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Signing off: A life less ordinary on the frontline

She started as a Special and became the go-to officer for the Traveller community. As she retires, award-wining PC Julie Susel of Thames Valley shares why it?s good to talk and her love of the job.
Published - 28/04/2021 By - Chris Smith

It’s not often the top brass single out an officer for praise on social media for a doing a job few would thank them for.

But that’s exactly what Thames Valley’s Assistant Chief Constable Tim de Meyer did to mark the retirement of PC Julie Susel.

He shared: “Decades of service in Bracknell & Wokingham. Sadly soon to retire. Her engagement with our Traveller communities demonstrates the value of sticking with a role and building relationships. A fantastic career. We will miss you Julie.”

A tough job in a force that shouldered the death of PC Andrew Harper. And the career also includes two other deaths in the same team.

But, it turns out liaison work is one part of a fascinating career that began as a Special and includes 10 commendations. And she’s proud to have stayed on the frontline rather than climbing the career ladder.

PC Susel joined the force in August 1994, following three years in the Special Constabulary, working out of Reading and progressing to the role of Section Officer.

It was the analogue era: “I would go on foot patrol with my police issue handbag, skirt, small linked handcuffs and a six inch truncheon in my handbag. I could have hit them with my handbag, I suppose. We didn’t have CAPTA, we didn’t have Taser.”

There basically wasn’t much kit at all: “No PPE and a radio which was not personal issue and had to have a small aerial screwed into it at the start of a shift.  Quite often the radio would drop out, meaning no communication. It left you relying on your interpersonal skills – communication being the number one tool in that all important invisible police tool kit.

“It would very much be me on my own, at the Red Lion where a fight had broken out and the radio would drop just as you went inside. But I’d deal with it.”

Career development was done differently: “I was quite good at typing so would often be deployed to the duty of jailer, as we would need someone to type up the charges on the old fashioned typewriter.  Everything needed four carbons, [sheets that were slotted between blank paper in the typewriter to make copies] so I didn’t dare make a mistake. Compared to now it was a different world.”

Even the custody suite harked back to another era, with hilarious consequences.

Tea duty 

“Back then, the jailer would make the tea and coffee for the prisoners.  Obviously in paper cups.  One day, very new to the service, the Custody Sergeant told me to do the rounds, tea and coffee to all the prisoners in Bracknell police station and a welfare check.  I walked into the small kitchen, adjacent to the cell block and found a tea trolley and a rather lovely china tea set,” she says. 

“Of course I made a large pot of tea and walked around the cell block, giving out the best china cups and saucers, offering one lump or two. 

"As you can imagine, the rather bemused clientele were very grateful - even getting one of the Sergeant’s digestive biscuits… Needless to say, when I glided into the custody suite with my tea trolley – well, let’s say I never did that again.”

From there she progressed to become an Area Training Officer out of the newly launched Probationer Training Unit -the first in the force to be set up in Reading in 2000.

In 2004, she decided to apply for a position as Neighbourhood Specialist Officer, supervising a team of newly recruited PCSOs. 

The GRT connection 

And it was then that she first started to develop a strong working relationship with the significant Gypsy, Romany, Traveller (GRT) community in the area. 

The big breakthrough came in 2008 when she was placed with the Major Crime Unit investigating a GRT shooting. She enabled the unit to engage with the community, gathering v

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