What Do You Actually Do!? Episode 21: Ross Gehnich, Police Officer

Today’s episode of What Do You Actually Do!? will be focusing on working within the police. We interviewed Ross Gehnich, who works as a Neighbourhood policing sergeant for Thames Valley Police.

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About Ross

Ross has worked for Thames Valley Police since graduating in 2010, undertaking a variety of different and challenging roles. Currently, he works as a Neighbourhood Policing Sergeant, leading a team of 6 Police Officers and 12 Police Community Support Officers covering a diverse community. Additionally, he is accredited as a Public Order Officer and oversees a Volunteer Police Cadet Unit which supports 30 young people including many from vulnerable backgrounds.

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You’re listening to the What Do You Actually Do podcast. Each week, we want to bring you an inspiring interview, a useful tip or an encouraging message to help you find your place in the professional world.


Hello, and welcome to this episode of What Do You Actually Do? My name is Kate Morris and I’ll be your host today. Today we’re speaking to Ross Gehnich via Skype. He works as a neighbourhood policing sergeant. So Ross, what do you actually do?


So, in my day to day job, I work as a neighbouring policing sergeant and I have geographical responsibility for quite a diverse area. I manage a team of 17 people so that’s both police officers and police staff, and that is to deliver neighbourhood policing within that geographical area. So I work for the largest non-Metropolitan force in the UK, and my area includes both city centre urban areas but also  more rural, affluent areas, and that brings with it its own challenges due to diversity with differing expectations and also the different challenges around engagement in those communities. So, on a day to day basis, my role sort of involves problem solving, driving and leading problem solving, around sort of demand reduction, but also dealing with vulnerability within my communities. Building and working to build community resilience, that’s sort of empowering communities to take responsibility within the own issues that they are having, promoting visibility. So that’s using and deploying police resources to provide a visible presence and that’s both support & engagement, but also using evidence based practice. So touchdown patrols and things that are going to help support the other problem solving work we are doing within the area that we work.


When you say that you’re working with vulnerable people and trying to work with the community, what does that look like in actual tasks? What sort of things are you actually doing?


Okay, so some of these, some of our interaction may come about through scanning. So we’re looking at the sort of demand that we’re getting from vulnerable service users. So they might be people who have mental health issues, substance abuse issues, who will contact the police often as a service of last resort, due to availability within partners, and it will be working with those individuals, not necessarily criminalizing them but more so to reduce the demand. So that might be some quite intensive problem solving work. So where you’ve got an officer who’s at a point of contact, they are visiting, engaging these people, sign posting them, working with partners to get them access to services and benefits or whatever it might be that’s going to have that effect of reducing the demand, both on us and also to try and support them to access services.


Sorry to interrupt. But just to clarify, when you say that you’re the last point of call, is it because they’re phoning for an ambulance? And they’re told they aren’t an emergency, so it can’t happen? Or is it that they went to the Job Centre to get help there and they don’t know who else to ask? So they’re phoning the police?


It can be a whole range of reasons. I mean, ultimately, vulnerable people often become victims of crime. So, sometimes that can be the reason they’re contacting us so you know, we deal with some massive vulnerability issues around things like cuckooing, which relates to county line drug dealing, where they’ll take over a vulnerable service user’s address, use threats of violence or inducement in terms of the sorts of supply of drugs, to use that address and sometimes they’ll be completely dispersed from that address, sometimes they’ll be present whilst things are going on. And it’s a real range, from people who are vulnerable through being exploited, or actually committing criminality themselves. It is often to fund substance misuse. And it can be quite challenging in terms of either identifying these individuals through that scanning – sometimes that’s referrals in parts, sometimes it’s stuff that we identify ourselves, but that’s a component of what we deal with. I mean, it ranges massively, the degree of vulnerability that we encounter from that scale of things through to people, you know, young people, particularly becoming involved in gangs and the risks that brings, child sexual exploitation as well where children are being trafficked. This is quite a challenging environment to work.


