As I mentioned yesterday I have been lucky enough to be able to secure an interview with one of the senior police detectives from Hertfordshire Police – DI Joanne Walker. Her episode was the first to be broadcast during the ITV series focussing on the struggle faced by those who have to fit the demands of their policing life around those of their family.
Jo was exceptionally honest in her portrayal of her role in the program, allowing the cameras access to parts of her life that police officers usually try to keep separate from their private life.
So, here are the questions I decided to ask and the replies she gave:
What is the biggest personal sacrifice you have made in the name of your career and was the result of that sacrifice worth what you gave up?
Probably time with my son. I have been involved with some difficult investigations over the years including the work that I did for five years as a Family Liaison Officer/Family Liaison Coordinator. Whilst in this role I dealt with Potters bar train crash which took me away from my family for a three-week period where I was working round the clock without rest days. Then I spent a month in Thailand working to identify and repatriate victims, again this took me away from my son, the longest I had been separated from him prior to that had been a day or so!
There is also a personal cost when you are dealing with such devastation and personal tragedy. You cannot help but be affected by this and as I said in my programme there are images (Many) that I will take to the grave with me.
If you were to start from scratch, would you consider it more valuable to have a good grounding in your role as a Police officer before starting a family or to build a secure family unit before starting a career in Policing?
I had been in the Force seven years when I had my son and returned to shift work when he was 11 weeks old. Prior to that part-time working had not been introduced and so it was either managed shifts full-time with a baby or leave!
I feel I had a good grounding when I had my son, things were different then, officers tending to stay on section longer and the set up was completely different.
How difficult have you found it to balance providing the best for your family through progression of your chosen career and preventing that career from damaging your family?
When both Graham and I were working (Graham is a retired Detective Supt) things were often difficult to balance and we ended up employing an au pair for five years as Graham was travelling a great deal. This did put pressure on the family and I felt that my career was on hold and Grahams was more important. This swung back when Graham came towards the end of his career, that’s when mine really started to take off as I felt I was in a position to commit fully to it, and Michael was older.
Have you ever felt that it was necessary to put the needs of the job ahead of the needs of yourself or your family. If so, why, and how did this affect your relationships within the home?
Yes, sometimes although I have always made sure that my son was safe, fed and well cared for. As a police officer you are committed to your role and that of serving the public. When the public need you they become the priority, and I have always believed in the concept that it is a 24/7 job which is what makes it difficult for balancing your responsibility as a police officer and a mum.
What do you think it is about Policing that sucks officers in and makes it so hard to draw a clear line between the needs of the job and the needs of the family?
Being a police officer is a privilege, serving the Crown, it is not an ordinary job although it is undertaken by ordinary people. I think most officers appreciate the commitment required, and therefore manage the needs of their families with the needs of the organisation. Sometimes it is difficult to get the right balance, personally I am lucky to have a very supportive family who have enabled me to manage both effectively
How much has your career and the experiences it includes affected the way you have brought [or would bring] up your children? Do you think it is advisable, if it is even possible, to attempt to separate yourself from your professional experiences so that your children might grow up outside of the shadow of that knowledge?
In my opinion it is impossible to separate yourself from your experiences, particularly when they span a lifetime of policing. I think it’s all about relativity, if you can relate any given circumstance to yourself it will affect you regardless. My son has grown up in a policing family and exposed to work related issues, particularly as he has become older and able to understand. Interestingly he is part of the Herts Cadets and does want to pursue a career as a police officer! This must be as a result of our influence although he wants to be a firearms officer!
Having worked recently in the child protection world I am not sure that I would have been able to deal with serious offences against children and infant deaths if my son was of that age. That said I find teenage deaths extremely difficult as I can relate!
My sincere thanks to Jo for taking the time out to do this interview and to Miriam Rich for her assistance in setting this up. I hope to be able to speak to some of the other officers featured in the series very soon.