The way in which women were integrated into the Bedfordshire police service is recalled in the memoirs of a former sergeant.
Carole Phillips – previously Sgt Groom – served with the county police force from 1969 until 2000 and is busy compiling her policing memoirs entitled Blue Line – Pink Thread.
The photograph shows Carole with colleague Joan Wright when the Bedfordshire Times published an article about the changes being made to the role of women in 1974.
The story, headlined ‘Beware the fair arm of the law’, revealed how women had started to work on equal terms with male officers. Previously they had worked in a policewomen’s department dealing mainly with women and children and missing persons.
Carole said: “This was a time of major change in the police service. Before long legislation such as the Equal Pay Act 1970 followed by a European Directive in 1975, and the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 would have an impact on equal opportunities in the work place.
“In July, 1974 I became aware that Bedfordshire Police was suffering from manpower shortages. There were budget restrictions, a freeze on recruiting and restrictions on overtime, so the operational sections were stretched to the limit. I realised this could be an opportunity for greater integration of policewomen, so I submitted a report to the chief constable suggesting that women officers be utilised to meet the shortfall on the men’s sections.
“Needless to say, he agreed and throughout the county many of the WPCs began to work on the patrol sections. I was delighted to be working as a sergeant on general police duties, but I did realise that not all the women officers were happy with the changes, especially as they now had to work shifts.
“The force didn’t have any married women officers with children, so I couldn’t foresee any real problems and knew that, with forthcoming equal pay, women would be required to work the same hours as the men.”
On the first day of going out on general patrol in a panda car, a Bedfordshire Times reporter and photographer arrived at the station to conduct an interview with Carole and colleague Joan, resulting in two articles, one of which had the headline ‘Women’s Lib on the Force’.
Carole said: “I certainly didn’t see this as ‘Women’s Lib’, but it was a big step forward in achieving equal opportunities.”
At about the same time, women officers were issued with smart new uniforms, as seen in the photograph. The uniform had been designed by Norman Hartnell, who designed a similar style for air hostesses. As women would now be working night shifts it was agreed that trousers could now be worn on night duty or in very cold weather!
If attending court or on normal day shifts, skirts would still be worn.
Carole added: “As anticipated, by 1975 women police were fully integrated into police duties, with the majority working on the 24-hour shift pattern. We also received equal pay with our male colleagues. It was decided that we would no longer be referred to as WPCs and would be PC or Sergeant in the same way as our male colleagues.
“In order to be able to differentiate for operational reasons all female constables were given numbers within the nine hundreds, for example, number 6 became 906.
“Some women were retained in specialist departments, now called juvenile liaison and social enquiry. They continued using their expertise dealing with specialist work involving women and children, but they now had some male colleagues in the department. This seemed eminently sensible as some male officers were husbands and fathers and brought a great deal of experience to the role.
“A small number of women officers were not at all happy with the changes and left the police service, but most adapted well to their new role.
“And 2015 marks the 100th anniversary of the first British policewoman being given the power of arrest, so we have come a long way!”