Top cop

SUFFOLK police has a proud tradition of women officers serving in senior roles. But since deputy chief constable Gillian Parker left the force more than a year ago, there have been no women in the top tier.

SUFFOLK police has a proud tradition of women officers serving in senior roles. But since deputy chief constable Gillian Parker left the force more than a year ago, there have been no women in the top tier.

Today that has changed with the appointment of a new assistant chief constable. KATE BOXELL met her.

FROM the challenge of policing an airport the size of a small town, Suffolk's most senior female police officer has arrived in Ipswich to take up her new post.

After 22 years as a police officer, assistant chief constable Jacqui Cheer, 44, has dealt with everything from counter-terror operations to neighbourhood policing.

One of her most challenging roles was at Stansted Airport, where she led policing during the September 11 terror attacks in 2001. In the weeks and months following the atrocities in the US, she was faced with not only increasing security, but reassuring nervous members of the public.

She said: “On September 11 the main problem was the lack of knowing what was happening.

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“We all saw the TV and realised that a really tragic event had occurred and that it was going to affect the air industry across the world. We had staff and passengers in the airport that had seen it, and our job was to try to speak to everyone and let them know what we knew so they didn't get unduly concerned.

“We made sure there was increased security and we did extra checks, searching people to make sure it was safe.

“We got more police out on patrol and got everyone to talk about it rather than make it look like we were trying to hide something. There was a difficult combination of trying to raise the security alert without panicking people and, as the boss, it was my role to set the tone.”

Mrs Cheer said hoaxers also created misery for officers and the public by calling the airport with terror threats. She added: “We had people who made calls saying there were explosive devices on planes or in peoples' bags.

“That is just not acceptable as it disrupts everyone else and whilst, on many occasions, the people who made the calls thought it was a joke or funny you only need to have a nervous passenger and their holiday is wrecked. We dealt with that robustly.”

While at Stansted, Mrs Cheer said there were also issues with retail crime and drink-related anti-social behaviour, which are problems reflected throughout Suffolk. She said Stansted could be like policing a small town at times, with all of the same issues faced in a town centre.

Mrs Cheer has worked for Essex police, growing up in Mersea and attending Colchester County High School for girls.

She has a degree in English and fine art, and worked with autistic adults before joining the force. Though she still lives in north Essex, she says she is fully committed to serving the people of Suffolk and has easy access into the county. She doesn't know if she will move to Suffolk in the future but wants to settle in her new role before she considers relocating.

She added: “I know bits of Suffolk as I have family in Ipswich and I know the Bury St Edmunds area but there are other areas that I know by name.

“One of the main things in my first weeks will be getting out and about and learning the localities and the different communities.”

With neighbourhood policing now being rolled out across the county, Mrs Cheer hopes to bring some knowledge of the new method to the force. Following her post at Stansted, she led policing in Southend where community policing was a priority.

She added: “At Southend it was a different type of leadership where I was much more involved in community activity, making sure we were delivering the best service to reduce crime. The delight with that was that I worked with some really, really good people and some fantastic community officers who really knew their patch and understood why things might be changing and where we were doing better or worse at reducing crime.”

Mrs Cheer believes identifying areas for improvement, is as important as highlighting strengths within the force - and said she feels privileged to have joined a force already at the top of its game.

She feels, as a woman in seniority, her job is to improve working practises for all officers and staff and not just female employees.

He career so far, has seen her work on the beat as well as behind a desk in complaints and discipline - a job she says was one of the highlights of her career.

She added: “Dealing with complaints and discipline was difficult but it was good because you are setting the standard of the force to make sure that people who have complaints about what you may, or may not do get an answer to their issues.

“It is not always the answer they want but I always tried to explain why we had come to the decision we had come to. I enjoyed that for different reasons. We had a small team and they were good people to work with and I also felt we were making a difference and making improvements. That is what we are about - we are never going to get everything right but we can learn and improve and make sure things don't happen again.”

Mrs Cheer also has an interest in improving frontline policing, by culling some of the bureaucracy in the force. Prior to joining Suffolk she spent eight months at the Home Office as national bureaucracy advisor for England and Wales.

Weblink: www.suffolk.police.uk

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