Category Archives: Reblog

“I’m a Superintendent, but I spend all day as an actor”

Nottinghamshire Police Superintendent Paul Burrows is Disability Lead for the Police Superintendents’ Association. To mark Disability Pride Month, Supt Burrows shares his thoughts and experiences of neurodivergence in the workplace.

I’m very open about the personal challenges I face when it comes to my neurodivergence. My message is however a positive one, in that being neurodivergent does give me different abilities and indeed a different outlook on life that can if nothing else makes me laugh at the oddities I perceive. Additionally, networking with others who are neurodivergent has opened friendships that I haven’t had before, with people who understand where I am coming from without me having to explain myself or the way I think.

So, to me. I have a diagnosis of dyslexia and am currently going through the formal process of being assessed for being autistic and having ADHD.

Supt Paul Burrows

I say this because I believe I am one of hundreds within the police workforce living with these conditions, but unfortunately, I am probably one of the few that feels able to share this. Not enough people have a medical diagnosis to help understand why life can feel harder than it should, and as a profession I don’t believe we ask enough questions to better understand and support our people. If we don’t understand our people, how can we begin to understand the needs of our communities?

To start, we have a huge untapped resource out there – in the people we haven’t proactively recruited into policing, and in the potential within our own people which is not being harnessed because we are not utilising the best of their abilities. Now, knowing who I am, I can look at my work and my life differently, which has been a real positive for both me and all those around me, I like to think.

Before I became a police officer, much of my career focus was around disability and inclusion. From volunteering to working for charities and a local council, I found a passion for creating opportunities for those with disabilities.

Because of this, I was 30 before I joined the police – a ‘late’ joiner compared to many.

My belief is that policing is a career to which many people who are neurodivergent are attracted, as research suggests conditions like dyslexia align with a strong sense of empathy. There is also a perception that policing will attract those who are autistic, because of the way our brains work as problem-solvers.

For me, each day at work is utterly exhausting, but probably for different reasons than you’d expect. Yes, I’m extremely busy as we all are, but I also find that throughout the day, I ‘act’. I am not being my true self. I am incredibly uncomfortable in busy social situations, I dislike physical contact so I hate shaking people’s hands, I find making conversation with people I don’t know difficult, and long meetings are impossibly difficult for me. I therefore must be someone I’m not, to engage in all these ‘normal’ parts of working life that are expected in our workplaces.

I am lucky to have a number of adjustments to my working life that support my specific needs. My office is purposely dim in lighting with no distractions whatsoever on the walls, I have software on my computer to help me with typing, and I have started to tell my colleagues when I’ve reached ‘burnout’ in meetings. Let’s face it – who wouldn’t want shorter meetings?

I cannot imagine what it would be like to have none of this understanding and to carry on with my work hiding or not even being aware of all of this. However, that is the reality for many of our colleagues, and it should not be.

Within Nottinghamshire Police, my own Force, we screen all new starters for dyslexia. We are finding indicatively about 20% have scores that are suggestive of dyslexia. This is a significant percentage and something which must be key to our understanding of our workforce and our responsibility to support them.

I believe that the work we have already done and the results we have achieved in-Force, have made the working environment for neurodivergent people better – and in some cases, much better – enabling them to flourish. There are real positives in doing this work and continuing to do it.

Thankfully, we are talking more and more about neurodivergent conditions such as these, and when I carry out training within my Force, I regularly hear and see people ‘reverse diagnosing’ themselves because they can relate so closely to the challenges of autism, ADHD or dyslexia they hear about in others. In my view we should be screening for autism and ADHD as standard in the same way we screen for dyslexia – however, post-screening support if there were a positive indication is a thorny issue we are trying to resolve.

Our workforce has undergone the biggest wholesale change in its history in the last two years, as we’ve recruited 20,000 new officers into the service at one time. It’s critical that we work to understand the protected characteristics of these colleagues, how we support those who have a visible or invisible disability, and how we support those who are going through a diagnosis, or are in need of one.

Currently, many of our fundamental processes are not geared up to be inclusive for those who are neurodivergent. I am a Superintendent and have only ever passed one interview in my entire policing career.

I was very lucky to be selected on what was the accelerated promotion scheme after my first few months of work, which took me up to Chief Inspector rank. I passed my interview for Superintendent, but know I was nowhere near the ‘top’ of the applicants who passed in terms of interview scoring, and I’m in no doubt that if standard interviews had been the key to my career progression, I would have failed. That’s because interviews are virtually impossible for me. For me, the format of the questions and the pressurised environment cause mental overload, and would get the worst reflection of me as a police officer and as an individual, not the best.

