I am Gan Thayanithy and I am proud to have grown up in Birmingham, a really diverse place.
My Mum is from Trinidad in the Caribbean and my Dad is from Sri Lanka. I was lucky to grow up being influenced by both cultures, both equally vibrant.
The food is what I remember most, my mum’s Caribbean stews and curries with plenty of roti’s – flatbreads - and my dad’s Tamil food, richly spiced with lots of green chilli! There is also a lot to be said for Trini music, Calypso and Soca music that somehow seems to get into your bones.
The street I grew up in was also really diverse. My neighbours were Bangladeshi on one side and Chinese on the other. My best friend at the time was a Sikh whose family moved to the UK from Kenya. In our street there were people from all sorts of different countries and religions mixed in with traditional English families. I remember that there were loads of children and we played together really well.
My personal experience is that I didn’t even consider religious or cultural differences until I left. Each of us had different traditions or practices but we got along fine, aside from the usual childhood fallings out!
I joined the police because I was inspired at a really young age. The school took us to the Police Headquarters building in Birmingham, and from that day I was intent on joining. We watched the police helicopter taking off and the thing that changed it all for me was the Dog Handler. He was kind, softly spoken but there was no doubt he was in charge. He seemed massive to me with his bulky kit on and his dog looked like a bear! It was the first time I had ever seen a black police officer. He was so impressive. All I could think about was being like him.
My family were surprised at first that I was joining the police. I don’t think they could understand it to start with, but they were very proud at my passing out parade, watching squads of us marching. I think they could see I was part of something much bigger and meaningful than if I had gone into an ordinary job. They could also understand my drive to help people, it is a big part of who I am. My parents were also in the public sector, my Dad was a university lecturer and my mum was a nurse. My sister is also a nurse so helping people definitely runs in our family.
Northamptonshire Police has given me a huge opportunity to grow into the person I am today. When I joined the police I just wanted to be a good officer. I had no real aspirations to progress. What has really driven me to be better is the realisation that I could succeed just by being myself, all I had to learn was how to explain things well.
I never thought for one minute that I would achieve the rank I currently hold. In fact, when the Chief Constable called me to tell me I had passed in a recent promotion process, I think my first words were “No way”. I cannot actually remember the rest of that conversation! In eight years, I have progressed through three ranks.
I have had many difficult times in the police, not all of them due to my appearance or background. I have repeatedly been the victim of racist abuse and assaults by members of the public, but every time, I have been really well supported by my colleagues. These types of incidents have tailed off in recent years, but you only have to look at the graffiti in our towns and villages to realise that racism still exist and is equally as poisonous and divisive as it always has been.
The difficult jobs I have dealt with have been both a privilege and a curse. In my career I have dealt with the most horrendous cases, the details of which are difficult to forget. It is during that sort of investigation where the police are the champion of the victim, and the victory is in achieving justice that is so well deserved and hard earned.
The colour of my skin is something that always affects situations, from people deferring to white colleagues to answer basic questions to openly abusive language. Thankfully these incidents have become less over the years as attitudes have changed.
Often the colour of my skin has helped me to forge connections with local people. I try to treat everyone with respect, tolerance, patience and kindness. I hope to inspire people to join the police as I was inspired all those years ago.
I don’t view being a police officer as a job, it is part of who I am. What I hope to achieve as a black police officer is influencing and changing the police from within, to be more diverse in the way we engage with people and resolve problems. It surprised me that things I just know from growing up in such a diverse community are not widely known elsewhere. What surprised me more was that some colleagues were afraid to ask in case their questions were misinterpreted. Yes, you should be careful in your language but in my experience, people are ordinarily happy to talk about themselves, their family and their background. I have found out the most amazing and inspiring things about people just by spending time with them and asking them to tell me a bit about themselves.
Each person that joins with a different background, strengthens our ability to help people, because they might think of something that no one else has. I would encourage anyone who is considering it, to apply and give it 100 per cent effort.