We're Better Together: Sergeant Mark Church explains how the force has become his second family
Main article content
“My first arrest was an ABH – nothing of massive note – but like every cop it has stuck with me.
“The worry of getting the caution right, having your tutor watching as you put that person in cuffs and then taking them off to custody - I remember it all.
“Taking someone’s liberty away is something that is unique to police officers and something that every officer is very aware of when they step out onto the street.”
Now a sergeant in charge of the Shirebrook and Clay Cross areas of northeast Derbyshire, Mark Church followed his father’s steps in joining the force - despite his dad’s best efforts to dissuade him of joining the thin blue line.
“My dad really tried to put me off being a cop,” said the 51-year-old.
“Like any old officer he was of the view that it ‘wasn’t like the old days’ and I initially went to university to study economics.
“I applied for a few jobs, including factory manager roles and the fire service, before I was drawn back to joining the force.”
Despite an 18 month wait to get into uniform, during which he earned his crust at a bread factory, Mark was finally out on the streets for his first two years as a response officer dealing with immediate, life-threatening 999 emergency calls.
“With my dad being in the force I knew about the shifts and some of the demands that officers have – but nothing can totally prepare you.
“People need to be under no illusion, you will be working nights, you will be late off shift and you may have rest days cancelled. It’s a cliché but, especially when you are on response, it really isn’t a nine to five job.
“And there is no easing into the role. You may have a steady first few shifts but you could be first on scene at a murder, a fatal collision, a suicide. When you head out the door at the start of a shift you have no idea what you are going to be faced with - but that is what makes the job so great.”
And that element of someone being seriously injured is not limited to members of the public – officers are often in the firing line.
“The emergency services are the ones who, when everyone else is running away from a crisis, are running towards it.
“In many ways it goes against those basic human instincts and you have to be prepared for having to get hands on with someone.
“It’s eye opening, especially if you haven’t seen a large-scale fight before, and you’re the one that is expected to get in and sort it out.”
With the stresses of the job making sure that there is a work-life balance is important, and something Mark has seen develop during his 28 years in the force that has included stints in custody, CID and now community policing.
“As a sergeant it’s my job to ensure that my officers are fit, healthy and able to keep our communities safe.
“Over the past three decades I have seen a huge change in the culture of policing, and we are far more aware of the need for that work-life balance.
“Within reason we will be flexible around people’s home lives to make sure that the job works for them as much as they work for the job.”
That management also extends to helping officers develop and move into the vast variety of roles that are on offer in the force.
“People will see officers out on the beat, and they may see detectives on crime dramas on the television, but the diversity of roles that are available is incredible.
“You can be a dog handler, an armed officer, working in counter-terror, or even fly in helicopters – the only limit is really what you want to do.
“In my case I decided I wanted to be a custody sergeant, the person who books arrested people into the cells, as well as much, much more. I managed to achieve that dream and was one of the youngest in the role in which I spent nine happy years.
“After doing a couple of other jobs I was actually moved, without too much warning, into my current role and, despite being a qualified inspector, I love this role and seeing my officers develop.”
With recent award wins for Mark, who scooped the Commitment to Outstanding Leadership award in 2020, and his officers – including Team, Special Constable and Volunteer of the Year – it’s fair to say that the people who work with him are more than just colleagues.
“Again, it’s something that has been said far too many times, but it remains absolutely true – the police service is a family.
“When you are out on shift you, sometimes quite literally, put your life in their hands and they put theirs in yours.
“The things that you see and deal with can be really traumatic, and it’s that family that help you when things are hard.
“There are some really good provisions in place for officers when it comes to the mental health side of things, and it is a far healthier position when it comes to being able to say when you aren’t OK – whether that is physically or mentally.”
For those thinking of joining the force that stress can be compounded by money worries given the current cost of living crisis, particularly if they are taking an initial pay cut to become an officer.
“The starting wage is lower than a lot of graduate roles – or if you are moving from an already established career.
“I know that many of those coming to the force see a substantial cut and, while money isn’t everything, there are things that have to be paid for.
“What I would say is that, once those first few years have passed the money does increase quite quickly and, especially with overtime being available, there is the opportunity to earn a very reasonable monthly pay packet, and that’s before you start moving up the ranks.”