Special Constable Al McFadyen Blog

I was 40 when I joined the specials. I had (and still have) a secure career in something quite different, which I had no intention of leaving. Joining the police was something that I had been thinking about for at least three decades. So long, that I was worried it was really a bit of a fantasy. My life had taken me in a quite different direction and I suppose beneath it all I worried I wouldn’t be cut out for it; wouldn’t be accepted by other officers; worse, that it would turn out the organisation and people in it were just as they are sometimes portrayed in the media, in ‘realist’ (cynical?) cop shows or films: stuck in the 80s.

More than 15 years later, I would say this is one of the best decisions of my life (I can’t say ‘the’ best as Mrs Mac may read this). The organisation and people in it are very different from their portrayal in the media. In many ways, streets ahead of most other organisations in their understanding of diversity and vulnerability. And I have lost count of the times I have seen them take the lead in driving forward positive action in communities or advancing community cohesion.

I am proud to be part of it and prouder still to find myself accepted by my regular colleagues. It says more about them – their openness and willingness to work as a team – that they accept the times when I have occasionally been designated a bronze or serial commander, directing the work of regular colleagues. Far from my initial misgivings, I find I am completely accepted.  Rightly, nothing that I am outside the police counts for or against me. They are interested only in whether I can do the job, including bringing some fresh or different perspectives. I feel completely at home and their acceptance means far more than I can (or ever would) say out loud. And of course, insofar as I have capacity to do the job well, it is entirely due to the training and ongoing support that my regular colleagues and the organisation more broadly continue to give me. In my day job, I work in an educational institution But it’s in the police that I have gained a greater sense of what it means to be a learning organisation.

Even after 15 years, I am struck almost every duty by the everyday professionalism of my regular colleagues, which they take entirely for granted and which generally passes without notice. It deserves to be much more widely recognised by the public. Specials are in a good position to spread the positive impression more widely, to be ambassadors for the police. I see part of my role as increasing and enhancing public understanding of the organisation and the challenges it faces in delivering a policing service to changing and diverse communities with reduced resource in a context of increased and changing demands. In my time, I have seen massive cultural and organisational change in response to austerity, but also more positively to the new demands (cyber crime, for instance) and to new, subtle and sensitive developments in understanding of crimes that aren’t so new: domestic violence, child sexual exploitation, sex trafficking.

I am now beyond the age that most regulars retire. But I’ve no intention of giving it up. They’ll have to carry me out in a box (I think there may be a queue forming to do so!). I have discovered that being a police officer – even very part-time – isn’t just something you DO. There’s a very real sense in which it’s something, over the long, haul, you find you’ve become. It has become very much part of my identity: who I am.

Like most people who have either joined late or stayed in for the long haul, I regard this as a second career. I almost said ‘parallel’, but that isn’t quite right. Although the day job is something quite different, I constantly find connections and crossovers whereby what I do and what I am in one job strengthens and energises me in the other. And I have found many cross-fertilizations and opportunities to create small but helpful networks between contacts in both worlds.

It has been delightful to stand back and see the synergy created by bringing together people from disparate organisations who commit to a common task or share knowledge neither knew the other had. That is one important and clear sign of just how open modern policing is to creative, sometimes small and ad hoc, partnerships and to knew thinking.

In many ways, I think being a career special is an ideal way of being in the police and I would encourage anyone thinking about an involvement in policing to think seriously about joining, especially if you are a bit older and wiser like me and have no intention of giving up your current job.

You can be confident that what you bring with you will be welcomed and will enrich the quality of your policing.

But you can be confident too that exercising those same skills and qualities in a different and challenging environment will also leave you and your work in the day job enriched too … alongside opportunities to learn and acquire new skills.