How Suffolk’s newest police recruits trained during lockdown
- Credit: Copyright: Archant 2020
A socially-distanced ‘passing out’ ceremony capped an unusual, and at times challenging training programme for Suffolk’s newest police recruits.
Since lockdown was implemented, Suffolk Constabulary has trained 91 student officers, including 10 due to ‘pass out’ on September 4.
Among the most recent cohort to earn their epaulettes was Pc Molly Stanmore.
For Pc Stanmore, who changed career from teaching at a special school near Colchester, the application process began last summer - moving on to the police assessment centre process in November and the commencement of training at the end of May.
“I’ve always had an interest in policing. I have family friends in the force,” she said.
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“Like in my old job, it’s the aspect of helping other people that appeals to me, and which I really enjoy. It’s rewarding.
“I saw that Suffolk was recruiting and thought I needed to take the opportunity. It was the right time in my life.
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“I wasn’t sure it would go ahead. But then I got a call to say I had a start date.”
Suffolk was allocated 54 new officers in the first 12 months of a three-year government drive to recruit 20,000 nationally.
As well as replacing officers who have retired and resigned, the constabulary is being funded by the uplift programme to recruit an extra 162 by March 2023.
In addition to an increase in officer numbers paid for by council tax, the total is expected to rise by about 200.
There had been fears the uplift could be disrupted by coronavirus, with police assessment centres hit by closures and classrooms ill-equipped for social distancing.
Forces were encouraged to find new ways to meet training targets.
When social distancing rules were announced, it became apparent that some of Suffolk Constabulary’s classrooms were not big enough to accommodate student officer cohorts.
Sergeant Jon Driver, initial training and continuing professional development team supervisor, thought outside the box and approached his old school about using vacant space.
Farlingaye High School answered the call and offered classrooms and common room space at its temporarily closed sixth-form centre in Woodbridge.
Meanwhile, the capacity of classrooms at police HQ has been reduced from 18 to nine, and from 22 to 12, with the capacity of smaller rooms effectively halved.
The job-related fitness test, involving 15-metre shuttle runs, would ordinarily be completed by 16 officers shoulder-to-shoulder.
Instead, recruits were risk assessed over 14 days before taking part in groups of three.
Lockdown also prevented the force from using role-play volunteers for scenario training, so fellow recruits stepped in to help train for real-life events.
Sgt Driver believes some of the challenges could present opportunities, including the use of IT to conduct some training flexibly and online, but he looks forward to the return of traditions like officers taking an oath of attestation before magistrates and ‘passing out’ with an audience.
“From an efficiency point-of-view, the remote attestation process lasted 45 minutes, but could ordinarily have taken all morning, so we have to take away the positives,” he said.
“In terms of passing out, we’ve had six cohorts of recruits who have not been able to have that proud day in front of families. I’ve made a promise to officers that we’ll still have something.”
Pc Stanmore is now into a 10-week spell on patrol with a constable tutor, before being sent out independently for the rest of her two-year probation period.
She is among the nation’s new recruits dubbed an “incredible weapon” in the fight against coronavirus by the prime minister in April.
She said new challenges have included taking statements from people self-isolating and ensuring custody areas are free from contaminations risk during the booking-in process.
“Sometimes, it’s just been about talking to people and reassuring them – and that’s been really rewarding,” she added.
“If anyone’s thinking about joining the police, I’d say go for it. It’s a rewarding job with so many different avenues to go down.”
Meanwhile, Sgt Driver hopes a surge in people signing up to work for the NHS will rub-off on the police service.
“We’re looking at planning things into 2023 and the feedback I’ve been getting suggests it’s full-steam ahead,” he said.
“I hope that desire for people to give something back kicks into our world. It could make a real difference.”
To find out what it takes to become a police constable, visit suffolk.police.uk/join-us/police-officers.