Frontlines / Christians at Work : The Police Officer

For this edition of Frontlines, Gavin Matthews spoke to Keith Evans, a police sergeant. He spoke frankly about the sometimes crushing stresses of policing, the faithfulness of God; and the day one of his colleagues became a Christian.

Solas: Hi Keith! Tell us a little about your job and what it involves.

KE: I’m a police sergeant with Police Scotland, working in Western Argyll. I’m in charge of cops across two different police stations – Lochgilphead and Campbeltown where I’m the patrol supervisor for an area the size of Cornwall. My job is about managing day-to-day resources, dealing with incidents, and being the first-level line manager for all my staff. That involves quality assuring their work, making sure they are making good decisions and reporting up the chain of command.

Solas: Of all those roles, what do enjoy most about your job?

KE: I said to my Mum and Dad when I was nine, “I want to be a police officer” – it’s what I have always wanted to do. For me policing is much more than just a job for which I get paid; as a committed Christian it’s my calling too. I love helping people, and this job is primarily about that. At 3AM when a farmer has had a quad-bike stolen, and we’ve recovered it and got the thief locked up and the farmer comes up and shakes your hand and says, “thankyou for all your hard work, this means a lot to us” that’s great.

Solas: Obviously, you are doing a very challenging, demanding job. Tell us about some of the challenges you face, and how your faith helps you to navigate those.

KE: In 2017 I had a run of about six weeks when the pressures were overwhelming. In one month I dealt with six road deaths as the senior investigating officer. Two of those incidents were in 24hrs – and that happened twice. On Easter Saturday a motorcyclist died after a crash, and we did CPR on him for an hour – unsuccessfully. Then on the Easter Sunday there was a horrific crash on the A1, and we witnessed appalling suffering, injuries and death. Traffic police officers see some very distressing scenes indeed. Then, that week – when I was already struggling – as I awoke, my phone flashed next to the bed. My colleague on the night shift had texted me to say I had to attend a double fatality on a dual carriageway. Two hours after seeing those two women who had been killed, I completely fell over. I had a nervous breakdown and was desperately unwell. Chief Inspector Andy Piper heard something in my voice that day and phoned me to ask if I was OK, and I just wept. I was eventually diagnosed with complex Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (c-PTSD) and received eight months of treatment. So – when you ask about the stresses of the job, I immediately think of 2017. I was really unable to function, couldn’t look after my children, and had anxiety and panic attacks, it was a very difficult time. A ‘year from hell’, really.

But through all my illness, God had his hand on absolutely everything. So the first person I saw when I got back to the police station that day was my boss Rebecca – who is a Christian. She was able to get me home and make sure I was safe. When the police allotted me a trauma counsellor, the one I was sent to was a Christian. I was able to pray with my wife, with my boss and my counsellor – which was a great help. So, these are just of examples of the way in which – despite everything we went through – God had his hand on everything we did. When I was off sick and in a very bad way, I was invited to preach at a wedding. Standing in front of the church I actually felt OK. I felt like my old self again and my wife said, “it’s like there’s nothing wrong with you”. I said, “I think it’s God telling me that I’m going to be OK”. So although I wouldn’t wish PTSD on my worst enemy; I’ve always had this sense that God has got it, and God’s hand has been on us.

When we moved to Scotland, we sailed through the application process, despite the fact that I’d had had a mental illness and my wife had a knee injury! There was a police station who needed a sergeant and a constable, where we found a school the kids love, a house and immediately felt at home at Lochgilphead Baptist Church. God has had His hand on us – which is hard to explain to people without faith. But now I am here, and this is undoubtedly the right place, where God wants me to be.

Solas: Thanks for sharing that, because there’s a vulnerability to your story – but also a testimony of God’s faithfulness. So, now as a Christian, what difference does your faith make to the way you approach work?

KE: When I first joined in 1996 there was this ‘elephant in the room’ – how was I going to tell my new colleagues that I was a Christian?! When you are 22 years old, and new in the job – that is quite daunting.  I was reading a Christian book at the time, which I accidentally dropped in front of my new sergeant in the locker room. He picked it up and said, “I’ve read this” and told me he was a Christian too. So it went round the team that I was a “god-botherer” from the start! Everyone on our team had a nickname and I was “Dibley” as in “the Vicar of Dibley”. I don’t think that’s because I look like Dawn French!

