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The future of investigative practice

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I'm Emma Spooner and I'm the Programme Leader for the BA (Hons) Applied Investigation course. I would love to share a little more about me and hopefully show you that you can get that degree whilst working full-time!

case files on desk

I was a police officer for 21 years and I spent the first four years as a uniform patrol officer learning the trade. Whilst I enjoyed racing around with the blue lights on, I quickly realised that I got a real buzz out of the more in-depth investigations where I could really get my teeth into a case. This led me to undertake a CID aide and I joined the Child Abuse Investigation Team as a Detective Constable, where I remained for five years. Whilst working here I was involved with my first murder investigation and undertook many investigations into rape and serious physical and sexual assaults. I knew then that this is what I wanted to do. I wanted to work in a major crime environment. 

I moved to the newly formed Major Crime Investigation Team in my force where I completed my Specialist Suspect Interviewing course and went on to become an Interview Adviser. I was promoted whilst on the team and moved into a Detective Sergeant post on a busy CID team, where I thoroughly enjoyed the new challenge of developing and motivating staff.

"The most important part for me was that the degree level education made me look at things in a different way, to break out of my usual thinking patterns, consider things from different perspectives and really question my own beliefs and assumptions."

Emma Spooner
Programme Leader in Applied Investigation

From there, I successfully applied for the post of a Crime Investigation Support Officer, working on the Major Crime Investigation Support unit at the National Crime Agency. I spent five years travelling around the country, meeting detectives who were working on some of the most high profile, unusual or difficult to solve cases. My role was to provide support and advice and I worked with a small specialist team including the National Interview Adviser, National Family Liaison Adviser, National Search Adviser, Forensic Clinical Psychologists, Behavioural Advisers, Geographic Profilers, the National Injuries Database and the Serious Crime Analysis Section. This was really the pinnacle of my career and when the secondment finished, I decided that I had achieved all I wanted in policing and it was time to move to pastures new.

It was while I was working as a police officer that I first entered into university study. I had never studied properly since I was in school, so it was initially somewhat daunting to re-enter the world of education, especially at degree level! However, I soon discovered that the key to a successful degree is not about having a brain the size of a planet – it is all about application and good time management (something which you learn as you go through). I found myself signing up to complete the BA (Hons) Applied Investigation course without really knowing what to expect or what I would use it for, but just keen to develop myself and have a qualification to show for my hard work.

The attraction of the course at the time was, as a qualified detective, I could fit it in around my work and everyday life. Throughout the duration of the course, there were a few sets of contact days at the University, so that also gave me the peer support and allowed me to realise that all of us were in the same place of disorientation and unease at entering into the final year of a degree programme having never studied at this level before. I remember the year whizzed by and before I knew it I was submitting my final piece of work. Then the notification came through that I had passed and I attended my graduation ceremony.


Studying had really given me the bug and, in the end, whilst working in the police, I completed a foundation degree in police studies, a BSc (Hons) Risk Security and Management, BA (Hons) Applied Investigation and an MSc Policing, Policy and Leadership. This gave me a really broad base of academic knowledge that I was able to utilise in my working life. It wasn’t just the theory that underpins much of what we do in a practical sense, although that helped, but it was about developing my confidence, my research skills, my discussion, communication and reasoning skills.

The most important part for me though is that the degree level education made me look at things in a different way, to break out of my usual thinking patterns, consider things from different perspectives and really question my own beliefs and assumptions. This undoubtedly made me a better, more critically minded and considered investigator. Of course, it was always beneficial when applying for internal vacancies or promotion to demonstrate that willingness to learn and develop oneself as well.

So, having left policing, it was a natural step for me to move across to academia. My links with the University of Sunderland remained strong as, by this stage, I had started studying for my Professional Doctorate and the opportunity soon arrived to teach on the Applied Investigation course. This quickly developed into taking over as the Programme Leader. It's interesting being stood on the other side of the desk as the academic now and looking at the faces of the new students as they arrive. I can tell they are going through exactly the same emotions and have the same doubts and concerns that I was faced with all those years ago. My biggest reward is seeing those students develop over the course of the degree programme and grow in their academic confidence and knowledge.

The quality of the work that the students submit is consistently of a high standard. There are so many interesting projects that are directly relevant to their workplace practice that it makes teaching on this programme a real pleasure. I know from personal experience and from the feedback of students that there is real value in this course for both personal and professional development. Above all else though, I want students to enjoy the experience of immersing themselves in a learning environment and broadening their horizons. Who knows where it might lead...

Published: 27 June 2022