In 2001, as a fresh faced 22-year-old, I joined Bedfordshire Police. Before joining, I had graduated from De Montfort University with a 2nd class honours degree in Sports Science. At the time I was working as a fitness instructor and part time lecturer at Bedford College but had always wanted to be a Police Officer.
My paper application to Bedfordshire Police was accepted and I remember my interview with an Inspector Rupert Groves, who was responsible for recruitment. He was so lovely and put me at ease but I cried in the interview and felt like such a fool afterwards. He stopped me as I was leaving and told me I didn’t have anything to worry about and that I would make an excellent Police Officer, which was such great feedback from an extremely well thought of Boss.
When I graduated my initial training, I remember parading between classrooms and having to wear hats and saluting any bosses we passed on foot. I was then posted to Leighton Buzzard, where I spent my first two years responding to emergencies and patrolling the small town in south Bedfordshire.
In 2003, the advert came out for officers to apply for the Firearms role. I was excited at the prospect of a physical challenge as I knew the recruitment and selection process was so rigorous, but I was also determined to prove that I could do the same as male officers in the male dominated role. I was aware that there were only three females on the armed unit at the time and I wanted to be among them.
I had never shied away from a challenge before and this was up there with the biggest.
The physical side of selection involved running to 10:2 on the bleep test, a test on the push/pull machine and a grip strength test. I couldn’t believe it when I passed all of these with relative ease! I also remember having to disassemble and reassemble a shotgun following written instructions which was daunting because I have never handled a firearm before. The big test was actually reading the instructions before even touching the shotgun, fail to read the last instruction and you fail the test.
After making it through the selection process, I was ready for the Initial Firearms Course.
I was the only female on a course of 15 officers and I loved that fact!
The men on the course were all amazing; strong, fit and experienced Police Officers. I was young, female and had only been in the Police for just over 2 years. These facts made me all the more determined to pass. The course was a gruelling 10 weeks long and involved learning and qualifying in different weapon systems, learning firearms tactics and physical tests with stretcher runs and other beastings! As some officers failed or got injured, I seemed to be making the grade and loving every minute! A lot of the course was conducted in the snow and I spent hours in military ranges and venues absolutely freezing but in my element!
Passing the course has to be one of the proudest moments of my life. Nine of us survived and I was there with the best Bedfordshire had selected.
Once I moved onto the Firearms unit, I was used in pre-planned firearms warrants all over Bedfordshire. I was also trained and used in counter terrorist searches and other warrants. I loved the thrill of never knowing what the next shift would bring and early morning starts with arming up and briefings, sometimes in huge teams. I also trained and worked as a Rifle officer, allowing me to shoot a larger calibre rifle from up to 500m, learning about camouflage and concealment, the art of stalking and log keeping.
I got married in 2007 and fell pregnant with my first son in 2008. I had to restrict my role on Firearms whilst pregnant but stayed doing an admin role in Collision Investigation. I gave birth in February 2009 and was back to full fitness and on full duty in firearms by June 2009. I had missed my job so much for the time I was away.
I was determined to get back to it as soon as I could, I had missed my colleagues and the comradery.
By March 2010, I was thriving on Firearms but in my usual style, I needed another challenge so I decided to study and take the Sergeants exam. I passed first time and was elated, but the difficult decision then came when I had to leave my role and take promotion.
I was anxious at leaving all my friends and colleagues behind, but I knew the challenge of a new role would invigorate me and move my career along.
I worked on response policing in the north of Bedfordshire for three years before being asked by the Inspector of Firearms if I would like to go back as a Sergeant. I jumped at the chance of returning to my old roots so I agreed immediately. After a short period of re-training, and realising many of the tactics had changed while I was away, I qualified again as an firearms officer and then also as an Operational Firearms Commander.
Returning to Firearms was like coming home and it was a pleasure to lead a team.
Getting older, my body began to fail me somewhat, and I was forced to undergo a major knee operation in 2018. However, I worked hard to get back to fitness and I was back fully operational in five months. The whole process made me take a look at my role and assess how much longer I would be able to complete the fitness tests required, so once again I began looking towards promotion. I passed the Inspector’s exam on the second attempt in 2019 and my fate was sealed. In February 2020 I left my armed response days behind for good which was an extremely tough decision.
After 13 years carrying a Firearm, I think I have proved that if I can do it, anyone else with grit and determination can too.
I genuinely miss my old role and the great people I have worked with. I have had so much support and encouragement and I like to think I have made a difference to people’s lives. And who knows, maybe when the role of Firearms Inspector comes up…
I would say that if a female officer wants to be a Firearms Officer, they need to have a certain mindset. They need determination and be strong of mind. Have confidence in their abilities and that they can do anything. I have never felt any different to any of the males I have worked alongside and I strongly believe that allowances shouldn’t be made to make it easier for females to do the role.
If anyone wants it badly enough, they can achieve it.
If you would like to follow in Nicola’s footsteps and start your career in policing and follow some of the many routes available to you, apply for the officer role today.