‘You can’t have an autistic cop with a gun!’

T/Inspector Gav Skevington

‘You can’t have an autistic cop with a gun.’ Temporary Inspector Gav Skevington has heard it many times before.

Gav is Nottinghamshire Police’s Chief Firearms Instructor. He’s also autistic and is sharing his story for Neurodiversity Celebration Week to help break down barriers, and to support neurodivergent colleagues and those who want to enter policing.

Gav said: “I’m the Chief Firearms Instructor and I’m autistic, so straight away people’s alarm bells go and they say ‘You can’t have an autistic cop with a gun’.

“Well, they’re wrong.

“Exactly the same as neurotypical people, neurodivergent people are fit for roles as long as we’re given the right opportunities and support.”

Gav added: “If it wasn’t for the way my brain works I wouldn’t have been as good an Operational Firearms Commander as I was.

“I can look at problems in a different way.

“There are the positives and negatives of every element of it.

“I can switch off emotion really well, which for a job that’s high risk is brilliant.”

Gav said he always knew he was autistic but it wasn’t until later in life that he was diagnosed.

Describing himself as being ’36 years in denial’, he said it was only when his children displayed signs that he decided to do something.

“I did everything to build a mask around me where I’d fit in and I didn’t have to talk about it,” he said.

“It wasn’t until my own children started to show signs that I had to look in the mirror and say to myself to get it sorted and stop being selfish.

“When I disclosed it to work, I sat in the car park for ages trying to work out how to say it. I looked in my rearview mirror and said ‘I’m Gav and I’ve got autism’. Saying it to myself was a huge step for me.

“I remember going to my own Chief Firearms Instructor and saying ‘This is the diagnosis I’ve got’ and expecting to lose my firearms authorisation. But I didn’t.

“I got overwhelming support, which was brilliant for me.

“The moment that happened was a turning point for me because I could say I’d achieved all of this in the firearms world – I was five years in firearms at that point.

“I’d been an Operational Firearms Commander, a Tactical Rifle Officer, an instructor, and I did that despite, or because of the fact I’m neurodivergent.”

Gav is part of Nottinghamshire Police’s Neurodiversity Working Group. It’s been running for three years.

“It’s chaired by Inspector Nick Wood, who comes from a dyslexia point of view,” Gav said.

“We’ve got Inspector Adam Pace, who comes from the managerial support side. I come from an autism point of view.

“We’re trying to find the best ways we can encourage neurodivergent members of staff to come forward, and provide them the necessary support.

“It’s not just neurodivergent individuals, or people who think they are, or who are going through that process who come to us. We’re getting line managers coming for some advice.

“More people are open and willing to talk about it.

“We want to lead from the front and share those experiences that will break down people’s natural barriers.”

Gav said that more people in the Force were contacting the group for advice, and that it was trying to build a network of support for officers and staff.

“If I go to give a talk, afterwards I’ll have a flurry of emails, which is great,” he said.

“Our group’s concern is that we’re doing this on top of the day job and will have people reaching out to us on the verge of crisis or going through bad times.

“We’re trying to build those mechanisms to show that as a neurodiversity group we’re here to support you, to guide you through a diagnosis process and those sorts of things.

“And it’s then signposting to other services like wellbeing support, EAPs, so that we don’t hold it all. It’s joined up.”

He said that people could also turn to national groups – the National Police Autism Association, the ADHD Alliance, and the Police National Dyslexia Association.

“If people don’t want to talk in their own Force there are those national forums where they can get advice,” he said.

“If it wasn’t for the way my brain works I wouldn’t have been as good an Operational Firearms Commander as I was.”

T/Inspector Gav Skevington

The Nottinghamshire Police’s Neurodiversity Working Group’s work has led to Gav being invited to sit on the College of Policing’s Neurodiversity in Specialist Operations Policing Group.

And he said that policing needed ‘central guidance’ that Forces could draw on and would provide consistency across the service.

“I’ve spoken to Forces who have two people in a room who are the neurodiversity contact on top of their day jobs,” he said.

“We’re lucky here. Yes we do it on top of the day job but there are a number of us who can spread that out.

“Other Forces have huge groups and have conferences and events, and it’s that inconsistency. We need a central drive.

“In Nottinghamshire we have a really good connection with chief officer level. Deputy Chief Constable Steve Cooper welcomes the Neurodiversity Group into a bi-monthly meeting where we talk things through.

“Having that connection to the ‘top corridor’ is really good because you feel listened to and empowered.

“But I think that on a national level we need that input to steer us in the right direction.”

Away from policing, Gav runs a clothing line and writes fiction books, which are about empowering people.

“Over 18 years of policing I spent the first 13 trying to fit in, trying to fit that mould and expectation of what Gav the firearms cop should be,” he said.

“Then there’s the little man inside me saying that’s not me.

“It’s only as I’ve got more confident that I’ve been able to change that.

“The mask still goes on but I am a lot more comfortable with me as a person.

“I’ve had to challenge that, realise my blockers, the biggest one of which is me.

“My fiction books are about characters who have to accept themselves and realise they are their only limit.

“If you internalise it, you’re the one stopping yourself.” ∎

This article was originally published on the Police Federation of England & Wales website as part of Neurodiversity Celebration Week – it is reproduced here with kind permission of the author