PC Nicola Sephton is the scourge of ‘dippers’ and ‘jammers’!
As a Wolverhampton city centre officer she helps keep shoppers safe from pick-pockets and recently helped lock up a prolific purse dipper believed to be responsible for tens of sleight-of-hand thefts.
Out of uniform she’s equally dogged in her pursuit of ‘jammers’ – the opponent’s star player in her chosen, high-octane hobby Roller Derby.
And she’s also a 2nd Dan black belt in Tae Kwon Do…a sobering thought for any city centre drinkers causing trouble after one too many!
What is Roller Derby, Nicola?
Roller Derby is a largely female sport – although Men’s Roller Derby is rapidly growing – that originated in the USA in the 1950s and is now rising in popularity in the UK. It involves two teams on quad roller skates, and in body armour, blocking opponents in a bid to pave a path for their ‘jammer’ to score points.
It sounds painful…and not dissimilar to 70s cult film Rollerball! I presume no players take to the field on motorbikes!?
Errr, no! Motorbikes strictly forbidden…and we don’t throw a solid steel ball around!
It can get a bit rough and I have had one major injury: I broke my ankle in my very first training session! I now have metal plates and screws in my leg…it took a while to recover from but it’s never put me off the sport.
How long have you been playing – and are you a jammer?
I started training in September 2012 but had a year off the skates because of the injury; I’m back training again now and developing game skills in order to ‘bout’ with the team.
You have to pass a minimum skills assessment and before you are allowed to bout. The assessment includes doing 27 laps of the track in five minutes, skating on one leg and skating backwards, demonstrating different stops – like a T-stop and a plough-stop – and how to hit opposition skaters without breaking the rules. And there’s a written test to ensure you understand the rules.
There is an A team and a B team and you work your way through the ranks…but no matter what level you’re playing at, there’s a great team spirit and huge encouragement to progress. When I was injured I still got involved with the team acting as a non-skating official, working the score board, repairing the track and marketing when I helped organise a partnership with Wolverhampton charity Haven Refuge.
And it must be good to keep fit?
It is a brilliant sport for keeping fit, especially working your core muscles and building stamina. It develops muscles you don’t normally use! I also do Tae Kwon Do I am a 2nd Dan black belt. It’ll stand me in good stead for my West Midlands Police fitness test that I’m due to take soon!
Do you play in a league; if so how’s the team doing?
The team is called Wolverhampton Honour Rollers and we’re in a nationwide tournament called The Heartlands Series. We won our first bout 196-184 but then lost our next two, the latest 229-91 against Oxford Roller Derby. We’re next up against Cambridge Rollerbillies in September so could do with another win. We were only established four years ago so are still a relatively fledgling side – but we’re starting to hold our own.
Have you ever needed to use your ‘full contact’ skills to tackle criminals?
I haven’t no. I pride myself on using my communication skills to calm situations down…but I’m sure they’d come in handy if I needed to use them!
Tell us about your police career Nicola?
I joined as a volunteer Special Constable in 2007 and, the following year, became a regular constable.
Initially I was a response officer in Birmingham, then Walsall, and you quickly learn the fast-paced environment of responding to calls for help from the public.
When an opportunity came up to work in my home city of Wolverhampton I jumped at the chance; I’ve always wanted to serve my local community. Neighbourhood policing was new to me and the challenge was just what I wanted.
What are the team’s priorities…what would a ‘normal’ day be like for you?
Our main priorities in the city centre are tackling shop theft, street drinkers, beggars and homelessness. Often that involves signposting them to charities that can help but we will take action against aggressive beggars when we get complaints from the public. We have tried to help some people but they seem reluctant to change their way of life.
We also work the city centre night-life…lots of high-visibility foot patrols. You can clock up quite a few miles on a single shift – and I wish I had a pound for every time someone asked to wear my hat to pose for a photo!
When we’re out and about late at night we’re chatting with security guards and door staff, getting a feel for the atmosphere and helping everyone have a safe, enjoyable night out.
If we have concerns about a particular venue then we’ll relay that to our Licensing Unit who will address it with the owner and can attach conditions to the licence or, in extreme cases, push to revoke it completely.
As I’ve said, I pride myself on being able to chat with people I meet when out and about and striking up a rapport – but if anyone does cause trouble on a night out we have Dispersal Order powers to ban them from the city centre or certain venues.
We often encounter a Stormtrooper in the city centre! Inside the costume is a young lady, she enjoys ‘cosplay’ and often takes to the street in her Star Wars suit…
What interesting jobs or successes has your team enjoyed recently?
There have been a few good successes recently for the team, including the conviction of a prolific purse thief who was taking bags from pubs all over the West Midlands, including three in Wolverhampton. She was very sly, sitting next to victims and then sneakily hooking away the bags with her legs in a crab-like motion. Through CCTV we linked her to eight offences, including some in Staffordshire and West Mercia, and she was given a jail term.
And I was involved in the initiative inviting war veterans to chat with local youths at the cenotaph in Wolverhampton City Centre which had been vandalised. It was a great success, lots of barriers were broken down that day and having war heroes at the cenotaph helped the teenagers appreciate exactly what the cenotaph signifies.