The big interview
British Transport Police officer Robert Wright always wanted to be a policeman. After several years serving the force as a civil servant, he fulfilled his childhood dream. Now entering his fifth year in the BTP, Rob shared some reflections on his faith and career with Sheila Marshall.
SM Why did you join the British Transport Police (BTP)?
RW I got caught up in the desk job I was doing. I think it’s important to push yourself and I needed a fresh challenge.
SM What do you like about your job?
RW I enjoy dealing with incidents and being out and about. I’m part of an Instant Respond team and respond to emergency (e.g. 999 calls) and non-emergency requests for police. I also enjoy being trusted to manage myself and my time, and I enjoy talking to people in the community.
SM What difference does being a Christian make to your work?
RW Many police officers are cynical because of the injustice they see. If you don’t believe in a God who will judge everybody, it can be depressing. I know people will have to answer to God and this helps me when I see things that are unfair or not right. I deal with quite a lot of suicides and it’s sad for me, because I know all people will go before God one day.
SM How is your faith encouraged?
RW It’s still possible to express faith in this politically correct world. The gospel is going out in the police service and there are Christians there.
The Christian Police Association (CPA) organises Christian events. They put a thought for the month on the internet, and there are weekly prayer services, which is encouraging.
Outside work, it’s good to know people are concerned about the police. Some policemen are invited to speak at churches or in communities.
SM What opportunities are there to share Christ?
RW My job is to arrest people who have done something wrong. You need to be wise about where, what and how you share your faith. It is hard to share the gospel in any job, but no one is overtly anti-Christian in my team.
It’s also about your life and how you conduct yourself. I have arrested people who have claimed to be Christians and have asked them why they ended up here.
SM How have you overcome challenges at work?
RW The police service can attract some overbearing personalities. There is still a culture of bullying in the police service. I experienced it when I first started. That particular person was moved to a different station; I believe God helped that situation.
SM How important is praying about work?
RW I pray every day for my colleagues and my safety, because of the risk element. There are individuals who are happy to use violence to get away.
I’m an advanced driver, so there is risk involved in driving with sirens and blue lights. You can’t always anticipate when someone steps out into your way or when a car will appear from nowhere. People can panic and do silly things.
SM Your role is to protect people from crime and the fear of crime. Can you recall a time when your faith helped you overcome fear?
RW The Bible speaks a lot about being strong and courageous in the Lord. Faith overcomes fear, even if it doesn’t feel that way at the time.
My greatest fear has been dealing with the loss of a parent and not knowing if that parent was a Christian or not. This is still hard to deal with, but I have been able to leave it with God, because my faith tells me that God is just, good and will do what is right.
SM What is your biggest lesson from 2011?
RW As policemen, we are only one complaint away from being sacked. In my job some people are happy to make others look bad if they want to look good. My ethic, based on my faith, is to act professionally at all times and do my job fairly but firmly. That ethic made me the second highest performing officer in 2011.
SM What significant operational pressures do you face in 2012?
RW This is a massive year for the police service. The Windsor Report means there will be a reform to overtime and conditions, and the wage bill is being cut. The Police and Crimes Commission will replace the Police Authorities that govern the various police forces. This means the police forces will be accountable to one person.
The Olympics will bring huge pressure, and there is the Notting Hill Carnival. So we can’t take leave between July and September. We also don’t know if there will be civil unrest on the scale we saw in 2011.
SM How will you promote good community relationships in 2012?
RW Whenever people meet, they can leave a negative or positive impression. Sometimes it’s hard to leave a positive impression, because occasionally people just do not like you and there’s nothing you can say or do to change that.
I also encounter a lot of victims — which has a different dynamic. I want to leave a positive impression of the police service. I’m happy if I give a good service and someone thinks, ‘That guy was nice and did a good job’.
SM You said you deal with a lot of suicides. How does that affect you?
RW It’s the worst part of my job. It’s hard to deal with grief, because you can connect to the sadness and gravity of what has happened. Delivering a death message that a loved one has died is difficult.
SM What promise, verse or story from the Bible inspires you?
RW Revelation 21:4: ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying’. This promise was a great comfort to me recently. There is a lot of uncertainty and worry in the world, and it’s good to know that one day we will be with the Lord in glory.
SM How can the church community support you and the BTP?
RW Pray for the police and emergency services. There is a negative opinion of the police in the community and among some Christians.
But ultimately we are a force for good, and instituted to do good and help people. The police are made up of people from society. That they are, like everyone, sinful people, those who make mistakes or do wrong things (thankfully a minority), should come as no surprise.
We get scared, ill and become tired. Shift work is not easy. I may be on a 12-hour shift; it’s the middle of the night and we’ve been driving around for hours; yet, I have to arrive at an incident and give my best.
SM If you wrote a series about the BTP what would it be and why?
RW A long time ago a series was written about the BTP and it was called Rail cops. Compared to reality police programmes today, it wasn’t very good. But the London Underground holds fascination for people.
It has a place in people’s hearts, especially Londoners, although it may not seem like that in the Monday morning rush hour! There are many interesting facts about the London Underground that people do not realise, including, of course, BTP’s policing of it.