How I became a police officer and what I love about the job

Caroline Hay, 35, lives in Hertfordshire and works full time as a police sergeant in London. 

Catherine Hay, police officer

I have mainly worked as a response officer, responding to 999 calls and specialising in driving and pursuing vehicles. I have also worked as a neighbourhood sergeant where we work with communities and other partners to try and solve problems in the area.

Growing up

I lived with my mum and two sisters. Things weren’t always easy and we used to have school dinner vouchers. I remember being a bit embarrassed about this but I realise now that it was a helping hand we needed at the time. My mum worked two or three jobs to care for us and I look up to her very much.

My other two sisters have gone on to be a police officer and an assistant headteacher.

Learning from failure

I always wanted to be a professional netball player but I remember lots of adults smashing my dreams when I was young, telling me there was no money in it and to be more sensible.

Read more: From living on the streets to becoming a firefighter

I had my first rejection in netball aged 15, having played at a good level. Instead of digging deep, practising harder and learning from this ‘failure’ I ditched netball for a few years – something I went on to regret. I play now but I don’t think I ever reached my full potential, which isn’t a good feeling!

If I could tell my younger self anything it would be:

Failure is the first

Attempt

In

Learning

Deciding to join the police

I went to a good school and I was the only one who decided not to go to university.  My heart was set on being a police officer and I joined at 20 years old. I didn’t see the point in getting in debt when I didn’t need a degree to be a police officer. Little did I know, my friends would be doing a lot more than studying when at university (partying, sports, social clubs, learning to live independently etc).

I wanted to be a police officer because I knew the job would be very varied and I was really keen on the thought of responding to emergencies and helping people. Originally I wanted to be a firefighter but I realised I was scared of heights so I wouldn’t be much use.

I applied to be a police officer at 18 and after nearly two years some tests and interviews I was in.

Last year I finally completed a degree in policing, and I found it really beneficial and interesting. It helped me look at policing from different perspectives and has helped me self-reflect a lot.

I did my degree in the evenings and it took three years to complete. I had two of my babies during this time (I have three children aged nine, four and two, and we have a Beagle puppy called Amber). It was a busy period but I am a believer in good time management. If you leave things until the last minute, there is rarely a good outcome.

What it’s like to be a police officer

My day to day job in policing entails responding to major events and ensuring officers have completed or thought about everything that they need to, whilst supporting them practically and emotionally. I also speak to the public to make sure they are happy with the policing response.

There has been recent criticism of the police that they do not care for all communities, but this is not my experience in London. I have a response team that is hugely diverse in culture, ethnicity, background, gender and religion. That does not mean we should not listen to people who feel disenfranchised from the police. The police have bought in more panels so that the public can view police body cameras and scrutinize their actions. The police can also explain themselves in a learning environment.

My advice to budding police officers

I would encourage everyone to be a police officer.

There is rarely a dull moment and instead of watching the clock wishing time would go by, I have often found myself hoping it would stop for a few hours.

There are so many opportunities in policing, only 10 per cent of the stuff we do is fighting crime. We mainly act to protect young people, people who are elderly or others who have complex issues. We also support people who are victims and survivors of serious crimes.

Police officers also help at road traffic accidents and come and see people in their home when their families are having a tough time. My husband is a police officer and recently worked on a bike fixing project with young people who were coming to police notice (in a bad way!).

I am taking my Inspectors exam in October; I took it last year and failed it. But I have learnt from my netball days and am digging deep to do it again. Wish me luck!

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