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Mentoring: a career pathfinder

A former Staffordshire superintendent will be one of the mentors on a new scheme aimed at helping officers from under-represented groups achieve their potential in the service. He tells Gary Mason how mentoring influenced his own career.

Ricky Fields

Ricky Fields

Date - 24th September 2020
By - Gary Mason
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Throughout his long policing career Ricky Fields has sat on promotion boards on both sides of the table as an applicant and a board member.

“I don’t think any process is infallible,” he says. “But you turn up on the day and hopefully give your best performance and you need to remember it is a competitive process. We have all gone through disappointments in our careers but I can say that the boards I failed made me come back stronger.”     

But it shouldn’t be a lottery and if you are lucky enough to have had some good mentoring or professional help at key points in your career it can give you the edge you need.

Ricky, who retired from Staffordshire Police in April this year after 30 years’ service having risen to the rank of superintendent, pinpoints a key experience in his own career.

In 2010 he was successful getting onto the Releasing of Potential Programme for BAME chief inspectors at Bramshill (the former police staff college) with 11 other BAME candidates from forces around the country.

It was designed to assist BAME chief inspectors with the potential to reach more senior ranks within the service and was a real eye-opener he says.

“That was the first time in my career that I had sat with other BAME officers from all over the country. Without a shadow of a doubt it provided me with the platform to progress further.”

The course is no longer going - it was scrapped when the Home Office withdrew funding during the austerity policing era – but produced no less than seven BAME assistant chief constables.

He says the course provided BAME officers with the opportunity to share their professional experiences and importantly all those on the course went on to be role models in their home forces as their careers progressed.

Having left the service Ricky is now going to be a mentor for a new mentoring scheme for BAME and other under-represented officers around the country set up by the Red Snapper Group which owns Police Oracle (see below).

The goals of the RSG scheme and the Bramshill course are similar in providing a mentoring programme for officers from under-represented groups who display leadership potential.

 “This isn’t about positive discrimination,” he says. “It is about giving people extra support but with the understanding that candidates still need to be good at their jobs. You are not getting an extra leg up for not performing.”

Since he first joined Staffordshire Police in 1990 Ricky was lucky enough to have experienced mentoring in both its official and unofficial forms.

He admits when he was younger policing was not a vocation for him at all and he fell into the job by pure chance.

The son of an army officer and educated at boarding school, he had just graduated and was a member of what he calls a number of nomadic cricket clubs when Staffordshire Police’s own cricket side toured Germany where the Fields family were based at the time due to his father’s military role. 

At a cricketing lunch his father and a touring Staffordshire chief inspector (who went on to become its chief constable) decided it would be a very good idea if young Ricky joined the force.

When he joined he was one of about half a dozen other BAME officers in total. Burton-on-Trent had the largest BAME population in the force and in those days the policy was if you were a BAME officer you would automatically be posted to that part of Staffordshire.

“In hindsight I would say I had no connection with Staffordshire or the community there,” he says. “So for me to go there as a BAME officer was challenging. Having been brought up in a military environment it just seemed a bit strange.”  

He says he didn’t face any overt racism or hostility from his colleagues but experienced more opposition from sections of the local community – he was called a ‘coconut’ in one incident. 

But his experience of being sent away to boarding school from an early age gave him a confidence and self-reliance that stood him in good stead in what was a rather strange and sometimes hostile environment he says.    

At that stage he had no intention of staying in policing permanently but had decided to complete his two year probationary period as it would look good on his CV.

But PC Fields caught the policing bug – specifically in CID work and the investigation of serious and organised crime  -  after being unofficially mentored by a detective sergeant who took the young officer under his wing.

“I started doing criminal work while still in my probation which was quite a rare thing in those days,” he remembers. “I was quite pro-active and by virtue of the arrests I was making and the investigations I was taking on I was spending a lot of time with working detectives to help guide me through those investigations.”

He also met his future wife at work who was the first black female detective in Staffordshire Police.

A senior officer took an interest in Ricky’s career urging him to sit his promotion exams until he became Staffordshire’s first BAME inspector in 2004.

“On promotion to inspector I would say a lightbulb went on in my head,” he says. “By default, if you like, I had become a role model for BAME officers.”

As a result he became heavily involved in supporting other BAME officers in his own force and those in other forces through the National Black Police Association.

 “If you are the only black person with pips on your shoulder in what was a small, family force in which everybody knows everybody else, you stand out. I realised I had a really important role to play,” he adds.

As a DS he had a first introduction to formal mentoring through the force’s strong links with two local universities - Keele and Staffordshire – and as an active mentor was looking after students from BAME backgrounds who wanted to join the service.

He also says that Staffordshire introduced formal mentoring processes for all officers who showed career promise about 10 years ago and as a chief inspector was involved in that as well.

In 2014 Ricky led the force’s positive action recruitment programme to attract BAME recruits into policing at all levels including regulars, Specials, PCSOs and police staff investigators.

This was later extended to cover applicants for promotion boards both internal and external to all ranks with a supporting mentoring element provided by the scheme.

Having spent a career on both sides of the mentoring fence Ricky says it provides ambitious officers with a greater degree of focus for that ambition.

“Being mentored by somebody who is in a senior position gives you a different perspective,” he says.  “One of the things I say to people is: you need to understand where you want to go.

“Once you have decided that of course the hard part is getting there so you need to map that journey out.”

He says for BAME officers having a senior cop as a mentor provides exposure. “In policing what |I have found is that the more you are exposed to, the more you grow in confidence.

“By exposure I mean dealing with different types of incident, different roles and projects, working alongside partner agencies and other forces. Because all of us at different times in our careers get tunnel vision. The bubble that we are in is all that matters. The hard part is seeing how your contribution fits into the wider policing picture.”

How the RSG mentoring scheme works 

The Red Snapper Group, which Police Oracle is part of, has launched its new ‘Future Leadership Scheme’, aimed at helping officers from under-represented backgrounds pass their National Investigators and Sergeants exams.

Delegates will receive examination support services and one-to-one mentoring from former mid-rank and senior officers, all of whom are from traditionally under-represented backgrounds within the police service.

The scheme will support delegates through the spring 2021 intake and is open for applications here.

Ricky Fields is one of the mentors,

CV: FORMER SUPERINTENDENT RICKY FIELDS   

1990 Joins Staffordshire Police

1994-1999 Becomes a DC. Joins a unit responsible for investigating ‘vice’ related matters and a team investigating high numbers of serious and organised crime teams across Staffordshire

1999 Promoted to Detective Sergeant

2004-2008 Promoted to Detective Inspector. Responsible for managing a team investigating  serious and organised crime groups across the West Midlands region. Also leads a unit looking after protected witnesses involved in serious and major investigations.

2009-2014 Promoted to Chief Inspector responsible for managing custody suites including implementing a new custody structure. Responsible for managing critical and serious incidents including being a Firearms Tactical Commander.

2014-2018 Goes back into CID as a Detective Chief Inspector again managing teams targeting OCGs in Staffordshire and the West Midlands  

2018-2020 Promoted to Superintendent. Provides strategic direction and budget management for 11 units responsible for delivering operational activity regarding all elements of armed policing, public order (including policing football), roads policing, tactical planning and corporate resourcing.   

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