Public service, sacrifice and a life of vocation

NCA officer and voluntary chaplain Cliff Caswell reflects on the responsibilties of officers on-duty over the Easter break.

For the majority of us and our families, the Easter weekend is an opportunity to enjoy the time to relax with an extended spell off work and spending time with friends and family.

In the world of law enforcement, however, the story is often very different.

Many roles in this crucial line of work can often mean being on duty when others are enjoying time off — the hours worked can be long and unpredictable. Life and limb can also be on the line. Earlier in the year we saw NCA officer Martin Finney receive the George Medal after arresting a gunman following an exchange of fire on a London street. More recently, our Met colleague PC Keith Palmer made the ultimate sacrifice protecting the public in Westminster.

For those of us who have a closer view than most of this world, the quiet professionalism of those willing to shoulder the pressures of a particularly challenging line of work is impressive. And as a volunteer chaplain to a police force as well as my day job in the NCA communications team, I have the privilege of being with ordinary people in some extraordinary roles in both aspects of my life.

Even leaving aside the unsocial hours as well as the time away from loved ones, many law enforcement professionals embrace experiences that most of us would do anything to avoid.

Yes, catching and bringing criminals to book is core to the job. But less obvious situations such as dealing with the high emotions of somebody who has been arrested or helping distressed victims make a statement are par for the course, both in the NCA and wider policing.

In addition, law enforcement officers are expected to uphold the highest standards in situations that can involve managing violence or making split-second decisions in circumstances where the wrong judgment call can have tragic consequences. It is a far cry from a nine-to-five office culture.

People have often asked me about the chaplain’s job in this complex and challenging law enforcement world, and are sometimes initially circumspect about its Godly connections. But in reality this is a fiercely human role, supporting people as they encounter the highs and lows of life.

On some occasions chaplaincy is nothing more than a straightforward social call — a chat, doughnuts and a cup of coffee. Sometimes it will be more. While it is true that conversations can, if requested, have a spiritual or religious dimension, for many it is the grind and pressures of everyday law enforcement life that are the issues; the strain of workload, relationship difficulties or the emotional impact of disturbing sights and situations at the rawest edges of human experience.

Our chaplaincy team is made up of individuals ranging from Humanists to Christians, Muslims to Buddhists and Sikhs to Jews — in short, those with faith and those with none. It is exhilarating to be in this truly ecumenical environment and working for a common cause, particularly as the pressures of policing do not make allowances for religion, skin colour, gender or sexual orientation.

Despite the huge pressures they are often under, those in law enforcement take the challenge in their stride, giving up precious moments in their own lives to help others, on- and off-duty.

It is also particularly heartening that there are people still willing to step up to this plate in a world that increasingly seems to favour self over service. They answer the calling in spite of an easier life, fewer hours and certainly more money being available elsewhere.

At this most difficult time for our law enforcement community — with the funeral of PC Palmer held only last week — we should reflect on those who are committed to protecting us. The quiet professionalism of the public servant is something we should treasure.

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