An arresting career choice

8th August 2008 at 01:00

To a four-year-old playing in the back garden of a Hamilton street, seeing a skinhead leaping the fence pursued by a uniformed policeman could have been a terrifying experience. But that's not how Victor Cannon remembers it.

"It thought it looked like fun," the business education teacher admits, almost apologetically.

"They ran right through our garden and over the next fence. I watched them leaping fences for quite a while. It's a vivid picture in my head. It's where my interest in being a policeman came from."

Now 30, Victor has four years' teaching experience - one as a probationer and three as a business education teacher at Hollybrook School in Govanhill, Glasgow - and eight as a special constable, which he volunteered for to give him an insight into policing.

He loves it, he says, but he and his girlfriend - now wife - discussed careers and decided that teaching offered a better worklife balance. "As a policeman you're doing shifts and working long hours. You wouldn't have that balance, especially with kids, which we plan to have.

"Being a policeman was what I wanted first. But I like teaching. I don't regret the decision," he says.

Teaching while serving occasional shifts as a special constable allows him to combine both career interests. But getting the balance right is still not easy, he says. "I could be out every weekend, but my wife would kill me.

Victor serves with Strathclyde Police and puts in around 230 hours a year.

"They recently introduced a bonus of amp;#163;1,000 if you do a certain number of hours a year. So that helps. I'd do it for nothing though - I did for years."

During a shift, he and his "neighbour" - Scots terminology for partner - patrol East Kilbride in a Ford Focus. While the prospect of fast cars and plenty of action appeals to many young police recruits, high-speed responses are a sometimes necessary but not favourite part of the job for Victor.

"I was never one for driving fast, but you have to get over that. There could be somebody being seriously assaulted. You just get on with it."

Pursuing miscreants on foot comes easier to him. "I'm usually knackered at the end of it, though," he says. "You're often chasing wee guys dressed in trainers and trackies, while you've got heavy boots on, a big utility belt and a stab-proof vest.

"They can be hard to catch. But if you push yourself, they'll usually stop before you do."

Occasionally it is necessary to react fast, without much conscious thought. Often, these are the times when special constables earn the respect of career colleagues, which can be a long time coming.

"I'm not a madman, but as a police officer you have to be willing to dive in at times," says Victor.

"I remember the Scotland-England game at Hampden Park in the qualifiers for Euro 2000. I was in the British Transport Police then. Glasgow was very quiet that day. Then we got a call that a few hundred English football casuals were in the city looking for trouble.

"I was standing outside Central Station with my neighbour looking across to the Corn Exchange pub, where a lot of Scotland fans were watching the football and having a laugh. We heard chanting in the distance. It got closer and closer.

"I could feel the butterflies in my stomach. I knew what was going to happen."

Around the corner came the casuals. They stopped chanting and the city centre grew quiet - just for a moment.

"The Scotland fans started being humorous," he says, "lifting their kilts and flashing their bums. So the casuals charged them.

"I shouted: 'There's a riot out here!' to the police inside the station, and charged with my baton drawn."

The skirmish lasted just a few minutes before reinforcements arrived and the casuals were overpowered. But in that brief time, one young Scotland fan had reason to be thankful to the special constable.

"He was on the ground with a big casual laying into him," says Victor. "I'd never used the baton before. I went for his leg. That stopped him."

But Victor's adrenaline was still pumping. The best way to wind down - by keeping active and working - wasn't an option. "I had a date that evening. It didn't go well. I never saw her again."

The young teacher seems to balance life and work well these days. When asked who he would like to be if he was not Victor Cannon, he says: "I can't think of anyone. I like being me."

Teaching and policing are quite similar, he says. But he isn't talking about anything as obvious as keeping order. "What I mean is that in both jobs you are dealing with people - different kinds of people - all the time," he says.

"Policing has given me the confidence to talk to people from all walks of life. You might be speaking to a drug addict one minute and a judge whose home's been broken into the next. You learn quickly.

"You learn, for instance, to be patient. You need lots of patience in teaching and policing. Everybody is different.

"Everybody has their own learning style, particularly in a special school. You need to listen to what adults and children are trying to say to you."

Victor has just been appointed acting principal teacher at Hollybrook. "Initially I thought about the chartered teacher route," he says, "but I'm going to give this a try and see if I'm suited to it."

He will continue being a special constable for the foreseeable future, he says. "I heard of one recently who managed to sneak through until he was 62. They found out and made him retire. I felt really sorry for him. He'd have gone on till he was 80, if they'd let him.

"I expect I'll be like that."

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