Posted on Friday 17 June 2022
“Ongoing domestic incident in Ferryhill – can all available units attend?” comes the call over the radio.
It’s 2.30pm and PC Farrugia is eight hours into her nine-hour shift as a response officer in Crook. Ferryhill isn’t her usual patch, but five immediate response calls have come into the force control room within the space of two minutes and she is now the nearest available officer.
“Yes yes, 9242 en route now,” she replies to the dispatcher, while hastily saving the paperwork she’s been working on from the morning’s jobs and running to her vehicle.
Details of the incident are being relayed over her radio from the control room as she makes her way from Crook to Ferryhill on blue lights - a woman has called police saying that her partner has assaulted her, and she needs help immediately.
She is met on scene by another colleague from Newton Aycliffe response team who arrived shortly before. Understandably emotions are running high as the two officers separate the couple and try to piece together exactly what has happened, which proves difficult due to the large amount of alcohol the woman has consumed – she is an alcoholic with no friends or family to support her.
After two hours and several unsuccessful calls to local women’s refuges, PC Farrugia eventually secures emergency accommodation for the woman through the local council, and she is taken to Bishop Auckland Police Station where she’ll be looked after by police officers until her accommodation is available.
“A police station is not the best place for her, but when people have nowhere else to go and nobody else to support them, the police will always be the ones who are there to pick up the pieces,” says PC Farrugia, as she makes her way back to her station in Crook to finish her paperwork, two hours after her shift was due to finish.
The job is just one of the several calls for help that PC Farrugia will attend during her shift, which she started at 6.30am that day. Sadly, it is not the only one that involves someone suffering from the effects of mental ill health.
Just a couple of hours earlier, she was allocated to another immediate response call from a man who has told his probation officer that he has all the tools he needs to kill himself and he doesn’t want police to attend – he also has warning markers for being violent towards emergency workers and alcohol abuse. As the nearest available unit, PC Farrugia arrives on scene within minutes, single-crewed – as she has been for the entire shift - and knocks at his door.
He initially refuses to answer, but after several minutes of negotiations he opens the door slightly and begins to talk. She spends half an hour talking to the man, building up a rapport with him, eventually satisfying herself that he doesn’t pose any risk to himself or anyone else. As she turns to leave, he apologies to her for being so rude and hostile when she first arrived.
“Jobs like that can be tough when you are alone, and you don’t know what you’re heading into or who is behind that door. But that’s when communication and talking to people is key – a lot of the time, people just want someone to listen to them,” she adds.
As PC Farrugia demonstrates, resilience is a key skill for all response police officers – the role is not only physically demanding, but mentally too, so the ability to flex and adapt to multiple challenging, stressful, and potentially traumatic situations is crucial.
Staying calm is another vital skill for police officers, not just when attending immediate response jobs on blue lights, but when juggling multiple investigations, keeping victims updated, and staying on top of the paperwork it can be easy to become overwhelmed.
During this particular 6.30am to 4pm shift, alongside attending the immediate response jobs, PC Farrugia also carries out a remote interview with a witness to a commercial burglary she is investigating, attends several diary car appointments to try and get to the bottom of a reported weapons incident allegedly involving some children and a slingshot (these are pre-arranged appointments with victims and witnesses for incidents that do not require an emergency response), picks up a criminal damage investigation while out conducting enquiries into an unrelated incident in West Auckland, and keeps her victims updated on the investigations she is progressing. She does all this with a smile on her face, even when she finishes late and hasn’t had time to eat anything.
“You are exhausted by the end of your shift, but there really is no other job like it in the world,” she says. “There are highs and there are lows, it is challenging, demanding, and stressful, and you will lose count of the number of times you finish late, but it is all worth it. Finishing your shift knowing you have made a difference to someone’s life and got them the help they need is hugely rewarding – nothing else beats it.”