In our Force, we allow all interviewees to have sight of the questions 10 minutes before they will be asked. Senior officers have said that when this first happened, it prompted the most successful interview cohort they had ever had. This doesn’t only need to be for colleagues with disabilities or neurodivergence – it should be for all. Surely our goal is to allow people to show us their best.

This is also the case with exams. Every person will interpret a question differently, but this is even more stark in those with dyslexia. Many would also be aware that very basic things such as the layout of the sentences on a page, or the format a question is presented in, can pose massive problems for people with dyslexia. The ’justified’ sentence structure is terrible for someone who is dyslexic because if you’re skipping lines unconsciously, it’s almost impossible to find your place in the text again. Exams should be a test of knowledge, not of interpretation, so I’m pleased that these are now being reviewed to be far more inclusive to all.

We should also not forget the mental health and wellbeing impact of living with a neurodivergence. If you are autistic, you are seven times more likely to commit or attempt suicide – a shocking statistic. Anyone who is diagnosed – and this is happening in adulthood far more often today – is at the start of a long journey. For me, the realisation of my autism and ADHD made all the battles I have faced over the years make sense. Now, despite my career in policing nearing its end, I am resolutely focused on making sure that the service is more accommodating of people who are neurodivergent and who have disabilities, and that it proactively seeks to employ more people with these conditions, who have so much to offer. We should ask questions of our recruits – current and potential – and offer them roles that suit their unique needs and abilities.

So, my call to everyone reading this would be to consider your colleagues:

  • Consider the officer who continually stays to work late as they’re trying to get things done – are they battling an impossible workload, or are they actually struggling to complete administrative tasks at the speed of others and trying to hide this?
  • Consider the colleague who is constantly doodling in a meeting – are they being rude, or are they using a tactic to help them concentrate?
  • Consider the colleague who does not want to attend the leaving ‘do’, despite being a friend of the department – are they ‘anti-social’ because they’re no fun, or because large social occasions are incredibly difficult for them?

If we understand, we can support. If we can support, we become an environment that really is welcoming for all. ∎

This blog was originally published on the PSA website – it is reproduced here with kind permission of the author

My policing career as a dyslexic officer

Superintendent Ross Campbell of Warwickshire Police shares his experiences as a dyslexic police officer and wants people to know that having dyslexia is not a barrier to success

I’ve been a police officer for 22 years. I joined the service when I was 18. I struggled at school – there was no awareness of dyslexia then, and though my teachers said that I had potential, they mistakenly thought I was a daydreamer and that I didn’t try hard enough. I left school with average GCSE grades. I failed my A-levels, so university was not an option. I had always liked the idea of joining the police service – I reached out to my local Force, who were very supportive and encouraged me to apply. I applied and was successful.

Supt Ross Campbell

I enjoyed being a police constable, but there were aspects of my role I struggled with, including the paperwork and taking statements. I knew I wanted to progress and I aspired to a leadership role. Unfortunately I failed my first attempt at the sergeants’ exam. I failed part two of the OSPRE exam four times! It was perseverance that kept me going. Each time I failed, I was able to learn from the experience and apply that learning to each new attempt. I was successful in the end, after five attempts.

I didn’t know I had dyslexia then, but I knew there was something that wasn’t quite right. My reading speed was slow and I often found words confusing. I’d never read a book from cover to cover. I also had problems with direction and found it challenging to distinguish left from right. These are traits that I now know are common to dyslexia, but I didn’t have this understanding until the time came for me to pursue promotion to Inspector. On my second attempt at the promotion board, my memory went blank and I lost track of everything I had wanted to share. I just sat there staring into space and I had no idea I was doing it. At that point, I had been a temporary inspector for four years, acting up in the role for that time as there had been no promotion boards. I had a wealth of skills, abilities and experience that I knew would make me an effective inspector, as I had proved that in doing the role for so long. It was incredibly frustrating to be experiencing working memory difficulties at such a crucial time.

