But for Julie Ross, who was a business support manager in the public sector just two years ago, it’s all part of the fascination of her new job.

Julie is deputy principal analyst with the Scottish Crime and Drug Enforcement Agency (SCDEA). Recruits can come from a range of backgrounds, she explains, and while experience of intelligence operations is desirable, possible qualifications vary widely. For example, psychology and ­statistics can be useful, she says: “Those backgrounds can feature, as can problem solving and ­lateral thinking. It is more about the individual and their skill base: for example accuracy, inquisitiveness or attention to detail, rather than straight qualifications.”

Intrigued? The SCDEA is ­currently recruiting. Julie is responsible, along with the principal analyst, for a team of 16 that is set to expand.

However, the glamour of countless fictional television programmes spotlighting crime investigation is misleading. Indeed, you can’t trade on the glamour of the job at all when your work is secret. Julie’s name has been changed for this article, and neither she nor her colleagues are allowed to tell ­others about their work.

“There’s an incredible sense of a job well done when an operation is successful, but we always have to ensure that analysts cannot be compromised,” she explains. “So we don’t discuss where we work or what we’re involved in. You don’t feel under threat as a criminal intelligence analyst, but our closeness to serious organised crime probably heightens

the challenge.”

As a result, being able to work well within a small group is essential for any new recruits. “They have to be able to work well in a team and be comfortable in a high-pressured environment where information can be thrown at them with the expectation that they can come up with answers as swiftly as the questions are being asked,” says Julie. “It’s not like you imagine from crime investigation on the TV. Sometimes it is fast paced and very exciting, but at other times it comes down to painstaking attention to detail.”

Drug trafficking remains the primary focus of the SCDEA’s attention, but serious organised crime in any form is essentially their area, whether that involves money laundering, counterfeiting, firearms, violence or human trafficking. “One of the reasons we’re ­currently recruiting is as a result of a two-year project which mapped serious organised crime across Scotland,” explains Julie. “It was a massive project which is now our primary focus and will generate much of our work for years to come.

“The aim was to determine how many people were involved in serious organised crime in this country, whether that was individuals or groups. Everything’s based on intelligence – and that’s when the general public can be a great help, by phoning Crimestoppers if they’re aware of something which is suspicious. Sometimes, information supplied can be the last piece of a puzzle, or a tiny detail which leads us to a vital answer.”

There is one area in which ­fiction reflects reality, Julie says: the enthusiasm the job engenders. “When you see any type of crime analysis portrayed in film, the characters tend to be very focused on what they’re doing,” she says. “It’s not always nine to five – and it’s not normal, in the sense that you don’t tell people what you do – but time and again I see people coming into this line of work and being gripped by it. It’s very satisfying to know you’ve had a part to play in dismantling organised crime.”

Realism is essential, though. Bringing an end to crime operations can feel like cutting the heads off a hydra: “If we manage to stop one, there’s a fair chance another will appear in its place, but we aim to be one step ahead.”

Every operation is massively organised, with any number of starting points to consider. “Some of these we simply cannot divulge,” says Julie. “In other cases it could be from the mapping project or a call from the public.”

Once operational police officers begin working on an investigation and producing leads, the analyst’s role kicks in. “Information can be coming from all directions and the team have to get down to the minutiae, looking at everything pertinent in the closest possible detail and trying to make sense of it. If there’s a gap, we have to find what’s missing.” Investigating drug trafficking, for example, will begin with a profile. “Who are all the associates? Who facilitates the smooth running of the operation? Is someone supplying money, a workforce or protection? What further information is generated by asking these questions? Are there any other groups involved or overlapping and what part do they play? Who is causing the most risk? How are people linked, and are we only considering

the obvious?

“There are layers and layers for us to sift through and we’re always on the lookout for the tiniest thing which might provide answers. We tease out and tease out the information – and coming up with the right answers makes all the time invested worthwhile.”

Although Julie came into the SCDEA by way of an analyst’s role within a Scottish police force, her background was budget analysis and management. “I was a business support manager within the public sector,” she says. “I managed a team and I was also doing a psychology degree through the Open University in my own time, which is when I first became interested in how crime is investigated.”

Getting used to police ­processes was the biggest change. “Along with the principal analyst, I now have an overview of all operations. The training in the SCDEA takes around two years for analysts, with both in-house and external training. It’s a cliche, but we need people who can hit the ground running and develop confidence in their own experience in ­making judgments and recommendations.

“I suppose we’re asking for an unusual combination in sourcing people who have to be trained in a specialist subject – but with the expectation that they will swiftly become a valuable contributing member of a team.”

For Ross, being part of the team overseeing her first operations confirmed that her initial ­interest in crime analysis was set to develop. “There’s no such thing as a typical day,” she says. “What is typical is the sense that we’re working to dismantle crime, no matter how difficult or lengthy a particular process might be.

“It’s a very switched-on and adrenalin-filled atmosphere, but we’re looking for big results in keeping the public safe and getting the perpetrators off the streets.”

Problem solving and lateral thinking

Qualifications required?

A variety of backgrounds are useful, including psychology, but problem-solving, paying attention and thinking laterally are vital.

What does the training consist of?

Intensive in-house training and a professional qualification to be completed during that process. There are also opportunities for training provided by the SCDEA or externally, as well as additional support from senior staff for those who have a specialist interest.

What about career progression?

Usually analysts come from other police forces, bringing experience from an intelligence environment. However, the SCDEA wants to recruit anyone who can demonstrate the appropriate problem- solving skills and lateral thinking.

The current structure is made up of a principal analyst, deputy principal analyst, senior analysts and ­criminal intelligence analysts. There’s a robust vetting procedure and, although there are set hours, analysts are expected to be very flexible if working on something which is coming to a head or has huge amounts of information ­suddenly being supplied. They might have to appear in court, which can be very daunting, so they must be able to develop the ability to relay information confidently

and competently.

Salary range? £18,495-£32,520.