Hear Tracy discuss how policing has changed during her 26-year career and her perspective on being a police officer on the Autism spectrum.
What made you want to become a police officer?
I used to work for Women’s Aid and in social care so this was a job that I felt was a natural progression. I also wanted my two children to be proud of me as a mum and a woman in policing. My hero was Helen Mirren in ‘Prime Suspect’ at the time, so I wanted to be a real-life DCI ‘Jane Tennyson’!
What do you love most about your job?
Meeting people, developing others, talking (as anyone who knows me will tell you!) and making a difference.
What do you find challenging?
It’s not an easy job, although I think most jobs have their challenges. It’s important to be challenged and come out of our comfort zones or we would never grow. Whether that be in skill, belief or confidence.
Any career highlights you can think of where you felt you’d made a real difference to someone’s life?
I’ve been privileged to have been able to save lives in my career, for example, giving first aid to an injured person after an accident or by talking someone out of committing suicide. The most memorable and fulfilling has got to be working with victims of child abuse, from babies to adult survivors. One man, who had been abused as a child and only came forward to police when he was in his 30’s said, when the defendant was finally sent to prison, that I had ‘given him his life back’. That made me very proud.
Have you ever felt that your gender has held you back in your police career?
It did when I first joined back in 1995 but not anymore. Now, it doesn't matter who you are or where you've come from - being a great police officer is about being prepared to listen, truly put ourselves in another’s position and see life from their perspective, and treat people with respect and dignity.
What would you say are the main barriers that hold women back from applying to join the police?
I’d say perceptions around childcare and part time working. I had both my children before I joined the police and have always been full time, however, I know some very successful senior women officers and staff who are on flexible hours with young children and do an absolutely superb job. Whether having or caring for a family or choosing to not have a family should never get in the way of joining the police if that’s the career you want.
You identify with being on the Autism Spectrum – what impact has that had on your job?
Dealing with stress and understanding how that might impact on me is important. Understanding the signs that I haven’t been looking after myself and saying no when this happens and adapting my communication to ensure people understand me but also advising others on what they can do to help me too.
What benefits do you think being on the Autism Spectrum brings to your role?
I do see patterns in things and, contrary to some thinking around Autism, I’m quite perceptive. I notice when someone is upset or being deceitful, even when outwardly they aren’t showing it. I’ve been a Detective for most of my career and this has been really helpful as I notice detail, pick up anomalies on things. And I’m quite organised.
I also try to be a role model and help my force understand how to help and support members of the public who have a neurodiverse condition, like Autism, when they encounter the police. I also love showcasing and encouraging talented neurodivergent staff to make the most of their careers by helping them to see where their strengths are and how the police service can capitalise on their unique skills.
How has your force supported you in your career?
Understanding Neurodiversity is still relatively new in the police service but my force has listened and made changes in their policies and procedures to strive to ensure fairness in internal processes and to provide a better service to the public. They’ve given me and others a platform to talk about what the world might look like for an Autistic person. This helps us feel like we can bring our ‘whole selves’ to work which in turn, helps me feel happier and more fulfilled in my job and helps those frontline officers to understand Autism.
How do you feel policing has changed since you joined?
I think it’s much more emotionally intelligent. It’s no longer driven by figures and image but by authenticity and confidence. Policing organisations are much more open to owning their mistakes and taking responsibility for the learning that comes from that.
Policing has evolved and now it’s really trying to understand the importance of how a situation or interaction with the police actually feels to a person. Whether they’ve just been stopped and searched or whether they’ve been detained because they were having an autistic ‘meltdown’, Police organisations want to listen, get better and try to be fair to everyone. We may not get it right all the time, and it may take a while, but I trust and believe that things will continue to change for the better.
What advice would you give to people thinking about a career in policing?
Go for it! I’ve had 26 years doing this and the reasons I joined are still important to me today. To do a job which is exciting, challenging and a bit scary at times is amazing. It sometimes doesn’t feel like that when there’s a lot to do but it’s definitely the case. When you remember that one job, speak to that one person who tells you the positive impact you’ve had, then it’s all worth it.
“In 100 years from now it will not matter how much money you had, what house you owned or car you drove, but what will still be important is that you made a difference in the life of a child.”