Longest serving firearms trainer retires – but leaves a legacy behind
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Watching Usain Bolt win gold, rubbing shoulders with royalty and training hundreds of officers are just some of newly retired firearms officer Dave Smith’s career highlights.
But after 30 years as a police officer – almost 24 as a firearms officer and 16 spent training firearms officers – Leicestershire Police’s longest serving firearms trainer, Dave is hoping for a quieter life and some travel with his wife, Ali.
Dave, 49, joined the firearms team after just six years’ service, taking to it ‘like a duck to water’.
He said: “Coming from the Tactical Support Team, as it is now, moving into firearms felt like the next step and I knew I loved it from the start. Planning operations and advising on which tactics to use was always a challenge I enjoyed.”
The very nature of being a firearms officer means Dave has dealt with people – criminals and victims – in their darkest, most difficult times.
Dave said: “Using lethal force is always the absolute last resort and the training delivered within firearms emphasises that there are numerous other ways to deal with high-pressure, violent and escalating situations.
“Firearms officers are trained in keeping the situation calm, talking to the person, but knowing that the option is there if these tactics fail.”
“It’s a scary situation to be in, but it’s healthy, I think, to be scared. It’s a huge responsibility. We are trained – and I have trained officers – to be prepared to resort to using their weapon to neutralise the threat.
“During a three month initial firearms course we spend two weeks teaching officers how to shoot a gun and the remaining two and a half months training them in the tactics and skills so they don’t have to.
“I’ve been shot at, spat on, punched and kicked, but fortunately I’ve never had to resort to using my firearm.”
Dave joined Leicestershire Police at 19, after applying at the earliest age he could – 18-and-a-half.
He said: “I always wanted to be a cop. My grandad was a Leicester City Police officer and I knew I wanted to follow in his footsteps.
“Things have definitely changed over the time I’ve been here and you could say that things are more complicated now, mostly for the better, and the level of training we have is second to none.
“I feel privileged to have trained all the current firearms instructors and Taser trainers. It’s great to think of that legacy I’m leaving behind, and that elements of what I introduced and how I taught, will continue and be passed down to the next firearms and Taser officers.
“I feel like a proud dad in some respects – in some cases I’m certainly old enough to be their Dad!”
As part of his tactical role, Dave became involved in the world of close protection, responsible – along with a team of officers – for members of the Royal Family on royal visits and international events.
At the London 2012 Olympics, Dave was one of the close protection officers for the Crown Prince of Denmark.
He said: “It was a great experience – he was really down to earth and liked to keep us all on our toes with his love of marathon running. I’d always have someone on a motorbike on standby ready to follow him – we didn’t want to be chasing after him in a suit!
“Being at the Olympics was definitely a career highlight – I got to see some of the events from a vantage point that money can’t buy. I was track side with Sir Bradley Wiggins when Team GB won the team pursuit and also saw Usain Bolt win gold for the 100m.”
But the reason Dave was there was to ensure the safety of the royal, and that means protecting them over your own safety.
He said: “You’re there to protect them at any cost, and if that means putting yourself between them and harm, then that’s what you do.
“But that’s the same for any police officer. Each and every officer in Leicestershire will put the safety of others before their own, and other people’s families before theirs. It’s part of the job.”
After 30 years of shifts, being on call and 3am phone calls, Dave is looking forward to travelling – without having to worry about his annual leave balance.
“We’re going to be seeing the sites of the UK, going to all those places I’ve travelled through over the years, but have never visited,” he said.
“And we’re just excited to be able to spend more time together.”
Ali said: “I’m delighted Dave’s had such a brilliant career and for all the opportunities he’s had.
“But I’m pleased he’s retiring, giving us more time to spend travelling and seeing our family.
“And I don’t have to worry as much now – if he was deployed operationally, I always worried – as I think everyone does.”