Interview: Beds Chief Constable Colette Paul

We speak to Colette Paul, the new Chief Constable of Bedfordshire Police.

By Jim Stewart
Thursday, 11th July 2013, 4:29 pm
MBTC-10-07-13- Chief Constable Colette Paul . Bedfordshire Police HQ Kempston.

Chief Constable Colette Paul with PCC Olly Martins.
MBTC-10-07-13- Chief Constable Colette Paul . Bedfordshire Police HQ Kempston. b13-673 Chief Constable Colette Paul with PCC Olly Martins.

“I am passionate about policing, I never wanted to do anything else.”

There was no absolutely no hesitation from Chief Constable Colette Paul when she was asked why she did the job she did.

“I want to make a difference - yes, I know it sounds corny. I do have a social conscience, but I do want to lock away the bad people as well.

“I want to make sure we protect people from the very bad people.”

Chief Const Paul is polite, engaging and friendly when we caught up over a cuppa alongside the man who named her as the county’s top cop, Beds Police and Crime Commissioner Olly Martins.

But the answers she gives to a wide range of questions are direct, to the point and certainly suggests an intelligent, no nonsense approach to the job.

That’s hardly surprising considering the range of roles she has taken on her journey to being a Chief Constable. She spent more than 20 years in the Metropolitan Police including a spell as Det Superintendent in the Anti Terrorist Branch.

She has spent the past five years with South Wales Police as Assistant Chief Constable, then Deputy Chief Constable.

And although she only swapped the hills and valleys of Wales for the flats of Bedfordshire a little over a week ago, she has certainly hit the ground running.

She said the first few weeks is a relentless round of visiting new stations, meeting her staff, catching up with the local MPS and council chief executives - and the media of course.

But she was already getting to grips with the challenges ahead, with taking on the gang culture and recent shootings in Luton that have gained wide publicity.

She said: “It is something I have experience of in London when I was a Chief superintendent in Acton. We dealt with guns and gangs.

“What we learned very quickly was that while we can lead in the initial part with arrests, after that we must work in partnership with authorities and organisations.

“The local authority can help us in encouraging people to come forward, encouraging communities to be engaged.

“With dealing with the younger members we want to direct them away from these gangs. For the more serious criminals, of course, we want to lock them up.”

She had been sharing progress with Mr Martins that morning and shared up to date figures on police activity in connection with the problem: 2,200 stop checks, 12 investigations ongoing, 30 search warrants issued and 45 arrests made.

Mr Martins cited one difference with London gangs being that in the capital much of the wars were territorial - unlike in Luton: “this isn’t Lewsey Farm against Marsh Farm, so the problems are different.

“But it is reassuring to know that we are at the other side of this, police are going out and arresting and issuing search warrants.”

The words ‘collaboration’ and ‘community work’ cropped up frequently in our conversation. The same applied to dealing with the issue of sex workers in the High Town area of Luton - the strategy would be coming down hard on kerb-crawlers but working with the local authorities, the women involved, and the local neighbourhood.

The diverse nature of Bedfordshire - the mix of multi-cultural Bedford and Luton, small market towns and rural Central Beds was among what attracted Chief Const Paul to the county.

And she was keen to emphasise that while rural crime did not always make the headlines it would get just the same attention: “Some people have a tendancy to separate, say Luton and Mid Beds, as having separate problems. But we often find the people who are behind criminality in towns are also behind these rural crimes.

“It’s up to me to look at where we deploy our resources, and I have to answer for that. It is not always easy, and sometimes we have to make very difficult decisions.”

One of the hot potatoes in Central Beds right now is the plan to create more gypsy and traveller sites with ongoing tensions between the settled and travelling communities.

Chief Const Paul said: “Where there are instants of criminality - and I must emphasise that is by no means all traveller sites - our job is to enforce the law.

“We don’t police travellers any differently to any other community. We want to be fair to the travelling community, and also to people who live nearby.”

The new Chief Constable aims to implement a five year plan with some ambitious targets: placing Bedfordshire, one of the UK’s smallest forces, in the top 20 for performance in key areas, and in the top 10 for victim satisfaction.

She reiterated support for PCSOs and pledged to double the number of Specials to around 500.

Mr Martins, who earlier this year gave similar backing to community support officers, said: “We have had a lot of feedback that PCSOs do a very, very good job. A lot of that feedback comes from people who had called them ‘plastic police’ in the beginning and have changed their view.

“The increase in Specials is a great way of getting the community actively involved in policing.”

Police spending is set through to 2017 but further cuts are expected beyond that. No doubt the increase in Specials and PSCOs will provide cost-effective options in tight times - warranted officers make up the vast majority of the police budget - but the Chief Constable pledged to do all she could to protect front-line officers, whilst looking at collaborating with other forces over back-office duties.

Although Bedfordshire Police now has a woman at the helm, a quick look at the force website confirms that almost all the senior officers in the county are male - and white, not a perfect representation of the multi-cultural county it serves.

It is not a problem local to Bedfordshire but Chief Const Paul is aware of it, and didn’t seem prepared to wait another few generations to simply let the system evolve.

She strikes me as somebody who wants to get things done, make change where needed, and do that at a good pace: “This job is intellectually challenging, and I love that and the problem solving. If it was easy I wouldn’t want to do it.”