How the Police Cadet programme helped me maximise my potential

“From a really young age I loved anything about the emergency services. I loved watching The Bill and traffic cop shows. My little brothers and I would drive my parents crazy playing cops and robbers. We’d fight each other and say “you’re under arrest”.

I grew up in south London and it was clear that not many people liked the police. But then, when I was 13, a police inspector gave a school assembly about the volunteer cadet programme. I was intrigued, so I went along.

It was nerve wracking walking in; I’d assumed there wouldn’t be people like me there. But I was so surprised that the cadets were from all different backgrounds; it looked like Lambeth in that room. That’s what drew me in.

On that first day we did what is called a “shield run” with Level 2 Public Order equipment, carrying shields and batons and wearing fire-proof clothes and helmets. We ran for 1km with a stretcher with a dummy on it. I was out of breath when I got home but it was the best thing I did that week. I counted down the days until the next session.

I just fell in love with it and I’m now 18 and in my fifth year. I’ve made a whole group of friends and I won Cadet of the Year for the whole of the Met this year.

Police officers who were cadets have such a head start; a lot of the basics of policing that you will do in training, you learn as a cadet

It’s not always easy. I’ve been working with engagement teams building rapport between the police and marginalised communities, such as the Black and LGBTQ+ communities. We might go into youth clubs within Lambeth and Southwark, put on events and shows, for instance. Some people might not like the police but they love the cadets. They are genuinely interested in young people who sign up to it. They’ll come and ask you questions – “Why do you do it?” What do you do?”

Within a year of joining I was involved in a weapon sweep in a south London estate as part of a “day of action” where officers and cadets were deployed to search outdoor spaces to see where weapons may have been concealed. In one neighbourhood where there are issues with crime, we found knives, as well as drugs, stolen mopeds and weighing scales around the site. We walked down the road to the police station carrying six knives and a bag of crack cocaine. The sweep triggered an intensive police operation that led to arrests and convictions.

One young person was shouting at us as we were searching. But when we walked out with knives, some residents came up and thanked us and said “that’s amazing” because they know that these are weapons that could have been used on their community.

Being a good learner and listener is something you will develop … you have to be professional, respectful, and courteous

It builds character, that kind of experience. The cadets also helps build real-life skills. When I first started and people approached me, I could get easily overwhelmed. I could get quite argumentative. But as I grew older and gained experience, I learnt to deal with confrontation and ways to diffuse it.

You need to be able to go out of your comfort zone – in every sense. I’m really afraid of heights and I had to walk up this 40ft tower as part of one activity. I basically cried on the way up and on the way down but I did it. Had I not been a cadet, I would never have done that and been able to prove to myself that I was capable of doing that.

Being a good learner and listener is also something you will develop. If you go up the cadet ranks, there might be cadets who come to you with their problems. You have to be professional, respectful, and courteous. It really did change me; I became much more organised and disciplined.

If you’re thinking of joining the police, I would 100 per cent recommend the cadet programme. Police officers who were cadets have such a head start; a lot of the basics of policing that you will do in training, you learn as a cadet; first aid, stop and search, how to arrest someone, police policies and lingo. I’m about to start training as a member of the police communications team and I know what I learnt as a cadet will be invaluable.

But even if you are not thinking of policing as a career, I would really recommend it. Cadet friends are doing a range of things now – one is an aerospace engineer, others are training to be doctors and lawyers. If you apply to university and the tutor is looking at two applications and one went to school every day and went home again and the other was a volunteer police cadet who worked locally in their borough, helping with the community and supporting other young people in their spare time, who is going to get the place?”

As told to Julie Henry

Metropolitan Police Volunteer Police Cadet (VPC) programme – how to join

  • You can join the cadet programme between the ages of 10 and 18. Junior cadets are 10 to 13 years old, while senior cadets are aged 13 to 18.
  • Cadets have the opportunity to gain new skills, help their local community and learn about working for the Metropolitan Police Service
  • Each of the 32 London boroughs has at least one cadet group. VPCs attend weekly meetings to understand specific policing or community issues, take part in sports sessions and learn the skill of drill, to build team and leadership skills
  • Cadets can volunteer to assist policing operations and events such as Test Purchasing (trying to buy items that they are too young to buy legally) weapons sweeps of local community spaces, crime prevention initiatives and helping at large-scale events such as the London Marathon
  • During school holidays, there is the opportunity to take part in overnight camps and interborough competitions

The Evening Standard Step Up Expo takes place from 30 June –1 July 2023 at London Olympia – for more information and tickets click here

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