More importantly people trust me to tell the truth; my word is always my word, because of my faith. I tell the truth, even when it’s not to my advantage to do so. Several years ago when someone raised a malicious complaint against me, the superintendent threw it in the bin – because it contained the allegation that I’d lied. And he knew that couldn’t be the case. Honesty, integrity, looking after people’s welfare – my faith affects everything I do. Sometimes, in the middle of the stresses of the job, I pause and pray; and can approach the task with calmness. I’d even write in the incident logs “taking 5 minutes to pray”, so that I can centre-myself and move on.

Solas: So how have people at work reacted to your faith?

KE: So being called “Dibley” – some people think that is a form of bullying, but I disagree because they have singled out something in me which is exactly the thing I want to share! Others have called me ‘padre’ and that never bothered me either. When I was introduced to a new team as a Christian someone said, “Oh no – it’s going to be kumbaya and hugs!!” But actually it was great, because that team was facing some issues with bullying amongst things. After about six months the Inspector asked me “What have you done, this team has transformed!” and I replied, “you know what I’m going to say, don’t you!” and he replied, “Yeah – you’re going to say that you prayed about it!!” And yes – that’s what we’d done!

So, I’ve never had any real grief about sharing my faith. And I’ve been able to have some great conversations about it. I was sat some years ago with leaders from the Muslim and Pagan police groups, having dinner, laughing and chatting. It sounds like the start of a joke, “there was a Pagan, a Muslim and a Christian in a police station…” We didn’t agree on everything, but we got on – and that’s how it is. Everyone is different and if you are not rude and abrasive and hitting people on the head with the New Testament, people respect that. If they want to know more, they will ask but if they don’t want to talk about it – that’s OK. However in 25 years of policing, people have always accepted that I’m a Christian.

Solas: And have you had opportunities to talk about the content of your Christian faith with people?

KE: Yes. Now obviously you have to be very careful in the Police service – where you have to be neutral about stuff. However, in private conversations with individuals or groups, if people ask you– you are allowed to answer their questions and share what you believe. There was one officer who had been unwell, and was seeking God, who asked me for a Bible. Then one day in his living room, when we having a cup of coffee he said “I want to become a Christian – how do I do that?” So he Googled “sinner’s prayer” – and there in his living room, while I was in full uniform I laid hands on him and we prayed. He became a Christian right there standing in his living room!

I always keep an Australian Police Bible in my locker – it’s my prize possession, and as long as I’m careful, respectful and responsible I can share it.

Solas: What motivates you to want to share your faith in Jesus with others?

KE: I just see the change in people who have come to faith! Firstly in myself. In our family. I told my Mum she was “mental” for becoming a Christian! But I was willing to go to her baptism and made some friends at the church and I found that there was something different about these people which I couldn’t put my finger on. One couple, called Mick and Jean regularly welcomed me into their home. Then one day when I was ill, I allowed the pastor to pray for me – standing outside the church in the pouring rain – and when he prayed I had an encounter with Jesus which changed me forever.

Then I’ve seen offenders come to faith and been changed. I’ve known people who once hated me because of my uniform, hug me and say “I love you brother” – because of the change that Jesus brings. One ex-offender came to a Christian meeting I was at with the Christian Police Association. He said, “don’t’ let me near them – I hate the police”. Carl Beech preached on the cost of following Jesus, and this guy responded, put his faith in Jesus and said to Carl, “I have to give up my anger and my pride – can you arrange for me to hug a cop?” So in the next meeting when Carl told the story, this guy came forward and a dozen policemen ran onto the platform and hugged him – in front of 3,000 people. We picked him up and prayed for him! There is nothing else in the world that can change someone like that in less than 24 hrs!

So, I’ve been changed by the gospel – and I’ve seen others changed too. I think that sharing our faith is life and death and eternity. It’s what we should want for all our mates – which is why I am not shy about telling them! I want other people to experience what I have experienced.

Solas: Finally then, what advice would you give to a young Christian entering the police force who wants to be faithful to Christ there?

KE: Actually I’ve just had a new recruit who is a Christian start on my team two weeks ago! I said to him, “don’t hide your light under a bushell”. Be up-front about who you are, because that is where credibility comes from. Never make a secret of who you are –so when people say ‘what are you doing at the weekend?’ say “Church”, because then they might ask you why. Just being visible as a Christian is enough to move some people towards asking questions about your faith. And always be willing to give an answer.

I heard about two cops in another office, who worked right next to each other for ten years and neither knew that the other was a Christian! That can’t be right. Share it – be up front, you don’t have to ‘bash the drum’, just be who you are. That’s where credibility comes from and that is what touches people.

Solas: Thanks for talking to us Keith!