First Responders Q&A: Working “The Shift”
In this instalment of our series of Q&A articles with specialist policing teams, we travel to the small town of Johnstone to meet the First Responders. These are the ready-for-anything cops on the front line, first to react to 999 calls, and we managed to have a sit down with a few of the team to find out what it takes to work on what they call “The Shift”.
State your name and rank for the record, please.
PC Martin Murray. Response Policing team.
So what’s the main difference between being a regular PC and a first responder?
As a first responder you deal with everything, for example domestic calls, assault, concern for persons, suicidal persons, neighbour disputes. A regular PC is more involved in community policing, where they have diary calls, going to schools.
How does it work? Your team gets the green light when there’s a 999 call?
Yes. You get grading for calls. A grade one is the most important, and it goes to grades 2, 3, 4 and 5. We usually deal with grades 1 to 3, sometimes grades 4 calls if there’s no community policing staff available. Most of the time we work on grades 1 and 2 calls, and that’s when we get to put the blue lights on.
So what kinds of incidents would those grades be?
A police officer’s first duty is always the preservation of life, so grade 1s are when there is a threat to life or someone’s been killed. Grade 2s are usually domestics, even if it’s not an ongoing case. Then grade 3s can be things like fraud or neighbour disputes, suspect persons or reports of housebreakings that have occurred overnight.
Do you get specialist training?
We do a response driving course at Jackton training facility, which is a three week session driving with the lights on, testing various competencies then a final exam.
Have you had any notable calls lately?
Over the weekend there I dealt with a suicidal male three days in a row. I dealt with him originally on the Friday and then he asked for me personally on Saturday and Sunday. Having to deal with that can be mentally taxing, listening to someone’s deepest darkest fears. It can take a toll on you as you have to go through it with them. But we deal with all manner of things. A colleague of mine dealt with a female last week who made a report after her ex-partner put pictures of her up online without consent.
So what do you do between calls?
We’re usually kept quite busy, but if it’s quiet I like to go out and do traffic work, checking cars’ MOTs and insurance. It’s good just to be out there staying visible to the public and letting them know we’re around if needed.
Thanks very much, Martin. You’re free to go. Next!
Name and rank please.
PC Julie Drysdale.
Hi Julie. So what does your day to day routine involve?
Depending on what shift you’re doing, depending on what tasks you get, when you come in you go to muster initially where we look at the daily briefing, which gives details of things that have happened in the division and in your own sub-division, so if there’s any kind of major crimes, or any kind of identification required, we have to look at that in the muster. We get our car crews, so you get tasked with a call sign and a neighbour, and whatever the control room have got, any calls that are available, you’ll get tasked to go to a call, which could be anything from a domestic right through to a murder. Every call is different. Sometimes you can be standing at a crime scene - for example a house where there’s a suspicion of drugs inside – and your job is to remain there and secure the area until a warrant’s been obtained to search the building. Or as with the recent murder in Renfrew, you could be on the scene just to seal it off and make sure it’s not contaminated for the forensics team. We’re often also required to attend court to give evidence in cases where we’ve been involved, and not so long ago, my partner and I assisted the fire service at a call out to a blaze at a derelict building. We were called in as there was evidence that it was a case of fire-raising.
* PC Drysdale gets a call through on her radio
Can you tell us what that’s about?
That was the control room asking me to go and update a member of the public who’d contacted us recently as they had a concern about a neighbour’s car. It turned out to be nothing, but part of the job is to keep the public informed when we look into things
Is there a specific application process to joining the response team or are you assigned to the unit?
When I first came to the police six years ago, everyone doing their probation started in community policing, and we were all allocated out division and shoulder number and told where we were being posted. I was originally K division, based in Greenock police office. Then, depending on the numbers, you can get moved around, so if they need a few people in response you can be asked to go there. There’s no interview for the response team, you just have to have a good record in community policing. We call it The Shift. We’re the bread and butter. We go to everything first. If there’s a murder, we’re first on the scene. When you first join the police, this is where you want to be. You want to be in the middle of it, and every day is so different, so you don’t know what you could be getting into. I love it.
Thanks very much PC Drysdale. You’re free to go. Next!
State your name and rank for the record.
Tom Petrie. Sergeant.
Nice to meet you, Sergeant. So what are your day to day duties in the response team?
I’m responsible for the handover from the night or backshift, I see what outstanding calls have to be attended to if there’s anything that requires taking over from the previous shift. I check the welfare of the shift making sure everyone’s ready and there’s no issues, that all the paperwork and crime reports are up to date, and basically overseeing and managing everything the officers do.
How long have you been with the police?
I’ve been with the service now for almost seventeen years, and have been a sergeant for four.
Have you always been with the response team?
I started off in the Greenock response team, then moved to Paisley, then to the support unit where I carried out close protection duties with the Armed Response team. I worked in training at Jackton for just over four years doing officer safety training, and I also worked in community policing for two years as a sergeant and then moved back into response.
So you’ve been around a bit.
Yes, I’ve been very lucky in my career to have been in the right place at the right time, that I’ve been afforded the opportunities to get so much training in different areas, and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it. The training brings a different skill set to policing, gives you a different outlook on things. You’re learning every day from the job itself, and from other sergeants because they have different skill sets that you learn from, so it’s interesting. There’s a lot of on the job learning. Every day’s a school day, as they say.
What kind of advice would you give a new recruit if they wanted to get into response policing?
I would say be level headed, have integrity. What I’m personally looking for is someone with a personality, someone who can stand up and be counted when they make a decision, be it right or wrong. There’s a lot of pressure put on these guys, whereby they have to make critical decisions there and then, they’re not afforded the time. Be used to working long hard hours, and be used to working and dealing with people who are vulnerable, and have a good sense of humour. Take criticism, accept it and turn it into a strength to make yourself a well-rounded person. If you were going to come and work in response, it’s a hard job. It’s not easy. There’s a high demand on the officers out there. You just have to go out and do your best.