It must be very challenging. So are you doing that to support people and prevent further crimes? Are you also responding to 999 calls yourself and going out to emergency situations as they’re happening?


So neighbourhood policing, it varies from force to force across the country. Within the police force I work, neighbourhood policing is ring-fenced to a degree. So my officers are first and foremost police officers, you know, they will always respond if there’s a threat to life or property and you know, they are the closest resource at the time, but because of the protracted nature and complex nature of the work that we’re asking them to do, the organization looks to protect them to a degree from having to be so immediately responsive to calls of service because that can often introduce its own difficulties just in terms of planning of appointments or meetings, whatever it takes to move things forward. But yes, so that is a component of what we do – that operational side of things. So a lot of what I’ve talked about around protecting vulnerabilities has been around partnership working, on problem solving, and that problem solving is operational, and it can be through sort of enforcement and prevention work as well, so what you see more traditionally as maybe police or some people do.


So you’re doing this work with the public, but then as a sergeant, as you said, you’ve got a team of officers below you. So are you having to balance your operational work with the actual management of the team and staff members?


I would say that more so my day to day work is more around tasking and working at a high partnership level, and it’s more about management. I mean, there is certainly an element of my role which is operational and I will remain a practitioner, but increasingly at the level I’m working, it’s more around direction of resources, planning of operations, then it is purely the operational side of things. I mean, that’s work that I’ve done previously, and really, really enjoyed. It’s a fantastic part of the role and actually, that diversity of careers within a career is something that the police offers people.


Where was your starting point? Where did your interest and passion in the police come from?


It was quite late through my studies at York that I sort of looked at policing – I’ve had family members that were involved in policing and I don’t know why, but almost by default I was looking elsewhere, but I never was able to really settle on something. I knew I wanted a career, I knew I wanted something which would be challenging, different, whether it be some variation, and also where I’d be able to really make a difference. Having looked at lots of different career options, the police was the only thing that I found that would offer me that. So after I graduated, I joined as a police community support officer, and that was at a time where there was a freeze in the south with austerity and there was a freeze in recruitment nationally. And that offered me an insight into policing, it was almost dipping my toe in the water to see whether it would suit me and it certainly offered me that. I did that role for around 18 months and after that I joined as a police officer and I worked on a response team. I did that for around three years. So that was responding to 999 calls and dealing with emergency responses. Also crime investigation was a large component. And then I did a period where I worked with our professional standards department as an investigating officer. So that is dealing with misconduct and criminal matters involving police officers. It’s a really important role because ultimately, it’s giving the public the confidence to trust and weeding out people who fall short of the high standards that we expect of police officers and staff. From there, I went back to a uniform role and worked towards promotion. I’ve done a number of roles at Sergeant level, but each of them offers, at the core, there’s a very similar set of skills, but it offers you a great deal of variation. And that’s something that I’d be keen to emphasize to anyone who’s looking at, or considering a role within the police is that it offers you so many different avenues to pursue that, regardless of what your interests are. If you’re a good communicator, if you’re somebody who’s got a good deal of personal resilience and some really strong core values, then it can offer you a fantastic opportunity. I think it’s something I continue to enjoy.


So your degree was in Archaeology, how has this impacted on your career?


I would say that more so it’s the transferable skills that I got, I mean a lot of the work I did, my degree was small group work, seminars, and that’s translated really well into a lot of the presentations, and the meetings and chairing the meetings, and sort of that engagement side of things, that’s put me in really good stead. Occasionally, something archaeology related comes up and I’m sort of able to lean on my experience of my studies, but more so it’s the transferable side. I’ve recently had the opportunity to be involved in some research, which was looking at the organizational culture within the police and I did that with the Open University, and those learning skills, the skills that you get in terms of reading a piece of an academic journal and being able to translate it, and the research side of things certainly help with that as well. And it’s nice to be able to have the flexibility to draw on those skills and those past experiences.


