Late nights, early mornings, flashing lights and dark corners. Break-ups, make-ups and SOS calls. Serving justice, tea, sympathy and good advice in the lonely, liminal hours between day and night from Catford to Golders Green, Brent Cross to Dagenham.
For better or worse, you always remember your encounters with the Police, especially those encounters you’d rather forget.
The first female Police Officer joined the Metropolitan Police in 1919. At first they were sent in to patrol London’s beating heart, her soft underbelly: brothels, nightclubs and betting houses. No handcuffs for the girls and only in 1923 were they given the authority to make arrests. In 1969, Sislin Fay Allen became the Metropolitan Police’s first black female officer. In 1973, the Women's Department was fully integrated into the Metropolitan Police. Finally, the Met’s women were paid the same as the men for doing the same work.
These six women have served as Police Officers in London. All of life is here.
“I worked in the police from 1966 to 1982. For the first nine years I was in uniform in the West End, then I joined CID; I moved to Tower Bridge and then the Regional Crime Squad at New Scotland Yard.
In those days, the women were a completely separate entity. We had female governors; we didn’t get involved with the men. Our ground was Soho – Regent’s Street, Mayfair. We used to do late-night raids - picking up girls who had run away from home, doing drug arrests. It was the sixties and seventies, you know… Flower power and all that.
Later on I was the only woman in an office full of men. I watched the bank robber George Davis when he robbed the Bank of Cyprus on Holloway Road. I was the driver that day. I failed my firearms training because I’ve got a weak right arm.
When I joined the force it was the time of the Vietnam War. There was a big anti-war protest at the American Embassy. They put me in one of those big, dark green buses with metal bars on the windows. It was hectic; you know protestors were throwing ball bearings under the police horses’ feet. It was my job to take the names of the protestors they arrested.
There were good things as well. I was at the premiere of Yellow Submarine – it was the height of Beatlemania. The swell of the crowd was crushing me and I had to get over the iron railings. There’s a video of the premiere on YouTube, black and white mind; you can see me in it, going over the railings in my uniform
“I started in Vine Street in the West End. It’s closed now. I retired last year after thirty-two years as an Inspector. I’m black. I started in the Police Force in 1983. I was very much in a
minority then; there weren’t many females or people from [Black and Minority Ethnic] backgrounds.
I remember one date the most; it was the 29th of December 2011. It was having to deal with a stabbing… A young man lost his life. It was seeing his mum when I arrived on the scene. He was pronounced deceased in front of me. It wasn’t a good one. It was tragic.
At that moment I thought to myself, ‘we have to tell them,’ because they were waiting to find out. I just had to go up to his mother, she kept saying, ‘tell me…don’t tell me…is he dead?’ I didn’t know her name. All I could say was ‘Mum, I’m so sorry.’ I’m a mum myself. I told this woman the worst news that any person can possibly tell another person.
In all my time, I learned never to judge a book by its cover. A lot of people would judge me. You can judge, but you never know what’s behind an appearance. I remember talking to a homeless man often. It turned out he had lots of money in the bank. He had been a businessman. He just wanted to drop out of society. I would never have known. I remember his name – Terrance. I learned so much from him. He used to hang around Piccadilly.
Don’t judge people. Everybody has a story.”
“When I joined, women also had to join the Police Women’s Department. It was very restrictive. In ’75 and ’76 Equal Opportunities and Equal Pay legislation came in and all the women went into normal duties. It was good, but you had to work twice as hard as the men to prove you could do the job. My friend was a dog handler…her Superintendant set out to fail women.
As a Police Officer you go into so many homes and awkward places; places where nobody else would go. I remember one night – it was a full moon – we were busy all night long: fights, sudden deaths. I couldn’t keep up with it. Another night, when I first worked in Notting Hill, I went into a property that was luxury beyond luxury – the Crown Prince of Jordan’s house. He’s the King of Jordan now. A few hours after that I was back on the streets dealing with a homeless man. There are big moments: when you make a major arrest, when you resuscitate someone. I was there when they brought Ronnie Biggs – the Great Train Robber - into custody, when he flew back from Brazil.
The uniform means different things to different people – it reassures some, makes some nervous and others immediately assume you’ve come to deliver bad news.
I just know that I’ve stepped up, you know. You have to have the Police or society breaks down. Americans have ‘law enforcement’ but we patrol without guns here – that’s something the rest of the world wants to emulate. There’s trust in this country – people trust the Police more than politicians.”
“I’m still in training. There’s one week left to go. I didn’t want a job in which any two days were going to be the same as another. I’m not particularly computer-based; I like talking to people, I like fixing people’s problems, getting involved in what’s going on in their lives.
I can't give too much detail, but there was somebody recently who we attended a call for. She was very vulnerable and in probably what I would describe as one of the lowest times of her life. That was a real wake up call – I got to sit down with her in that moment and talk to her. I felt really privileged. I realised that the Police are often people’s first call. It’s not always about turning up to a stabbing or a road traffic collision. Sometimes people just need someone to talk to. It’s often sheer desperation and if we can make an impact then… I think if anyone ever complains about this job then they should think about moments like that.
I wouldn’t like to think that I’m a different person in uniform, because I’m still me; I’m still human, but being a police officer is definitely a role. You have to be confident and you have to be assertive in difficult situations. Of course, being a police officer means people respond to you in a certain way. You command a certain amount of respect and I’m so aware that you have to be careful how you use that. It’s about protecting people, informing them, getting them empowered to help themselves or getting them the help they need.
I just want to improve people’s quality of life, standard of living and general happiness. I don’t think it’s just about going out and catching all the bad guys. If I can make lots of small differences in people’s lives, that would be enough for me.”
“Officially I’ve been a Police Officer for five weeks. I’m constantly terrified that I will do something wrong. I am more worried about things I didn’t think I would be bothered by. For instance, when I approach a group of fighting men, I’m just like, ‘Oh, come on, sort it out!’
In my previous job, I worked with the police a lot and I realised it wasn’t just chasing bad guys on blue lights – this job is about communities. So far I’ve broken up a fight, which was quite exciting. I was also out looking for a missing person and I was worried that they would be dead when and if we found them. I heard a Detective Inspector speak about personal resilience; she spoke about the need to talk about emotion, as in how do you deal with a dead body? It’s OK not to be OK.
I hope that, through this, I will learn self-control. I was always a very impulsive person. I’ve definitely become more tempered – it’s all about not letting frustration take over and thinking before speaking or acting.
I’d really like to be part of positive changes in the Police – in terms of gender and racial equality. I think we all have a responsibility to change it