Julia Higgins, Colsterworth Police Constable - Occupations

I am Julia Higgins, born Julia Rosemary Nickerson in Grantham in 1957. My parents were Violet and Fred. My Mum was surprised because she was actually under the doctor for dyspepsia and she found out that she was pregnant two weeks before I was born. She was 47 and my Dad was 60. I have a sister, June, who is 22 years older than I am and a brother, Gordon, who is 14 years older. My Dad worked on the railway, he was a tube-blower and he retired when he was 67. He died when he was nearly 80 and shortly after, my Mum died as well. We lived down George Street and I went to school at Spitalgate Junior School and then I passed my 11-plus and went to the Kesteven Girls' Grammar School. I enjoyed science at school and I wanted to go to university and become a scientist or a lab technician.

However, I met my first husband at 15 and became engaged at 16. I left school and got a job at the Electricity Board as a trainee accounts clerk which meant that I went round several accounts departments working out consumer accounts, creditors' accounts and headquarters' accounts. I did this for several years until I went into the wages department and finally I went into the drawing office for a year. I got married at 18 and became Julia Willis and had my daughter when I was nearly 22. She is now 28 years old. I left work completely, and 18 months later I had a son, who was unfortunately still-born, named Thomas. Then, when Sarah was almost 3, I had my son, Andrew. He is now 25. When he was about 18 months old, I started working part-time because I am a very busy person, I like to be doing something all the time. My children were the greatest part of my life but I needed to do something else as well. So I did various jobs - I was an Avon lady, worked in Mothercare and in Texas as a stock-control clerk. When my husband was made redundant we tried role reversal. I went to work full-time and he stayed at home and got a job as a printer part-time. I became stock-control manager of what became Grantham Book Services.

I had to go up to London for several months to learn the job before it was relocated to Grantham. I absolutely adored it and I was there about 6 years. We dealt with millions of books every year and I made sure that none of them went astray, that they could be found easily, stock-take and deal with the publishers and the deliveries. I went to publishing parties and awards in London, which was fun. I met quite a lot of famous people such as Michael Palin, Stephen Fry, Lynda La Plante and lots of others. But in 1995 I had to have an operation and I got made redundant. So I got a job as a temp for a week before I went into hospital. Then I worked at the Grantham Journal for two years as a page-planner, organising the lay-out of the pages of the newspaper and dealing with dead-lines. It was all very interesting but poorly paid. When Andrew was 14 and Sarah was about 17, I thought I wanted to give something to the local community so I became a Special Constable. Specials have exactly the same responsibilities as Constables and the same powers in certain areas but only in the Force to which they belong and the adjoining Forces. Here, that would be Cambridgeshire, Leicestershire, Nottinghamshire and Humberside.

A regular officer keeps his powers to act throughout England and Wales. Apart from that, Specials don't get paid. There was very little training, I thought I didn't feel properly equipped to do the job as I would like to have done it. Often when I was out with a regular police officer, I was older than he was and the people we spoke to responded to me more than him even if he had more experience. I nearly gave it up but then the opportunity came for me to apply to get in the regular force. I was the right age and the right sex and I was lucky enough to be selected for training. This was 10 years ago, in 1997. So I joined the Police and went to training college in Ryton in Coventry. This was the central college for the Midlands at that time. I did 10 weeks of training initially, taking a week at a time, and then came back for 5 weeks and then back for another 5 weeks. It was a wrench being away from the children but they were able to look after themselves at that time. I worked in Grantham. Unfortunately, marriages in the Police Force frequently do not work out and there was a divorce after 25 years and we went our separate ways.

My second husband is a Police Sergeant over at Bourne and we work about the same hours, usually on the same shift and we get the same rest days. I have been married to my present husband, Dave, for 5 years. I really enjoy this rural beat because it is not so hectic as in town where you are rushing from job to job all the time. The number of police in any area is governed by the size of the population and although Lincolnshire is large the population is relatively small so the Police Force is fairly small as well. This means that you have a huge area to cover. My area is 83 square miles covering 32 villages. The Leicestershire / Notts border is the western edge, South Witham is the most southerly point, then it goes over by Lobthorpe up to the A151 which is the southerly border at Corby Glen. Corby Birkholme is mine but not Swayfield. The border to the east is up through Irnham, Ingoldsby and Hanby to the A52 which is the north border back to Grantham. We had some kiddies in the office the other day and we were looking at a map and we worked out that my area is about 6 times as big as Grantham. The population in my area is about 20,000, probably about half that of Grantham but not so busy. You do not get the crime in rural areas as you do in the towns. Because of that you get more time to spend with the people. I like being in a rural area as you can do the job more thoroughly; you are not rushing from one job to another. You can get to know people better especially out here.