Have you met people who’ve come through the Police Now graduate scheme, because that’s a different way to you, you’ve really built your career from scratch. So have you met people who have come in from a different route?


So there are lots of entry routes, and that sort of diversification of routes in the police is something that’s sort of come on leaps and bounds. So I manage and have managed, so I’ve got an officer currently that’s come in through the Police Now scheme, which is a graduate route, it’s not sort of an accelerated promotion route at all, but what it tries to do is bring individuals who have got a degree, but also are very keen to make a difference. They emphasize problem solving skills, and particularly working within vulnerable communities and the officers that I’ve managed that have come through that route have found it really, really rewarding. They found it challenging as well, more so because it is quite an intensive period of training that’s a lot more succinct than perhaps what is offered within individual forces. But that’s not to say that it’s not a good scheme for people who are very much interested. And, you know, there’s the option at the end of the two years of whether you continue policing, whether you take your experiences which will be absolutely valued by both private and public sector employers. So there’s the option of going through that route. I mean, nationally, they’re moving towards either a degree holder entry, which is the two year entry route, or two year probation, and then also for the non-degree holders as well there’s an apprenticeship scheme, which will effectively give you a degree or degree Level qualification at the end of three years. Similarly, there’s also some direct tension routes that have direct entry detectives and also direct entry inspectors. What I am getting at is that there is a great range of entry routes that might well suit people with either different backgrounds or different aspirations.


It does sound fantastic that there are different entry points, but it sounds like the thing they all have in common is that you get exposure to different aspects of the force, trying out different roles, working with different teams, both working with emergency staff and strategic staff. So it sounds like in the early stages of a career in it enables you to get a broad range of experiences, which I presume then allows you to eventually stay in a specific area or specialize?


Yeah, and that’s exactly it. You get the opportunity to experience policing, and in terms of that frontline delivery it is quite an intense thing. It’s something that will give you a window into every different aspect of life. Both the good and the bad, if that makes sense. And it gives you a good foundation on which to build, so you know, whether you want to be a detective, whether you want to work in roads policing, special investigation, counterterrorism, firearms, there is a whole world behind what you would see. So there’s plenty of opportunity out there.


You’ve mentioned a lot of skills you use and the qualities that are needed for a person to work in this sector. What would you say is the main thing that keeps you interested and that you really enjoy most about the role?


It’s because I can go in on any given day and know that I’m making a difference in the work that I do, and be that, you know, protecting victims or bringing offenders to justice or just being able to make people feel more reassured, more comfortable with where they are and where they’re living and what’s going on. And I don’t think that every career offers you that. And it’s certainly something that I take a lot of pride in, and that I really, really value. Policing isn’t the best paid job in the world. It’s very competitive, but it is not something you do for the money. Yeah, you have to do it for almost, because it is a very, very enjoyable career. But it’s giving that value that really makes a difference for me.


Are there any sorts of downfalls to the role? I’m thinking shift work, how it impacts on your personal life? Is there anything that people should be thinking about as a potential negative in the sector?


 Yeah, so shift work is something you can get used to. At the moment, I work sort of a six week pattern of early & lates but previously working with a response team, you work a 24 hour pattern. So you work nights, late shifts, early shifts, and I would say that personal resilience is a really important attribute to have because those shifts can impact on your personal life. I would also say that people have to consider how their friends and family might view the career because we’re not universally liked. Sometimes doing this career can change the way that people look at you or how they see you, which is sad but it’s something that you have to accept. Also, doing this role, you get held to a much higher standard than you would do in everyday life, and I would say that you have to be ready to be scrutinized and to hold yourself to that highest standard as well.


Which I guess is a real sense of pride, but also pressure as well?


Yeah, it absolutely is. And you know, particularly, sometimes you may have to distance yourself from friends who are involved in certain things and you know, you certainly have to have moral courage to be able to deal with certain situations, but that said, the positives with the role in my experience far outweigh the negatives. It’s just something that people should be aware of with open eyes.


