Chemist Louisa Bellis explains what it’s like being a Special
Being a Special Constable is like nothing I could have ever imagined or predicted. When I started the application process in 2010, I knew that I was interested in being a police officer, but I didn’t know if I would be a ‘good fit’ for the Force, or even if it would be something that I would ultimately enjoy or be good at. However, literally an hour into my first shift in January 2012 I knew it was for me and haven’t looked back since. 2,400+ operational hours later and I am still hooked and full of enthusiasm, wanting to do more.
I had always been interested in policing and law & order, and in my younger days had briefly thought about being an officer, but science won out and I headed off to university to study chemistry. After finishing my PhD, I was employed at a company where I had to travel frequently and never had much spare time. When I moved to Cambridgeshire from Yorkshire in 2009 for a new job, I suddenly found that I had a lot more free time and I started to consider constructive and rewarding ways that I could fill it. Whilst I was looking at volunteering positions, I remembered seeing an advertisement for being a Special Constable on television with the tagline of ‘Could You?’, which sparked my long-forgotten memories of wanting to be a police officer. Once I had investigated what being a Special Constable would entail, I knew instantly that was the direction I wanted to go in. The application and interview process was the most intensive that I have experienced (yes, even more so than applying for a PhD in chemistry!) and after being a police officer for the past three years, I can see why this is necessary. The process may be long and in-depth, but it is definitely worthwhile.
After attestation, I spent just under a year working with a shift in Cambridge City on the Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT). This was an incredible eye-opener as to what goes on in the world that, generally, you are not exposed to except through the media, and even then it’s in a diluted format. In this team, you deal with anything from a simple Saturday shoplifting job to a vicious, drunken assault outside a nightclub. I loved my time in SNT, but I was always pulled towards the two and four-wheeled side of policing, also known as the Road Policing Unit (RPU). After applying and sitting the qualifying boards, I was accepted into RPU and this is where I have been for just over 2 years. My shifts with RPU are mostly made up of road traffic collisions (RTCs), speed enforcement and general patrols on the main arterial routes around Cambridgeshire. I have dealt with many broken down cars, which can involve literally pushing a car around a roundabout into a petrol station, or pushing them off the main road onto the grass verge (and slipping into the mud for my troubles) or protecting colleagues on the main roads by directing traffic around them whilst they help members of the public. I have attended more collisions than I can count, all of differing severity. I have no shame in telling people that some of these collisions have affected me emotionally afterwards, but the support that you are given by your regular colleagues is amazing and you never feel like you have to deal with things alone. On the flip side, I’ve been to more jobs that have been uplifting where I’ve walked away believing that I have helped or a made a difference in some small way.
It is more than just a way to spend your spare time; it’s another career and can be a completely different way of life to what you’re used to. It infiltrates everything you do; from the way you interact with people, to the experiences it gives you that no other job can. My day-to-day life as a scientist has given me the skills to be analytical and gather information before making decisions. This has come in handy when I have had to investigate crimes and offences. Another skill that I brought from my day job to the police was the ability to sit back and listen to people, which is very important when you are faced with members of the public who are distressed or angry.
However, it’s not all about what you can bring to the job, it’s also about what you can get out of it. In fact, my overall confidence has been increased, due to having to deal with such a variation of jobs and people and having to react immediately to whatever is thrown at you. It’s also made me more relaxed about situations and stopped me taking insults and criticisms personally. When you are a Special, you work alongside other Specials, either on shift or at various operations. For me, this has led to meeting some great people, some of whom I now consider to be my best friends. You are able to bond over shared experiences, such as juggling a full time job with carrying out hours as an officer. This can be tiring and mean that you miss out on a social life, but having a support network of people in a similar situation makes it a lot easier.
Specials are often used to train the new regular officers, new PCSOs, new Specials and even the Police Support Unit. This can involve you helping with role-plays or even pretending to be part of a violent disorder group. Days like these can be a lot of fun and you get to meet a lot of people. You also have the freedom to take part in interesting operations, such as traffic enforcement alongside VOSA and HM Customs, plain-clothes burglary patrols and drugs warrants. If football is your thing, Specials are frequently asked to help out at local football matches. A couple of operations that will stay with me are marshalling the Olympic Flame tour back in 2012 and the Tour De France in 2014, both of which were fabulous experiences that I couldn’t have got from anywhere else and the memories will last a lifetime.
Ultimately, being a Special Constable has changed me as a person, for the better. It’s not a ‘one size fits all’ role and it isn’t for everyone, but I would urge people to try it out. I wouldn’t change any of the experiences that I have had for anything, as it’s the most rewarding thing I have ever done and I expect to continue for many years yet. For me, it gives me the best of both worlds. I get to be a scientist by day, which I love, and I get to be a police officer in the evenings and weekends, which I also love. I don’t have to choose between them and I get to enjoy having two careers at the same time. How many people can say that?
For more on becoming a Special visit here HERE