It’s a long way from South Africa to the UK, both in terms of distance, and culture. When I left school at 18 I had no idea what I wanted to do, and only had basic qualifications. My father, a Lieutenant Colonel in South Africa Special Forces (the Recce’s), suggested they were looking for intelligence analysts, and I wasn’t doing anything else, so why not.
I loved working at Special Forces HQ. I was on the Mozambique desk identifying risks from the USSR backed rebels destabilising our northern border. Prioritisation and analytical assessment were crucial, something that would later secure my employment with Kent Police.
One of the big advantages of army life is the ability to move around the country. I transferred to 5 Recce in Durban, Natal, where I had grown up. English is the main language and apartheid was more honoured in the breach than in the observance. The unit was rife with misogyny. I was far from home, housed at a Naval Base, away from my colleagues, because it was the only female accommodation. It wasn’t what I envisaged, but what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and I developed a great deal of resilience. Dealing with diverse people gave me a better understanding of the human condition than I would ever have developed staying in the bubble that was the base. An asset that definitely helped when I finally did make it to the UK and into policing.
Bad experiences, and a supportive Major encouraged me to transfer to the army, stationed in Pietermaritzburg. Also known as the ‘Last Outpost’ it’s a hangover from colonial times. Big Gothic buildings, statues of Queen Victoria and Mahatma Ghandi, with a thriving university and a big army base separate to our town centre location. Unfortunately, it was also an area of huge conflict. In 1990 the Natal Midlands was second only to Lebanon in terms of violence. I was with the Intelligence Unit. As the unit’s corporal I was responsible to daily and weekly SitReps to plan and brief deployments. The ability to quickly absorb information, and take quick, decisive action based on that information was a necessity. We had excellent results, seizing thousands of illegal firearms, and brokering ‘ceasefires’ between warring factions.
In my private life, the deterioration of the country was taking its toll. My husband and I lived in a rural area. We had been burgled six times in 12 months, and I was sleeping with a 9mm pistol under my pillow, and carrying at all times. We decided to see if we could get jobs in the UK, maybe save some money, not be shot at quite so much, and then return home.
Long story short, neither of us had qualifications so we worked in pubs, and within eight months had our own pub in Tunbridge Wells. I missed the camaraderie of the army, and using my analytical skills. Not much call for analysis pulling pints, except which group might start the next fight. One of our regulars, an ex-army sapper, brought in a local paper with an advert to join Kent Police as an intelligence analyst. The rest is history.
My time with Kent Police has been so varied. I was an analyst and then senior analyst for several years; I was one of the Intelligence Analysts that worked on the Dome Robbery.
I have been an analyst trainer, both nationally, and internationally. We had students from the FBI, the UN, and the Nigerian Police, to name a few. I doubt that without my experiences in the army that I would have been able to be so flexible, and consequently successful in the constantly changing training environment. I also studied and was awarded a BSc in Social Science with Politics and Social Policy (OU) after realising that the university students I was teaching were not smarter than me. I’ve been a Professional Standards Department (PSD) analyst where I developed the corruption matrix to identify officers and staff at risk of corruption. I am now the Data Protection Officer (DPO), part of the Senior Leadership Team, and a long way from that lost little girl with no idea of her future aspirations. Within the force I have worked with a number of the support groups such as the disabilities network and the Kent Network of Women (KNOW), and I hold a national position in UNISON.
My military experience gave me confidence, awareness, and a strong sense of right and wrong, a great foundation for a role in policing. Kent Police has been home for 22 years, and it has been an amazing ride. I love that I am able to use my passion for justice and ethics in an organisation that serves the public. Being able to contribute in support networks to influence the culture of the force, and empower those working within the force makes me immensely proud.
I would encourage anyone with a military background to join policing – it’s like joining another family that recognise your qualities and make the most of them.