What 40 years of work has taught me…

Dave Potts GSTS

I joined Merseyside Police on the 4th April 1980, assembling nervously at Mather Avenue with twenty or so fresh-faced young men and women. I was 18 years old a month off 19. There were several police cadets on my intake. They had the advantage of knowing the instructors and their way around the centre. They seemed to be streets ahead of the rest of us in terms of their understanding of the ‘job’ and had a distinct swagger about them.

I hit it off with one of the cadets straightaway. He had an infectious almost crazy enthusiasm and a bone-dry sense of humour. We soon did the Liverpool thing of adding ‘sy’ to our surnames – Pottsy and Mylsesy. We went through the much loved Bruche Training Centre in Warrington in the same class and were then posted to divisions and stations; me to Bootle and him to Birkenhead.

After 40 years, ex Superintendent John Myles is, I am proud to say, still a friend and colleague. He is an integral part of what we are achieving at GSTS. We work together on strategy, training and planning projects every single week.

I remember an older friend who I was close to once, explaining to me that he thought friends were for a ‘season’ – what he felt was that friends come into your life at certain points and then leave. They would embellish your life for that period or season and no more. I must say over the years I have had many such friends or ‘mates’, but I now believe that true friendship can and does last a lifetime.

Through forty years I have met and worked alongside many men and women who have left a lasting impression and mark on me. When I have had the opportunity, usually under the maudlin influence of alcohol, I have explained and thanked them for their important role in my life. I have always felt the need to verbalise this as a way of appreciation but also as an encouragement to them.

It seems to me that there is often a reluctance to acknowledge that we don’t get through life on our own but are the product of thousands of interactions with others whose skills and knowledge are constantly rubbing off on us. From this, we are continuingly changing and adopting those very same great attributes. Those who think they have done it on ‘their own’ are sadly misguided.

One of the very first Pearls of Wisdom I was given by an experienced bobby was ‘follow someone on your section who is doing the job properly and do what they do’. As a sprog it seemed to me that anyone with five years in was a real ‘old arse’. Anyone with over 10 years and certainly up to 15 years was placed on an alter and considered worthy of veneration. These officers had seen it all and done it all. When I got to five years’ service myself, I realised that it took you five years before you felt confident to handle any situation whatever that was. There were those with less than five years who thought they could, but their belief in themselves was far more than others saw in them.

This was a salutary lesson to me to never consider myself better than anyone else or better than I was. Whatever good or worthy things were in me were for others to see, not for me to have to shout about.

When I proudly became a Detective Constable at Bootle, the ‘pearls of wisdom’ had changed to become Cardinal Rules. One of the first Cardinal Rules I was taught were ‘You’re only as good as your last job. Keep your medals in your bottom drawer’. The emphasis in the CID at that time was that you worked extremely hard, took whatever crime was on the ‘spike’ and when you did touch for a ‘good job’ you didn’t boast about it but moved on to the next. Of course, you did so with an evil grin and the innate satisfaction that everyone in the office, and the bosses knew you’d done well. From that, you became embedded in a silent culture of rubbing peoples noses in the dirt without seeming to do it.

As I’ve gone through my work life, I have seen so many people become obsessed with telling others how good they are. Their fallacious quest to be ‘seen’ as successful standing out like the proverbial sore thumb, (for want of a more prominent simile). In the CID at that time, those who were too flash and cocky were referred to as a ‘Big City Jack’ – ‘Jack’ being the Liverpool police term for detective. These big city detectives often had the best suit and the best car but were useless at sorting the mundane crimes we all had to deal with, or any crime for that matter.

Another Cardinal Rule instilled in me was: ‘It’s the jobs you write off that make you a good detective’. I can still remember the exact time I was told that. It was in the CID office at Marsh Lane, with every single desk piled with mounds of paper and files. Each column of crimes was at least 18 inches high – we were literally consumed with paper. I remember you couldn’t see one detective as he was hidden behind a solid wall – you could just see his hair. With the onset of the heroin culture of the early 1980’s burglaries and thefts had exploded and each of us were often dealing with ten new crimes every single day – it was relentless. This was alongside dealing with prisoners arrested by uniformed officers, roped into murders or other major enquiries or dealing with our own arrests.

That Cardinal Rule taught me a lesson about prioritising the important aspects of the job and breaking through the restrictions of dealing with problems that won’t go away. A ‘ball ache’ was a crime that had been reported that probably wasn’t a crime and quickly became a mental block – It couldn’t be filed easily and lay on your desk like it was radioactive. The more you tried to hide it or try and forget about it the more it glowed, pulsed and throbbed. It seemed to have eyes to watch you wherever you went.

To counter these walls of reports and ball aches, we would hope for a Sunday when we were on day shift and pray for it to be quiet. We would then spend the whole shift getting rid of those crimes that we had for the longest and doing our best to creatively write off the real smelly ones. Some of the detectives were better story tellers than Enid Blyton and as eloquent as Sunday Times journalists. Save for a bacon buttie and numerous mugs of tea we would pound our Olivetti typewriters all day long. Monday mornings found us coming into the office whistling ‘Hi Ho – Hi Ho it’s off to work we go’. The absolute joy of having a relatively clear desk – ready to take more crimes on the ‘spike’.

That lesson in breaking through mental barriers and cleaning slates taught me the importance of good habits and having the assent in your life to address issues quickly so they don’t become a burden. These burdens can hold you down and prevent you reaching your true potential. It also taught me about being single minded and that nothing comes without hard work, perseverance and commitment. Whilst this same sentiment is often repeated, it is disturbing nowadays how many people want the rewards without the work. We have a culture of everyone wanting quick results and quick wins.

The CID also taught me about prudence, which has stood me in good stead over the years. Every single month, I was bollocked by my Detective Sergeant for not claiming my monthly ‘snout’ allowance – for passing to informants. This was a sum that had to be claimed via your diary, and then added to your monthly pay. I can hear him now ‘Yer haven’t claimed yer snout money Pottsy! The Federation fought hard for that yer know!’ The sum was a princely 50p and harked back to the 1960’s when 50p was 10 shillings or ‘Ten bob’ and well worth having.

So, forty years under my belt, facing my 60th birthday next year and three years into the relaunch of GSTS where do I find myself?

I can honestly say that after 40 years I am working with some of the best men and women I have ever worked with. Our ceaseless mission at GSTS to empower our officers through specialist training is really paying off and providing us with powerful and auditable results. On our own, we are giving our clients real value for money and return on their investment. We are a distinct change from the lack lustre and cursory approach to training and poor standards that has dogged the industry for years.

Those very same Pearls of Wisdom and Cardinal Rules are being passed on by our Specialist Training Team, to supervisors, officers and our management team.

I am seeing peer group support and recognition at its finest. Security Officers flourishing on Intrusive Supervision Courses and being taught Decision Making Models and Behavioural Assessment Screening.

Officers, who have never felt encouraged before, working extremely hard pushing through barriers to deliver incredible and previously unthought of levels of service and professionalism. All the time keeping their ‘medals in their bottom drawers’ and moving on from one good job to another. I see it every single day in the testimonials and emails of thanks we get from our clients.

We have a ten-year plan for GSTS – It will take us to 2030. Mylsey and I will be pushing 70, but if we don’t have that very same enthusiasm and excitement we had on that bright Monday morning in 1980, it will be time to hang up our boots.

That’s definitely a Cardinal Rule worth sticking to.