This guest blog has been written by Sgt Harry Tangye. Sgt Tangye has been a Police Officer for 28 years and is currently an ARV Sergeant, Firearms Commander and Tactical Advisor (Firearms & Pursuit) with Devon & Cornwall Police.
‘Firstly, you have to be a cop. So if you aren’t but think you fancy driving fast cars and pointing guns at bad people, it’s not for you.
So to those police officers who are thinking about joining us, I’ll try to let you into all the secrets. I’ll try to tell you how it is. As long as you are a reasonable police officer, then you stand half a chance of being selected for a training course once you apply. You will have completed two years as a student officer, probationer what ever they call you now, and you will have raised the eyebrow of your Sergeant for them to think, “Yeah, I can see you doing that”. If you have a Sergeant who thinks more about the section than you, and would prefer to put you off leaving the section to save him having a shortfall, then apply anyway!
We want someone who is capable of working without supervision. You will be crewed with someone and thrown out there in the most challenging locations and incidents together. We don’t want officers who go along with the flow doing as little as they can. They exist but they are far fewer than some would think.
Why I say that is that every police officer in the Force is busy, very busy. Your colleagues have been cut in numbers and you are completing more work than ever before. The nights you thought you would complete some paperwork was ruined with you having to sit in the hospital with a person waiting to be assessed for mental health issues, and that’s because the mental health services were slashed which means the ‘Buck Stops Here Dept’ steps in, that being the Police.
So when you see a big flash car driving by with two very well equipped officers inside, then drifting off again without so much as a wave, frustration may set in. In reality, that unit has just come back from a fatal road traffic collision 50 miles away on a separate radio channel. They’ve assisted the undertakers in removing the body and taking it to the mortuary. They are on two of five other radio channels in their area covering Traffic collisions, violent domestics in other towns, fights, knife suspects, self harming and searching for missing persons, and if they kept the crime for every suspect they were requested to search for and arrest, they would never get out of the station. My rule for my section is, “As long as you are busy, I don’t care what you’re doing” . What I don’t put up with is those who distance themselves from getting involved.
The other side of the coin is that you will probably have to stealthily deal with being called to a violent domestic with other units and find some officers take a big step back so you have no alternative to make the arrest and carry out the handover. But units are busy, and you can see why they do it too. It’s human nature. My job as a Sergeant is to make sure we are doing our bit, but we are also free to do our specialist job too.
Congratulations, you have the course and you now have to get through a twelve week intensive initial firearms course. (IFC). Have a look around you, and of the sixteen that are sitting with you on day one, you will probably see ten of them go over the following weeks. There is so much to learn, constant assessments on what level to go in at, can you think on the hoof, is your officer safety to the standard required, and can you learn the procedures for two person entry team, three person, four person, Emergency search, deliberate search, trains, vehicle interceptions? You need to be ready to be in the ‘Buck Stops Here’ department from day one, so no favours are done here with getting those through who don’t meet the mark.
You’ve managed to get through the course. You have invested a lot into this. Your head is buzzing. You are already a standard driving course level but you will have to pass your advanced driving course in most Forces. You will have to qualify for Tactical Pursuit and Containment (TPAC) and drag many a drugs dealing suspect off the motorway with your driving tactics that would scare many ordinary people. You will train on runways over and over again so it will become second nature to you, and so your colleagues can trust you and you can trust them. Not quite the Red Arrows in cars but almost!
But then you will be an ARV officer. You will still undertake incredibly stressful training and pressurised re-qualification shoots, four days every six weeks, however count that as every five weeks from the end of one to the beginning of the other. The pressure never ceases, and that’s ignoring the fact you may wish to become a pursuit tactics advisor, a Firearms Tactics Advisor, an Operational Firearms Commander or a VIP officer. The refresher training is relentless, but so, so rewarding.
My Section has six officers in it, but we are a family. A family of all different characters, shapes and sizes, but we have something in common. We are of a type, a group of friends who have been through the ARV course and we train relentlessly together. We know each others flaws, and our strengths. As a family, we go through hard times and some very fun times, but with our Section of officers, we talk, and we defuse because we know each other so well. We drink beer together, and we go to Rugby games together at Exeter Chiefs. When one goes to a suicide, we naturally talk about it and ensure the officer finding the corpse is okay. There’s no macho chat, there is a lot of Banter, but there is a humanity I have never seen in another Section of officers. The Section is small enough to be a family but it is large enough to look after an individual having problems.
So be ready to feel you belong, because you have made it this far, you only make up 5% of the Police Force. You will be thrust into a situation when you may have to make the ultimate decision. You have leveled your red dot on to the subject, you are waiting for their next move. If they raise the firearm, you will have years of stress in court. The papers will publish a beautiful family photo of ‘Granddad of two killed by police’ and because it was an imitation firearm when he decided to level it at you, the papers will say he was unarmed as well. And you won’t be able to argue in public and the drip drip of criticism will get you down. The family will make them out to be a choir boy when you knew they were dealing drugs to school children for years, but you can’t argue. You don’t know for sure whether you will go to prison but you probably won’t. You will have half an eye out for his family and friends when you take your children to school. What you do know is that the half a second you took to decide your action of shooting, will be pulled apart for the next five to seven years. And each ‘No further action’ will be appealed by a well resourced family. You will question your own sanity.
But I would say join us. Why I say that is because of the firearms family. The fact you will have experiences that no other will, and that is a privilege. You will be trained to be the best, and you will know that if you are the one who has to pull the trigger, you did it because you were protecting yourself, or someone else, and the accusers can go to hell.
There is a national struggle to achieve the firearms officers numbers required. The reasons for the difficulties are because of some of what I’ve mentioned above. There is no extra pay. ARV officers do it for the job satisfaction, and for being part of an incredible team that is almost impossible to replicate anywhere else. It’s ironic however, that because ARV officers have to do so much training, even though they cover earlies, lates and night shifts with everyone else, they don’t do so many night shifts because of the training week and therefore don’t get the unsociable hours of response officers. It’s nice for the officers who don’t get on with night shifts, but the irony being they earn approximately £350 less per annum than any other officers working shifts in the Force. Yes, you will take a pay drop!
I have been an ARV officer for the past 20 years. I am always impressed by the quality of officer and the refusal to drop standards nationally. I would thoroughly recommend it to officers if you wish to stretch yourself, and want to be the best at what you do, and if you want to do one of the most disciplined and responsible jobs in the country.’
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