Hopes and concerns of interviewing an ex- police officer

I am excited that my interviewee has had a long career in the police force (spanning more than three decades) giving the longevity of experience. I am hoping to discover how a police officer makes sense of their identity through day to day roles; experience of publicised events; and images in media and public opinion.  I hope to discover a personal experience of such a career and in doing so will base questions around these themes:

Early life, schooling and aspirations

Early career, becoming an officer and initial experiences

Roles and responsibilities

Policing 1980s Britain

Reflection and opinion of images surrounding police

Reflection and opinion regarding changes in policing over time

My interviewee is a colleague of mine and so there should be some degree of comfort in which we can both, hopefully, talk at ease. He is often telling anecdotes derived from his past career in the police force and I am excited to gain more detail and understanding into these. However, I am also concerned that knowing him personally (although not particularly well) I may find it difficult to probe for challenging/controversial or personal insights. That said, he seems more than comfortable, and dare I say enthused, to talk about his experiences. He is a humorous and opinionated man so I should at least find the experience fun and interesting.

I have a few concerns. I am anxious that I will miss suitable opportunities to probe for further detail and understanding, or to clarify unclear dialogue. Whilst I will plan for more specific, as well as ‘open’ questions, I want the conversation to naturally follow the lead of the interviewee’s responses. I am also rather nervous of constantly seeking clarification/ understanding, although I am trying to dispel this with thorough secondary reading around the police.

Whilst I am looking for a career focus rather than a life history, I am still concerned there may be more to cover than I will allow time for.

Finally, I am apprehensive that my nerves will show during the interview and this may affect my ‘authority as interviewer’. Whilst I want the interview to be a shared experience and jointly lead by question and response, I require my questions to make the principle framework of the interview. Given that the interviewee has built a career on interviewing and analysing others, I feel this will be an interesting experience for both of us!

Interview Topic: The life and work experience of a British Police Officer in the 1980s

From a beginner’s perspective, Britain in the 1980s seems an appealing place to start to explore the notions of memory and identity within oral history. The decade has rather controversial and complex narratives surrounding a ‘national image’ and identity.

Arguably, Thatcher’s government deliberately fashioned (or attempted to) a national image of unity and greatness that tied overt links to ‘public’ or ‘popular’ memory of the Blitz spirit and lessons of the Second World War. However, there was much disparity (and no sign of unity) of experience across the decade through many social divides; gender, class, race and ethnicity, for example.

The decade saw much conflict and upheaval; both internationally with conflicts such as the Falkland’s War and tensions with IRA and nationally through inner city riots and large scale, violent strikes.

Thatcher, herself, splits opinion almost in two camps; for a multiplicity of reasons, some admire and others despise her legacy. How individuals remember, or choose to view the decade and figure can lead to sharp debate and with the death of Baroness Thatcher this year, the topic seems to have additional resonance for its audience.

I would like to carry out an interview with an ex police officer who worked under the Thatcher Government in the eighties. The overall aim of the interview is to gain an insight into the experience of someone whose occupation was so closely tied with much of the social upheaval of the decade. An interview would allow the opportunity to gain an insight into the difficulties faced under such a turbulent decade.

Moreover, the images surrounding The Miner’s Strike and some policing tactics in inner cities are often wounding towards the police departments heavily suggesting violence and aggression. Whilst there are official police department reports surrounding such events, the experience of the ‘ordinary’ officer is as valid and crucial in understanding the point of view of the institution and those that work within it.

Through the interview I aim to discover the life experience of the officer in their day to day jobs: What is their opinion of their role and duties/ their department/ their public image (heroes vs. aggressors)? In addition I seek to understand further how a police officer may attempt to ‘make sense’ of their experience: Where do they see themselves within the context of these disturbances (even if they were not a part of the events themselves)? How do they react to negative portrayals around police tactics and behaviour? What is (now) and was (then) their opinion of the popular image of a unified Britain?