3 June 2015

National Volunteers Week 2015: being a Special Constable

Responding to a domestic abuse call

To mark National Volunteers Week, Special Constable Nina Johnson* describes a night of volunteering she'll remember for ever

It was dark when we arrived around 10pm. We couldn’t find the entrance at first - neither could the paramedics. Eventually we found the door down a dark alleyway and across a narrow rear yard.

We knocked. No answer. We knocked again.

A figure appeared behind the glass panel and unlocked the door. I could only see her silhouette, framed by a dim light from the kitchen behind her. She spoke, but I couldn’t make out her words. Then she turned her face to the light and I understood why.

Jennifer’s* eyelids were purple and swollen; her top lip was split in half right up to her nose. My insides were churning as I tried to comprehend why anyone would do such a thing; a mixture of anger, empathy, incredulity and urgency all rose within me.

But I had to control my emotions. I’m a Special Constable and the role requires resilience. I have to remain calm and professional, especially in a situation like this.

As gently as possible, I asked her: “Who did this to you?”

With a shaking arm she pointed at a photograph of her and her husband on their wedding day. They both looked so happy in the picture.

I stayed with Jennifer while the ‘regular’ officer I was crewed with checked the flat for any sign of her husband. My radio crackled into life as I heard him update the control room:

“Paramedics are on scene. We’ll need CSI attendance. The bedroom is covered with blood.”

Special support

While the paramedics attended to Jenifer’s wounds, she and I communicated on pen and paper. I learnt some basic details: her husband’s name and the pub he was likely to be at.

We couldn’t talk for long. She needed urgent medical attention and was quickly put in the ambulance to be transported to hospital.

As the ambulance left, Jennifer’s friend Tanya* arrived. It was Tanya who had called the police. She told me she had spoken to Jennifer on the phone earlier that evening, but could barely understand what she was trying to say. From Jennifer’s muffled sounds, Tanya just about made out that Jennifer was at home and badly hurt. So she hung up, called 999 and drove straight to Jennifer’s to help.

From Tanya, I learnt that Jennifer’s husband had been aggressive towards his wife before, and it got worse when he was drunk.

Later that night - outside the pub where Jennifer said he would be - her husband was arrested.
When interviewed back at the station, he admitted beating his wife and was remanded in custody until trial, where he ultimately received a suspended sentence.

When asked why he'd done it, he said it was because she spent too much money redecorating. 

A few days later Jennifer had surgery to reconstruct her top lip.

'I'll never forget'

I’d only been a Special Constable a few months when I responded to Tanya’s call about her friend Jennifer. I won’t ever forget it.

I often wonder what happened next. I hope she is safe and has moved on with her life; I hope she took advantage of the support on offer to help heal the emotional scars, which often endure way beyond any physical ones.

I began my shift the night of Jennifer’s attack with no idea how the evening would turn out. That’s often the way it goes. In the midst of such a horrible situation I’m glad I was able to be there for her; and I’m pleased she had a friend who cared about her enough to call emergency services.

When I signed up to become a Special, like most people who join, I wanted to protect the vulnerable and catch criminals. I think my colleagues and I achieved our goal that night. I’d recommend it to anyone.

If you are affected by domestic abuse, please ask for help. Call us on 999 in an emergency.

Apply to become a Special Constable and help people like Jennifer.

For non-urgent help and advice about the issues in this blog, visit the domestic abuse section of the Kent Police website.

*Names have been changed to protect the victim