Life as a PC: A Day in the Life of a Police Officer in the UK

  • Time to Read: 8 min.

The role a police officer plays in the community is complex. They are not just there to enforce laws. They are there to provide security and safety for their community. A police officer has an arsenal of responsibilities and challenges they face on an hourly basis. Police officers patrol the streets of the community, protecting citizens from crime. They can interact with many people during a given shift, such as the shopkeepers, children on the street, and people at the bus stop. Read this interview with a serving police officer to get a better understanding of a day in the life of a police officer, including the ups and downs.

We did an interview with Ryan, one of our readers. Ryan currently works as a response officer (attending 999 calls) in a busy city centre. He has 3 years’ service at the time of this interview.  

Below is a transcript of the conversation that we had with Ryan, where he tells us all about a typical day in the life of a police officer in the UK, as well as what he likes about being a police officer and the things he wishes he knew before joining.

Interview: Questions and Answers

Q. What’s it like being a police officer

David: It’s hard work! I don’t say that for sympathy, I just didn’t realise how much the police do.  You can be chasing after a burglar one minute and delivering a death message the next. The pace is constantly changing and there are no two days the same. Just when you start to get confident that you know what you are doing, you’ll go to a job and have no idea what you’re doing. No amount of training can prepare you for what you will see and do.

Q. Please can you take us through a normal day in the life of a police officer.

OK, I was on an early turn shift yesterday (I’m about to go onto nights now as I’m talking to you now). I’ll take you through what I did yesterday rather than guessing at what a day looks like as they are so different.

An early turn shift is 07:00 to 17:00 hours

05:00 – Got up and got ready for work

05:30 – Left the house for the 45-minute commute to where I work

06:05 – Arrive at work, it takes an age to get through the security gates etc

06:15 – I get my kit out of my locker, get dressed, and head to our main office.

06:20-06:40 – When I get to the office I get some car keys and I book out my taser. I’ll then log on and check my emails and look at the crime reports that I currently am managing.

06:40 – Team Briefing. Up to this point, most mornings start the same.  This morning my and my colleague were asked to go down to the cells to take over from one of the night shift colleagues.

They had arrested a male overnight, but they hadn’t managed to book him into custody before they were due off at 07:00 hours. My colleague and I went to book the male into custody, so the officers could get on with their paperwork so they wouldn’t be too late off from work.

There is nothing worse than being late off after night shifts, you’re tired as it is, and the later you leave, the heavier traffic is!

08:20 – We got out of custody. The male we were booking in was fine. This isn’t always the case. A lot of people like to fight when they’re in custody.

08:30 – We went to speak with the Sgt to see if there were any specific taskings for us to complete. We would normally have been tasked from the briefing, but because we hadn’t been in it, we didn’t know.  We were asked to go and do some enquiries in relation to a burglary that had happened overnight. My colleague spoke with the victim whilst I went and did house to house enquiries with the neighbours to see if anybody had seen or heard anything, or had any CCTV footage, etc.

This is a really simple, but important task. This is one of those jobs that can go any which way, some people don’t like the police and don’t want to speak with you, others want to tell you everything that’s wrong with the police and others want to tell you their life story. Even though you know you need to get on with the job, you’ve got to listen to what people have to say and respond appropriately.

We then wrote up all of the enquiries that we had done onto the crime report.

A Day in the Life of a Police Officer

11:00 – we got a call about a female who had walked out of a care home telling them that she was going to kill herself. She hadn’t given them any further information. My colleague and I went to the care home address and searched the female’s room for any clues as to her intentions and where she may have gone. The care home had a list of friends.

We spent ages going around friend’s addresses and locations where the female had previously been located. She was not at any of these.

We had almost exhausted all of our lines of enquiry and were going to ask for somebody with specialist skills to look at the incident when we received a message about a female matching the description on one of the bridges which is a known suicide spot in the area.

A lot of people will go to these as a cry for help. They don’t really have the intention to commit suicide. However, some, you just don’t know.

