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Fiona Newton is a special constable with Thames Valley Police. As a special constable, she works alongside regular police officers and has the same powers and responsibilities as them. She also wears the same uniform as regular officers.
Special constables come from all walks of life and have to commit to volunteering for a certain number of hours a month. Generally they are unpaid, however their training and duties provide unique experiences, a sense of community involvement and new and valuable skills. Here Fiona outlines how she became a special constable and what the role involves.
If anybody had said to me two years ago that I would be spending some of my Friday nights breaking up fights and attending domestics, I would have just laughed. I was a 40-something mother of 10-year-old twins, with a day job as a freelance management trainer. But two years ago, I started wondering: in 10 years’ time would I regret not having done something else? When I was 18 I had wanted to be a police officer, but ended up working overseas. It all seemed impossible.
My best friends would have told anyone who listened how unfit I was and the shift system of a regular officer seemed to be too complex to juggle alongside my family life. I looked on the Thames Valley Police website and read about being a Special Constable. It seemed an ideal way of testing out a new role, gaining new skills and still being able to do my day job and look after a family.
I applied online and shortly after was invited to an assessment day, so I started to prepare. I was apprehensive about the maths as it had been a long time since I had had to do any timed maths questions, but the practice papers really helped. I arrived early on the day of the assessment and sat in the car park wondering what I had let myself in for. But I told myself that there was nothing worse than looking back and wondering “what if?” As it turned out the day was great fun.
There was a short maths paper, a dictation, a short, fairly informal interview and finally a couple of group exercises. I had thought that these were going to be difficult, but they were quite relaxed and on subjects that everyone can talk about.
When I found out that I had passed I was delighted, but equally terrified as it meant I then had to pass the fitness test. The fitness assessment day came a month after my assessment centre. For this I had to go down to Sulhamstead, the Thames Valley Police training centre. I needed to be able to pull and push 35 kilos, and reach level 5 on a bleep test. For somebody who had previously been very unfit, my first stop was to get to the gym and ask for a programme to help me achieve this.
Within a month I had became a lot fitter, and managed to pass the test. The great side effect of this has been to kick-start me into getting fit, which I have managed to keep up…although walking about on foot patrol for eight hours is also a fantastic way to keep fit!
The training took up eight weekends over the next four months. We had a general introduction weekend, three weekends on law, one on first aid; then came the two weekends on officer safety training which included getting a six-foot man in a padded suit down to the ground. The techniques that we were taught made me realise that I could do more than I thought I could! During the final weekend we did a number of highly realistic role plays and then came our attestation which my whole family attended.
My first shift was pretty nerve-wracking. As I walked into the station I glanced in the mirror and realised the officer in uniform was me! In the early days there was a great deal of support, and I was always crewed with an experienced officer, either another special or a regular officer. Each shift is different, and I am still learning and facing new situations. Being able to work flexible shifts is a great advantage when balancing family and work life. There are times when the children are at school and I can join neighbourhood officers during the day, or I can opt to work late night shifts. Sometimes when I have finished at four in the morning, and the children come and wake me at seven, I lie there wondering if I can get another 20-minute nap … but I wouldn’t change a thing. The skills and experiences I have gained over the last 18 months have given me more confidence and a totally new perspective on life. Some people ask me why I do this without getting paid, but I’m getting so much back I can’t believe I haven’t done it before.