people. As an Inspector I also spent 2 years as a Section Inspector, in charge of a particular town. Being an Inspector is a middle management job: the buck stops with you - you are less an officer and more a manager. You get involved in personnel issues, for instance, and in setting targets. Two and a bit years ago I was promoted to Chief Inspector. First, I worked for the Chief Constable, for instance doing research on his behalf. It gave me an understanding of Politics, Government, the Police Authority....it was a fantastic 15 months. Now, I'm an operational Chief Inspector. I have responsibility for a city and its surrounding county.
D: What are your future plans?
T: In 2/3 years I'd be looking to be a Superintendent. In 8 years (which is when I could retire) I'd like to be a Chief Superintendent or a good Superintendent.
D: Now you're in a very senior position, are you able to have a work-life balance?
T: Yes. I work regular days, apart from being on cover for 2 weeks in 10, where I'm the senior officer on duty and would take overall control of an issue like a murder or firearms incident if it came up. I spend time with my children; I volunteer as a school governor, and as a charity trustee. I am very busy and I juggle very well. I'm very good at not being involved in work when I'm at home.
D: What sorts of skills do you think students should be looking to develop if they're interested in joining the Police when they leave university?
T: People skills are essential. Where I've seen people have problems is when they haven't developed people skills. I'd suggest students get a part-time job or do some voluntary work. I taught adults to read and write before I joined the Police. Communication skills are very important. You need to be able to communicate effectively. You need to be able to talk to criminals with respect. You need to be able to deal with someone who is rude and anti-police who is having a go at you. You need to be able to deal with victims. You also need to be able to write good reports and letters and deal with your paperwork.
Students could think about being a Special Constable while they're at university. That involves 4 hours work per week. It gives you an insight into the job. Because the job isn't for everybody. Or after university, they might think about becoming a staff member - for example, they could work in the control room. People do that and then progress to applying to join.
If students are interested in the Police but don't, in the end, want to be a PC, I think it's important for them to be aware that we have a lot of graduates working for us as analysts and in management roles, supporting officers. They're very important roles.