(Continued from The Reflective Detective #1)
In my wisdom I fought for a place as a Detective Inspector back covering the South of the city. I knew that this was the hardest place to work, but now that I was on the accelerated promotion scheme I was really keen to prove my operational credibility.
So one sunny day in early spring I paraded on as DI SJ Lennie – the station was pretty quiet, no one else around, so I found what I presumed was my office and sat down and waited for the computer to flicker into life. Not long after I had sat down the Detective Sergeant for the intelligence unit came in and talked me through a piece of intelligence which led to a ‘Threat To Life’. A ‘Threat To Life’ in police context is a high level strand of intelligence where the police believe that someone’s life is under significant and imminent threat. Needless to say I was late off that night, and the next.. and after that.
Days turned into weeks, turned into months.. turned into exhaustion.
I have a high level of commitment to detail and professionalism, I always seek to identify and minimise risk. I take responsibility and can’t walk away until the job is done; to the best possible level. I always look after my staff and support them through the challenges we face – I need to be there for them, I need to be strong for them… and we faced many challenges. At the beginning I knew that I would have a heightened level of stress, that I would worry about every angle of every day, I expected this to level out as I became more comfortable with my role, but with each new investigation, with every new death, threat, kidnapping, rape, shooting, attempt murder, robbery.. I became more afraid.
I can pin the moments when it was beginning to dawn on me that something wasn’t right. The first night that I didn’t sleep one second, but was so completely wired that I got out of bed at seven and went for a run and then on to a full day – without blinking. The moment when I was driving to another death and my husband called me (hands free!) to ask if we could visit family that Sunday, and I realised that I couldn’t because I had an assignment to submit (did I mention that as part of the promotion scheme I was studying for an MSc. with Warwick University) and cried until I reached the scene, then got out of the car and climbed into my white paper suit. When I was regularly working fourteen/fifteen hour days, and resented my job for not allowing me to see my husband (we had only been married six months) because I was too scared to stop working and go home. When I worked 24.5 hours none stop and went back into work after six hours, only to work another twelve. When I couldn’t stop crying when I did get home. When my heart rate was so high I didn’t feel I could get enough air – when I was lying in bed. When I felt so alone in my office and that I was the only one left to manage all the risk… when I came home and begged my husband to help me make it stop.
I give myself some credit for my self-awareness. I knew I was suffering and I knew that if I didn’t make changes I was going to suffer a lot worse. I had heard about the brilliant hard working officers that one day couldn’t get out of bed and spent months ill. I needed to make changes. I went and spoke with my DCI, he listened – and gave me lots of reassurance and a little pep talk. No, I was doing the right thing, yes, the SMT thought I was doing a great job – which is why they were leaving me alone to carry on, and yes, everyone feels the way I did from time to time.
Excellent – I’m a top banana and everyone feels terrified in the police… surely this isn’t right?
I sought some counselling and tried to carry on with my role. I spoke to people a lot and tried to be rational with my thinking… but in the end…
I clearly remember my last job as a DI. It was a cold winter’s day, I was stood out in the middle of a field in a pair of wellies and a white SOCO suit, instructing the cadaver dog handler to look for a dead baby. A couple of hours earlier I had been in my office deciphering letters written by the absent parents (post finger printing) who wanted to be reunited with their child. Ten years ago I would have been looking for little signs as to how I could find them, who they were, what had happened… on this day it was all I could do to fight back the tears as I became overwhelmed with the sadness of their loss and desperation; I couldn’t see the words, never mind find the clues. I was completely emotionally compromised… I knew I couldn’t lead my team like this and I knew that I couldn’t carry on.
I took logical and reasonable steps. I made my decision, I asked to step down from my role and move onto a project – this would give me breathing space to decide what was next. For now I was mourning the loss of my career – it was a long time before I could say the words ‘I can’t be a DCI’ without welling up. I had always dreamt that I would go on to be a Detective Chief Inspector leading murder investigations, and occasionally partaking in a glass of whiskey at the successful conviction of a killer. It was difficult to admit that I was no longer cut out for the role. You can tell me that I haven’t failed… but I won’t believe you. That is how it is with the job.
So what next..?
(to be continued…)