Hertfordshire Police ride-along: “I was one of the first people back on the road and the day did not disappoint.”

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Our reporter, Olivia Preston, experienced a real day in the life of a Dacorum officer.

To help boost their latest recruitment drive and to engage the local community, Hertfordshire Police have relaunched their ride-along scheme after a two-year pause due to covid restrictions.

I was one of the first people back out on the road with the police officers in Hemel Hempstead and I had a real taste of what is a very varied but high-pressured job - from traffic collisions to a potentially dangerous situation involving armed police.

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As part of my ride-along, I signed a document agreeing not to disclose details of the crimes and people involved in what I would see during the day.

Olivia Preston, Hemel Today reporter, spent an eventful day with Hertfordshire Police.Olivia Preston, Hemel Today reporter, spent an eventful day with Hertfordshire Police.
Olivia Preston, Hemel Today reporter, spent an eventful day with Hertfordshire Police.

To start my day working with the Hemel Hempstead police, I was cheerily welcomed into the station by the night shift who was clocking off, and the day team who I would be working with.

At the 7am briefing, the officers kicked off the day with cups of tea while being told the important things to be aware of while patrolling, like wanted people and the anticipated high volume of calls.

Even early in the morning as I was still waking up, it was obvious by the laughing and chatting that the camaraderie was strong between the officers.

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I was introduced to the two officers who would be with me for what would become an eventful day.

The police officers, who I rode with, outside of Hemel Hempstead police station.The police officers, who I rode with, outside of Hemel Hempstead police station.
The police officers, who I rode with, outside of Hemel Hempstead police station.

PC Tom Guthrie and PC Richard Cooper showed me the police reporting system and all their gadgets - radio, phones, laptops, tasers and a 1080p body-worn camera.

Technology for the 21st-century police force is essential and is integrated into every aspect of the job. From evidence to communications and reporting, computers and tech help the police do their job more efficiently.

But the trusty notebook, a staple of any police officer’s arsenal, is an item that technology hasn’t replaced yet.

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I hopped into the back of the police car, (not a phrase I ever thought I would write) and the constables talked me through all the gear inside.

The car that Olivia rode with the police in.The car that Olivia rode with the police in.
The car that Olivia rode with the police in.

It was evident from our first job that the police pick up a lot of work from other public sectors.

A missing person's welfare check thankfully ended in locating the person as safe and no more action was needed. This was followed by a visit to a home for another welfare check.

While we drove around Dacorum, it was clear that the officers both seemed to have an innate understanding of someone acting suspiciously and picked up on it instantaneously.

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As a civilian, something that seemed incidental, was enough for PC Cooper, a former Met officer, to follow and track down.

PC Guthrie said: “When you’re in the police, even when you’re off duty, you never fully switch off.”

The constant hum of voices through the radio became standard as I asked PC Cooper and PC Guthrie about their experiences as officers.

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PC Guthrie, who wanted to be an officer since a child, said the ‘best’ parts of his job are “live situations”.

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“I like to be out and about. Anything live, like an intruder in a house, is always exciting.”

PC Cooper agreed, “There are so many things you can do.”

While at Berkhamsted police station, I met Police Community Support Officer Lindsay Cunningham, who filled the PCs in on local news and explained that her job means that she is the "eyes and ears" of her area.

Mid-conversation we had a call and raced through Hemel Hempstead to deal with an argument in a residential area.

Before the job was finished, we ran back to the car and headed into a traffic collision. It is safe to say that you need to be fit to be an officer.

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The officers, who were supported by other team members from across Dacorum, attended the scene and I saw the process of reporting, statement-taking, medical assistance and road-closing as the rain started.

The fast-paced nature of the job and the staff shortage on the day saw the team sent across the borough, fighting through traffic to deal with a variety of things.

The multifaceted job can see officers work as social workers, mental health assistants, ambulance attendants and friends in the space of a few hours.

I asked how the officers keep relaxed and focused on their work when they deal with difficult and upsetting jobs.

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PC Guthrie said: “You do the job that’s in front of you rather than let your emotions take over.”

At times, it was easy to get confused with all the codenames, jargon and technical language used. But as a civilian, it was only natural to get lost.

Throughout the day, sometimes it felt as if I didn’t get a chance to breathe, let alone eat anything. It was a relief when we had five minutes to have lunch before racing out the door and heading across Hemel Hempstead with the sirens and lights on.

PC Cooper, who explained that they can easily go all day without eating, was right.

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The next few hours seemed to fly by as jobs came in thick and fast from a stalking incident and an arrest to a stop and search while patrolling.

The arrest highlighted the legal knowledge that police must know - one misstep could lead to jeopardy which is the last thing they want while trying to protect people.

While I sat in the car, I asked about what they do when the day goes quiet. I soon realised the truth to the police’s superstition of using the 'q word’.

My seemingly innocent question led to a huge spike in activity as we went from one job to another.

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The constables were talking on the radios constantly trying to understand the serious situation they were arriving at. So much so that at the scene, I was told to stay in the car.

While armed police officers secured the area, PC Cooper and Guthrie were debriefed by Sergeant Roughton. Another call came through with an incident that we raced to deal with.

By 5pm, we attended the serious and violent incident again, PC Cooper pointed out the helicopter in the sky which was ready to track any suspect trying to flee.

I ducked under the police tape and witnessed something out of a drama show. The dog, helicopter and armed police were assisting to find the subject and recover a weapon used in the attack earlier in the day.

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After being told that there were limited resources and only a few police dogs are available to use in a serious situation, I was face to face with PD Hunter. He was a big, black German Shepherd who was ready to do his job but was happily playing with his toy.

The two PCs still needed to write their reports and do paperwork after we got back to the station around 6:30pm, nearly two hours after the shift officially ended.

Not once on the ride-along, even when we were driving over 100mph, did I feel unsafe. PC Cooper’s response driving was excellent and having the two people explain everything as it happened kept my mind at rest.

After my day with the Hemel Hempstead police, it was evident that despite their resources being stretched - every job was dealt with and either resolved or passed over to the detective team.

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It was clear that the job is by no means easy or without stress but the high-pressure environment seemed to make the police work together harder to make sure everyone was safe.

The varied situations and interactions with the community make it easy to understand why PC Cooper and Guthrie find their jobs so rewarding.

I spoke to Sir Mike Penning, MP for Hemel Hempstead, the area where most of the ride-along was focused.

Sir Mike said: “I want to say to anybody that wants to love and serve their community to go and do it. They may never have ever thought about joining the police force. But when they've done a ride with them, they see the diversity of the community that the police can come from.”

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He added: “It's not a cushy job. It's a tough job. It just opens people's eyes as to the role of the police which is fantastic.”

A big thank you to the Hertfordshire Police for arranging the day and to PC Cooper and PC Guthrie for a great, action-filled day.

The ride along scheme is open to anyone who wants to experience a real day working as an officer in Dacorum or who is interested in training to be a part of the police can apply here.