Will is a police officer with the Specialist Firearms Command at the Metropolitan Police. He used to lead Prince’s Trust Team programmes in the South of England.

Here, he shares some of the things he learned while working with young people on the Team programme.

1. Prepare well…or die on your feet

Looking back on it, I thought I’d be able to blag my first few sessions as a Prince’s Trust Team Leader. How hard could it be? Surely, my good intentions would be enough to get me through.

It was, however, a complete disaster.

Young people are pretty perceptive, and it quickly became apparent that those I was working with could sniff out a blag attempt like a police search dog. I soon learnt to put more preparation into my sessions.

Of course, the same discipline is required in my role as a police officer - sketchy knowledge of police powers and procedure would similarly lead to failure, so it’s important I’m always well-prepared and on top of my game.

2. Every encounter counts

‘Emily’ walked into our Prince’s Trust office with the world on her shoulders, after years of abuse. I remember that she looked like a young lady, but had learnt to walk like a football hooligan. It “kept people away”, she told me over a brew. She gave The Prince’s Trust a 1% chance of helping her (and later told me this was being generous).

It took months of careful interaction with Emily to build her trust and help her work through some issues. Then, after a long, tiring week on our Dartmoor residential, I responded to her abruptly and insensitively. This triggered events that led, not long afterwards, to Emily storming up the A303, too furious to talk, aggressive gait regained, trust all but lost. Fortunately, despite this, Emily went on to complete the programme and by the end was doing well.

I often think of Emily, and as a police officer I’m reminded that every encounter with the public counts.

3. It’s a team game

One of the things I reflect on most from my time as a Prince’s Trust Team Leader is how much more effective we were at supporting young people when we got other people on board.

Early on, I tried to do most things ‘in house’ to keep things simple, but it just wasn’t enough. It was a less complicated approach and kinder to my budget, but once we started communicating with other agencies – using their expertise, sharing their resources, pondering their methods – things really started to progress. It showed me we’re more effective when we stand together.

4. Rome wasn’t built in a day

We live in an impatient culture. Emily, and dozens like her, are sometimes let down by processes that only tolerate a quick fix. But life isn’t like that, is it?

‘Tony’ joined our Prince’s Trust Team and I questioned whether he would complete the programme. He was unreliable, uncommitted and unreasonable. The change in him, gradual at first, rapid after that, was remarkable. He finished as one of the heroes and later joined the Met as police staff.

I know now that a policing strategy which doesn’t work instantly may still be a good strategy. We shouldn’t be too quick to ditch a plan, or write off a person too quickly.

5. Walk a mile…

The old saying goes: "Don’t judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes".

While I may not have walked a mile in young people’s shoes, I did walk many miles alongside them – mostly up sodden hillsides or carrying ladders and paint pots to and from community projects. I looked them in the eye over countless cuppas and listened to their stories. Some were absurd, some were amusing, some required police involvement, some made my blood boil. Some just made me sad to my very core.

My time with The Prince’s Trust, and the cumulative effect of all the above, has done me enormous good. Now, as I get to work, kit up the car and fire up the radios, I do so as a more rounded, more compassionate, more motivated and more disciplined officer than I think I would have been without those experiences. Whoever you are and wherever your career takes you, that can only be good thing, right?

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