Fortunately, the chair of the panel was aware of dyslexia having supported a relative with the condition. On their advice, I looked into the possibility that I might be dyslexic.
My journey accessing formal diagnosis was unfortunately very difficult. Initial screening tools offered by the Force gave contradictory results. I was eventually able to have a clinical assessment, which confirmed my diagnosis. Getting the diagnosis was a very emotional experience. On the one hand, I was thrilled to get the clarity that a diagnosis can give you. On the other hand, I couldn’t help but feel regret over the opportunities I’d missed and how my experiences might have differed, if only I’d known about my dyslexia sooner. I had lived my life and my policing career thinking I was not good enough, and I saw others around me flourish when I struggled. At times, every day was a battle with my own mind.

At that time, policing had little awareness or experience of supporting people with dyslexia. There was disagreement in my Force over accountability for support between Occupational Health and Human Resources (HR). An Access to Work assessment made a number of adjustment recommendations to help remove barriers at work, but there were no policies in place for adjustments for dyslexia. Questions arose around budgeting and there were technical difficulties around assistive software compatibility with Force systems. It was clear from the outset that there was a distinct lack of organisational understanding of dyslexia and how to support dyslexic colleagues.

Talking to colleagues nationally through networks I had begun to build, I identified that this was not an isolated issue. It took 18 months for my adjustments to be put in place. It was a stressful and difficult time, and I wanted to ensure that no one else would encounter the same challenges. I started to get involved in supporting Force awareness and capability around dyslexia inclusion. I took an active role in developing dyslexia policy, processes and practices, and I began a neurodiversity network. I presented my own academic research and workforce survey results to HR leads and to the Assistant Chief Constable, making recommendations around adjustments and processes, and the Force was very supportive. Thanks to their pragmatism, we now have effective policies in place to support officers and staff with dyslexia. Initiatives include using work-based assessors and implementing QuickScan and QuickScreen screening tests, as well as interview adjustments.

“Having access to adjustments was key to my successful promotion to Chief Inspector”

Supt Ross Campbell

I was able to access adjustments for my next Chief Inspector promotion board. It was quite surreal to personally experience the adjustments that I had been able to put in place to support others. The process highlighted how important it is that an organisation works with the individual to consider what adjustments might be helpful and that any potential adjustment should be agreed by the individual affected. Implementing an adjustment without that collaboration and with no consideration of a person’s needs is unhelpful and counterproductive. I worked with HR to introduce appropriate adjustments: I agreed to have three minutes per question during the interview to review the question and consider my answer. It was an option to have the questions beforehand with time to consider them, but I wanted to do that one by one in the interview. I was listened to and supported around my needs. The adjustment removed the need for immediate recall that the traditional interview format demands and gave me the time I needed to consider my answer. Having access to adjustments was key to my successful promotion to Chief Inspector.

My career has gone from strength to strength since my diagnosis. I have obtained qualifications in leadership and management, business administration, and coaching and mentoring. I enrolled to study part-time for a distance learning degree in policing. I graduated with first class honours in 2018. In 2019, I was awarded a College of Policing bursary and have just completed my master’s degree in criminal psychology. This complements my role as a hostage and crisis negotiator. I am now a Superintendent and Head of Digital Services at Warwickshire Police.

Adjustments allowed me to work to my strengths and helped to remove barriers to my success. Feeling listened to, valued, supported and understood also had a massive impact on my confidence. Dyslexic officers and staff have made – and will continue to make – an invaluable contribution to policing. This is something that should be celebrated, due to our out-of-the-box thinking and our natural attention to detail. It’s important to have an inclusive work environment and effective policies that allow dyslexic officers and staff to make this contribution and to unlock their potential.

I had never been successful on the first attempt in any process I had gone through. To date, I have sat eight promotion boards for four ranks. Resilience and perseverance have got me to where I am today. Hopefully, the advances in awareness and support – and in particular, workplace adjustments – will mean that these challenging experiences will be a thing of the past. ∎

Superintendent Campbell is an active campaigner for dyslexia awareness and inclusion. You can follow him on Twitter at @dyslexic_cop

This blog was originally published as part of the College of Policing Workplace Adjustments Toolkit – it is reproduced here with kind permission of the author

“My son inspires me to improve autistic people’s experience with police”

Met Police Superintendent Dion Brown has co-written a guide designed to help autistic people if they are stopped by a police officer. In this blog, Supt Brown explains how his son inspires his work, and why he hopes both autistic people and police officers will read the guide.

Supt Dion Brown and his family

My 14-year-old son, Hayden, is absolutely obsessed with rollercoasters. The faster and scarier a rollercoaster is, the more Hayden enjoys it. He likes riding rollercoasters, talking about rollercoasters and planning which rollercoaster he will take me or his mum on next.

