The phrase ‘It’s about who you know’ can sometimes seem synonymous with securing work in criminal justice jobs, especially if that job is in the police. As someone myself with no natural ties to the criminal justice system, it would have been easy to believe that entering this world was far too difficult. Similarly, the well-known close working culture of institutions such as the police might have put me off getting involved for fear of ‘not fitting in’, but it’s important to remember that the police is run by people and any policing culture is created by people. And since I am a person and we are all people, we can be just as much a part of that as anyone else.
Over the summer, I volunteered with Lincolnshire Trading Standards and wrote a blog post about making contacts and my opportunity to meet an ex-police analyst. In it, I described the difficult and long process of getting into the police as a volunteer. I am finally about to start volunteering in the Public Protection Unit of Lincolnshire Police and have also managed to get myself the opportunity to experience shadowing in both CID and Wildlife Crimes. A year ago, maybe even a few months ago, I could never have told you I was sure this was going to happen, but finally it’s about to.
I’ve written a little list of tips that I think could help if you are interested in similar opportunities. Don’t feel as though these need to be followed to a T, but just things to keep in mind if you’re looking into it.
- If you want to shadow, start with volunteering.
This may be useful just to build contacts to get a doorway into shadowing, but as I learnt the hard way, vetting is a very necessary and very long requirement and the best way to do this is through volunteering. This was the first advice given to me when enquiring about shadowing and as I hadn’t been previously aware of this, it put quite a significant hold on my process. Volunteering is also just as useful as shadowing but in different ways. You may have the opportunity to be trained in certain systems and it could end up as a very convenient doorway into a career.
- You might have to be persistent.
I first enquired about shadowing CID at the end of First Year and then followed a series of starts and stops. First of all, on learning about vetting requirements and the time this would take, I had to put my enquiries on hold until after I returned from my Semester Abroad. Upon return to the UK, the contact I had made in CID had left the police, so I had to start again. I then started volunteering with a different organisation (Lincolnshire Trading Standards), which is how I built the contacts I used to enquire about shadowing.
When applying for volunteering positions with the police, I similarly ran into quite a few bumps. In some cases, the positions I’d applied for were already no longer available or the supervisor was on leave. In these cases, I had to readjust my aims and apply for roles which felt a little more out of my comfort zone. My next application was met with a barrier as I was advised that my time away at university would hinder the time commitment they were looking for. Then followed a series of back and forth e-mails about my commitment and time negotiations, and finally my application was forwarded. Following that, everything went pretty smoothly other than numerous admin errors in my vetting process!
- Don’t be deterred by any delay + background experience could be helpful.
There’s nothing to stop you applying without any prior experience, but I’d say you have a better chance with it. In this case, don’t turn away opportunities with less ‘prestigious’ organisations. My experiences with Lincolnshire Trading Standards were very useful at my interview with the police. Similarly, since I’d have been waiting all summer if I’d just been waiting for my police vetting process to be finished, I wouldn’t have had the experience I had to draw upon at my pro bono interview for legal research with University of Leicester’s Miscarriages of Justice Project . Plus, joining an arguably easier-going organisation might be more likely to get you the chance to experience some of the more rewarding and out-there opportunities, which will then impress in your police application!
- Criminal Justice Fast Track.
The University of Leicester offers the Criminal Justice Fast Track Scheme to students who are interested in gaining work experience within the criminal justice sector. It is very helpful for guiding you through the application process, as well as for bringing available opportunities to your attention. On top of this, it’s an incredibly helpful thing to add in your application about why you are committed to volunteering, as the Fast Track offers Gold recognition to students who achieve 100 hours or more on placement.
- It’s always possible.
This process has been long and fraught with uncertainties for me, but it’s finally become a reality. Persistence is absolutely key if it’s not easy to start off with. Don’t be deterred by any obstacles or doubts, because we are all still on this process of learning and it’s sometimes better to think of such obstacles as opportunities themselves.