I have got to know so many people, and village people tend to be different to those in the towns. It is difficult to explain. The children have different mentalities. The town children, well a quite a lot of them at any rate, tend not to have a lot of respect for the Police. Occasionally the village children don't either, but in the main they do. It is a sad fact that the Police are getting less respect generally, and I am afraid that this will go on. It is the culture these days. During the last 10 years since coming into the Police, I have noticed that things have changed. There are less Police Officers around as they tend to get extracted for other jobs in other units as dictated by the Government. So there are less and less constables on the streets, which is a shame. People say that they want to see the Police on the streets and complain that they never see them except in a police car. When I came on to this beat, there was one Police Officer covering the beat and I used to get out quite a bit to get around and see people. But now we get so much bureaucracy and paperwork that I spend half of my time sat in my office. Fortunately now we have Community Support Officers so you should see them walking about because they get out to do the job that we want to do. I have 2 Community Support officers, Richard Lister who has been with me for about a year, and Catherine (Kat) Wright who has been with me for around 6 months. So there are actually 3 in the beat team. We try to get into the schools to speak to the children, and we try to give the elderly crime prevention advice regards to doorstep crime, that sort of thing.

It is very difficult to catch criminals in a rural area so you need to be one step ahead of them, actually preventing crime. We do that by gathering evidence about where people are coming from and what is happening in different areas so that we can build up a picture. We have a Neighbourhood Watch Network to dissimilate all the intelligence that we get. The Neighbourhood Watch network is really our eyes and ears and we pass them information so that they can pass it round. It works well especially in a rural area and we use it an awful lot. We have both Farm Watch and Neighbourhood Watch. We like to keep in touch. I do think that it is important that people know what is going on because if they are not told they get complacent and think that everything is fine. They will leave doors unlocked and windows open which is an open invitation to thieves because burglars and thieves are opportunists. They can be in and out before you know it. I put the crime reports into In Touch each month because it reminds people not to be too complacent. I don't want to frighten people into thinking that there is a lot of crime but on the other hand I don't want them to think that there isn't any. It is a matter of trying to find a happy balance. The most common crime that we have had recently is that of bogus callers. We have had half a dozen or so lately which is not a huge number but is half a dozen too many. These bogus callers prey on the elderly. They target areas where there are old peoples' bungalows or they will look for a house that has ramps, the sort of thing that indicates there is someone who is frail or infirm. If they find one to be an easy target, then they will often go back. We have had a few cases where there have been repeated burglaries and it is such a shame. The older people come from a generation where they were able to go out and leave doors open, never mind unlocked.

When I was little, my Mum would go round to see her friend and leave me playing in the street, with the door unlocked. Nobody ever came and stole anything, but nowadays unfortunately you can't even leave your door unlocked when you are in the house. Thieves will come and knock and if there is no answer because you are in the back garden perhaps or upstairs hoovering, they will try the door and if it is unlocked they will be in and steal your belongings and be out again before you realise that they have been in. The first you will know is that your handbag is missing or the keys have gone. It is nice to think that I can do something to help people. Sometimes I get a bit disheartened but it helps when I do get a few nice comments from people. They might tell me that I am doing a good job or that it is nice to see me about. There are good parts to the job, like getting to know people and getting their trust. In talking to them they might pass a comment which means nothing to them but when it is laid beside other bits of information we can sometimes build up the bigger picture which might fill in a gap somewhere. It might help to solve something that has been going on. If we get a crime, we have to try to find the suspect and collect the evidence. We can do house-to-house enquiries but if there is no forensic evidence, no-one had seen anything or no CCTV evidence, then we have nothing to go on. When we have something that we can prove, we will take a statement and collect the evidence and then make an arrest. For a very minor thing we may be able to do it by a voluntary interview. We can detain those who we think may be guilty but not willing to come voluntarily.

I usually like to go and knock on the door early in the morning. I come on duty at 7 o'clock and most of the people we have problems with in our area are the youths and they don't like getting up. So I go and get them out of bed, caution them and then we take them to the Custody Sergeant in the Police Station in Grantham and get them booked in. Names and details are taken and illnesses and injuries, and they are given their rights as to a solicitor. They are searched and put in the cells. If the evidence is ready we take them in for interview. We give them a chance to give their point of view as to what happened and then we challenge them with the evidence. In the good old days, the Sergeant would take the decision to charge them or not. But now it is all down to the CPS (Crown Prosecution Service) who we contact. Their decision should be through within half an hour. Sometimes the case will be rejected due to lack of evidence which can be quite upsetting after all the work we have done. If the CPS requires more evidence we will bail the culprit, perhaps with conditions, and book him to come back another day. When they get to Court, the conditions may be continued or they may be dropped. It is up to the Court whether they get convicted through trial. Personally, I think that less people are getting convicted these days, more people are getting off.

Those arrested are usually brought before the Court within a week. If they plead guilty, they will be fined or whatever but if not they will be adjourned for trial. In a lot of cases, because it gets to Court quickly and because they realise we have the evidence against them, they will plead guilty. We know who the prolific criminals are in Grantham and they are taken to Court over and over again. Instead of being convicted and sent down, they are given a suspended sentence or released on bail mainly due to the lack of prison space. They think they are getting off, they go out and offend again. It is frustrating for the public and the Police. Everything is performance driven now. This morning I arrested two illegal immigrants so I get 2 points for that but if I went to attend to a death and spent half a day sorting things out for the relatives, that doesn't count. Good policing isn't necessarily about doing things that can be measured. I heard today that young drivers are not to drink at all or to take passengers. Who is going to enforce that? There aren't enough officers now to do all we should, like stopping the parking on double yellow lines or preventing speeding. The things that are irritating about the job are minor really. We are in a Service for the public and in the main the public appreciate that, certainly in the rural areas. I enjoy working out here and I am going to continue, perhaps until I retire.