Thank you. I think it’s really important. It’s central to look at the whole picture of a job, the environment you’ll be in, the reality of it and how that actually feels.


Yeah. And from a welfare point of view, the police are a lot better. They’ve got a lot better in supporting their staff, the officers because you know, as a police officer, you deal with traumatic events both affecting you and affecting the people you’re dealing with, you know, and actually to be able to be given the tools and the support to manage that process, you don’t find that having a knock on impact in life. You know, your personal welfare, you’re healthy and it allows you to go out there and do what you need to do.


For students who are thinking that they might want to enter the police force. Are there any key challenges or issues on the horizon that they should be expecting or anticipating?


I think nationally, it’s a really good time if you were considering a role in the Police. There’s obviously an uplift where the government are looking to recruit 20,000 officers, which I think is over a period of several years, and that will mean that police forces are recruiting, which previously with that recruitment freeze I talked to you about – they’re not always open for recruitment. So that’s something to consider, but at the moment they are and they’re actively looking to recruit officers. I think that leads quite nicely on sort of, obviously, budgetary issues, monetary issues, funding issues, which presents challenges, you know, to us and how we deliver those services that we need to. Also because of the funding pressures on partners, you find a lot of transfer of, of demand, and that can be quite challenging. The biggest issue though, overall, would be just changing complexity of the crime that we’re dealing with. So stuff that is internet enabled, and actually people who are coming through the university system now are going to be very well equipped to deal with that, just in terms of their knowledge of the digital world, and that knowledge will translate really well into supporting their management of investigations within the role. So that changing complexity is definitely going to create some challenges, but actually, graduates are now really well equipped to try and deal with and even lead some change around those areas.


On that, have you got any advice for work experience it would be useful for people to get if they think that they would like to apply for one of these schemes or start a career in the police?


I would just encourage people to gain life experience, to become involved in anything within their local communities and volunteer work that’s there. I mean, we often look for things like people’s ability to manage conflict, or to deal with difficult situations. Realistically, we’re just looking for professional people from all walks of life and all backgrounds, you know that diversity is really, really important to us because of the value it brings. So, anybody that’s considering it, I would just say, try and broaden your horizons in terms of what you’re doing. There are no prescribed routes, or prescribed experience that you need. Whilst there may be some entry requirements, and there’s also an assessment centre that the candidates will have to go through and that very much looks at your ability to communicate with people from different backgrounds and just be an effective communicator. Somebody who can maybe show some leadership within a given situation, but no, there’s no particular experience, but just any life experience is really valuable because it guides your decision making within any case.


I guess that suggests that students should be aware of what it is they’re gaining from their experiences. If the ability to communicate effectively is going to be assessed, and people are looking at it in terms of how and why they make their decisions. If you thought about your moral compass, as you say, what motivates and drives you, you can have a better chance with these kind of assessments, do you think?


Yeah, and that self-reflection is important in terms of your personal development, wherever avenue you are looking at, taking the time to look at yourself and to have an honest conversation about where you are, where you need to be, try and identify those areas for development and work towards them. That’s going to really stand you in good stead regardless of what your aspirations might be.


Yes, I agree with that. Well, thank you so much for joining us today. It’s been a real pleasure talking to you. For more information about the career areas we’ve mentioned today, I’m going to add some relevant links to the episode description and a link to the full transcript of today’s show. But for now, thanks again, Ross.


Thank you.


Thanks for joining us this week on What Do You Actually Do? This episode was hosted by myself, Kate Morris and edited and produced by the Careers and Placements team. If you love this podcast, spread the word and subscribe. Are you eager to get more tips? Follow University of York Careers and Placements on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. All useful links are in this episode description. This has been produced at the University of York Careers and Placements. For more information, visit york.ac.uk/careers