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Profile: soldier, jailer, cop - Kent’s new chief superintendent

Amanda Tillotson became a Chief Superintendent with Kent earlier this month after filling the role temporarily. She spoke to Police Oracle about her unusual career path.

Amanda Tillotson did not come to policing via a traditional route. 

“I left school in 1988 with very limited qualifications and unsure really of what I wanted to do,” she told Police Oracle. 

“I just happened to be out on my bike one day and cycled past Wembley Army careers office and saw a big sign in the window saying 'come and join the army, travel the world and play lots of sport', which was completely up my street.

“I only served a short time within the military, but was able to really get some solid grounding as to who I was about, what I believed my core skills were, what I didn't have confidence in and what I needed work on [meanwhile] the discipline side has carried me forward for the rest of my working career.” 

CS Tillotson was posted to the first Gulf War during her time in the army, however after five years, she wanted a bit more stability and moved over to become a prison officer, with her first posting in Cookham Wood female prison. 

“The role of the prison officer then was very different to how it is now [but there were the basic duties] unlocking the prisoners, giving them some core activities during the day, feeding regimes, association regimes, and some kind of sentence planning. 

“Prison officers at that time had personal responsibility for X amount of prisoners, where you would sit with them and with the probation service to work out; how are we going to manage your sentence - in terms of rehabilitation, education, and preparing you for release, if that was going to be the case. 

“So I found myself in my very early 20s locking up prisoners that were quite high profile, such as Myra Hindley, members of the Brink’s Mat robbery.

“Getting really in depth into prisoners’ offences, particularly sexual offences (it does happen with female prisoners as well) was quite hard at the time and it was a lot to get my head around.” 

A few years into her role at Cookham Wood, CS Tillotson trained as a control and restraint instructor for which she trained both local staff and those in regional divisions. 

“So as a five foot six female instructor trying to tell a load of men what to do - it didn't always go down so well, but I was able to really project my voice, gain confidence and for some reason I seem to fit and get on with people and ended up doing that for the rest of my prison service career [alongside day duties]. 

“At the prison service college, they teach you on how to have professional relationships with prisoners. That gave me a strong grounding to have those relationships because you have to be very, very disciplined - and make sure you're not being manipulated by prisoners as well.” 

CS Tillotson told Police Oracle that she had always wanted to be a police officer and when she reached the nine year mark in the prison service she decided to join Kent Police in 2003. She also said that working in a “confined space for a number of years” was not what she wanted. 

“I had a promotion in the prison service so I knew that that would mean a substantial pay drop for me in the interim. 

“That big drop in finances was an issue, and I know that will be something that people will be thinking about now for different reasons.

"I needed to cut back mainly on my social life, I still had a mortgage, I didn't have any children, so I had no dependents. But that big drop in finances was an issue.

"My plan was to get to the rank of Sergeant as soon as I could."

She managed to get to the rank within three years. 

“The main skills I brought over from the prison service is the control and restraint training, because I think that was a foundation for me to be interested in command. 

“The second most important skill was managing. How you deal with people is critical to what you get out of them. 

“Further than that, those communication skills [are important], particularly when dealing with a confrontational situation, it didn't phase me in the police, because I've been used to dealing with a lot of confrontation and violence in the prison service. 

“While you’re given skills in how to defend yourself, [I would say] the one thing that will help you de-escalate a situation is your verbal communication.

“In the prison service, when you're in a confined area, and you're dealing with confrontation, and you're in effect behind a locked door, you haven't really got anywhere to go. So you have to be able to de-escalate or deal with a situation accordingly.”

While she says this had helped with with her work in the police, there were other adjustments she had to make. 

“If you think about dealing with members of the public within the prison service, you're dealing with offenders that have committed a crime and been through the court process so they're there for a reason.

“The calls you are answering [in the police] are of such a variety, you need to develop those softer skills as well and you have to switch mindset very quickly.” 

In addition to her role as Head of Diversity and Inclusion Command, CS Tillotson also leads on the national Officer and Staff Safety portfolio.

“At 31, I had transferable skills from the army and the prison service and that has really enhanced my confidence and development, but there are plenty of opportunities to seek development opportunities in the police service [...] and several entry routes into policing so people can take time to select which one best suits them as an individual," she said. 

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