We headed over to the location and confirmed that this was the female that we were looking for. She was adamant that she wanted to take her life. We spent a lot of time talking to the female. Colleagues had to block off the road and foot traffic to the area, for their safety and that of the female. Thankfully, we managed to talk the female down from the ledge of the bridge and we detained her for a mental health assessment.

This mean that we had to take her through to the local mental health facility and sit with her whilst she had an assessment. This took quite a long time.

16:00 – We resumed from the mental health facility and we went back to the station, we hadn’t eaten all day so needed to grab something whilst we wrote up the paperwork.

17: 40 – Off duty

Q. Wow, is that a typical day in the life of a police officer?

Yes and no! There is no such thing as a typical day. The jobs that we went to yesterday were very typical, but we deal with such a wide range of things. Night shifts are different again.

Q. What is the hardest part of your role?

Everybody deals with things differently, I don’t like delivering death messages or dealing with dead bodies, especially children, I take that sort of thing home with me. Whereas, I don’t mind dealing with aggressive people.

Q. What is the most surprising part of being a police officer?

The amount of paperwork! They don’t warn you about that when you go to recruitment fairs! I wasn’t naïve enough to think that I would be blue lighting about in fast cars, catching hardened criminals all day, but I didn’t realise how much paperwork there would be for everything that we do. I understand why we need to, but I do spend more time on a computer than I expected!

Q. What is the impact of being a police officer on your personal life?

It’s difficult. People not in the job don’t always understand the shifts, and being off late. Also, you don’t always manage to get to all of the key events, Weddings, Christenings, Birthdays, Anniversaries, etc, you can’t always get the time off when you want it. People outside of the job don’t always understand that.

A Day in the Life of a Police Officer

Also, there are times when you get home and just want to be quiet. You’ve maybe seen something horrific that day, or something that you have been to has taken all of your attention to deal with and you are mentally shattered.

When you come home you don’t always feel like chatting. It’s not always easy to explain that to somebody at home, or your friends.

Also, you’re never off duty, which can make life difficult. It’s also hard if you police where you live and socialise.  I used to and I’ve been approached in the supermarket by a person I’ve arrested before and they tried to intimidate me.

It’s not pleasant when that happens, especially if you are with friends or family. I’ve recently moved the base as which I work, which is nowhere near where I live. I prefer this.

Q. What is best part of being a police officer?

When you really get to help somebody. That sounds really cheesy, doesn’t it? Most people join the police with the hope of helping people, if they don’t, they’re probably in the wrong job!  

Q. What’s next for you?

I don’t know yet, I really enjoy being a patrol officer and I still have a lot to learn. I may look at moving into a more specialist role in another couple of years.

That’s the great thing about the police, there are so many different roles you can go into that you will never be bored!

Q. What advice would you give to anybody wanting to join the police?

Definitely to make sure that you know what you are getting into. A few of the people I trained with were surprised that they would have to work shifts, or see dead bodies, or seemed surprised at the level of confrontation that you receive from members of the public.

This definitely isn’t a job for the faint-hearted, you really do need to be aware of what you are letting yourself in for!

If you can, go and do a shift with some officers beforehand and speak to them and see what their stories are, even better. If you have the time, sign up as a Special Constable, that way you get to see firsthand what police officers deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Q. Any regrets?

None! I get frustrated with my job, like anybody else, but it really is like nothing else out there, you literally don’t know what you are going to be doing from day to day.

Thank you, Ryan

Summary: A busy day in the life of a police officer

There you go, a life in the day of a police officer.

As you will see nearly every minute was accounted for. Ryan and his colleague didn’t even get the opportunity in the day to eat, they were that busy looking after other people.

If you asked 100 different police officers about their ‘normal’ day, you will probably get close to 100 different answers. As Ryan has said, policing is a job like no other, and can be very rewarding, however, it is not for everybody. If you are considering applying to be a police officer, you should do some research first to know what to expect and find out whether policing is for you.

A big thank you to Ryan for taking the time to talk to us before going onto an undoubtedly busy night shift.

Want to know what a police officer keeps in their locker? Check out our locker essentials guide.

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