Hayden is autistic and like many autistic people, he becomes fixated on some activities.

However, activities other people find ‘easy’, Hayden can find incredibly stressful and confusing. Most people who see Hayden laughing on a speeding rollercoaster probably wouldn’t imagine that earlier he had lashed out or had a meltdown as a result of his excitement.

Hayden finds making decisions difficult. His desire to ride as many rollercoasters as possible and the pressure to decide which one to start with can negatively impact his behaviour.

If you are autistic, you might relate to Hayden’s characteristics. And if you saw him, perhaps you would notice little things that signify he is autistic. Things which people who are not autistic would not see.

Like the fact that he becomes nervous if someone he doesn’t know speaks to him. Or if someone touches him, even accidentally, it causes him distress. Or if it’s very noisy and busy around him, he becomes stressed and wants to remove himself from the situation as quickly as possible.

A police officer who doesn’t know you are autistic or doesn’t know much about autism might mistake these behaviours as being suspicious. So the police officer might want to stop you and ask you questions. They may even want to search you, to check if there is evidence of a crime.

Being stopped and searched by a police officer would be an incredibly stressful experience for my son.

The situation could quickly spiral into a traumatic experience if the police officer did not know Hayden is autistic, or if the police officer did not know the best way to interact with Hayden.“As Hayden has grown up, I have often worried what would happen if he was stopped by a police officer.

Would Hayden understand what was happening? Would he become stressed and angry? Would he try to run away? Maybe he would even confess to crimes he hadn’t committed, to try and make the police officer leave him alone.

When Hayden was 12 years old, I talked to him about what to do if he is approached by a police officer. I explained that the first thing he should do is show the police officer his Autism Alert Card. This is a card you carry on you, and which helps you quickly communicate that you are autistic. If you live in the London area, you can apply for one by emailing autism@met.police.uk.

I then explained to Hayden everything I felt he needed to know, including his legal rights and how to help the police officer so the situation would conclude quickly.

As I talked with Hayden, I realised the information I was giving him was advice that every autistic person should know. I also felt that every police officer should know how to conduct a stop and search in a way that is respectful of the needs of autistic people. So I worked with barrister Sean Kennedy to write ‘Stop and Search Guidance for Autistic People and Police Officers’.

Sean is autistic and has legally represented many autistic people. He works for the charity Anna Kennedy Online, based in London.

Creating the Stop and Search Guidance for Autistic People and Police Officers is one way we are together trying to improve the experiences of autistic people. The guide explains in simple terms what stop and search is and what to do if you are stopped by a police officer.

I hope that you will read the guide if you are autistic. If you have a loved one who is autistic or your work involves providing support to autistic people, I also encourage you to read and discuss the guidance.

Meanwhile, my colleagues and I will continue to raise awareness to police officers of how they can build strong and trusting relationships with the autistic community simply by understanding and respecting their individuality.

About the author & Stop and Search Guide
Superintendent Brown grew up in Wales and moved to London to join the Met Police 20 years ago.

He started his career as a police constable in Notting Hill, going on to work in detective roles in Islington and Newham and as a Detective Chief Inspector in Specialist Crime. He has now recently returned to Newham as a superintendent.

Supt Brown has five children, two of whom are autistic – Hayden, 14, and Darcy, 11.

Driven by his passion for safeguarding and his love of his children, Supt Brown has sought to improve the experience of autistic people inside and outside of the Met, including helping the Met Police Autism Support Group, which celebrates and supports hundreds of talented autistic officers and staff; launching the award-winning Autism Alert Cards with City of London Police and the British Transport Police and teaching officers across the Met about autism.

He developed the stop and search guide with Anna Kennedy Online in consultation with people from the autistic community, including members of the National Police Autism Association.

The guide has been shared with every police force in the UK and aims to enhance trust and cooperation between autistic people and the police, and ensure that autistic people are treated fairly and lawfully.

Supt Brown says: “There are more than 700,000 autistic people in the UK, many of whom will live or work in London and who the Met is here to serve.

“Good communication is crucial during a stop and search and autism, which is a complex neurological condition, requires a more bespoke approach with police officers making reasonable adjustments for the individual.

“The new guidance aims to help by explaining stop and search to autistic people in simple terms, and advising police officers how to carry out their duty in a way that reduces stress for autistic people.

“Ensuring that autistic people are treated fairly and lawfully is at the heart of this guidance.” ∎

This blog was originally published on the Metropolitan Police website – it is reproduced here with kind permission of the Met