In considering the informative resume of the history of the first 100 years of the Warwickshire Constabulary, compiled by Inspector A.J. Hinksman in 1957 to commemorate the centenary event, we are struck by the changing face of policing, and the adaptability of the workforce to respond to society’s needs. The reality is that policing reflects a rapidly changing world that does, at times, seem difficult to keep up with and embrace.This addendum seeks to bring the records up to date and to assist the force in celebrating 150 years of serving the communities of Warwickshire.
The late 1950’s seem to have reflected a somewhat settled and welcoming consolidation of post-war Britain, policing in Warwickshire having centred upon the grand HQ at Leek Wootton and the motor car fast becoming the logical first response; in an era when the public were only just recovering from rationing and the average family was doing well to stretch to owning a motorcycle and sidecar!
In 1957 the black helmet night plate was gradually phased out and a chrome badge proudly displayed instead.The Warwickshire strength at the time of the Centenary celebrations was 558 officers and civilian involvement was minimal and confined to clerical posts. In 1958 the force purchased a Jaguar 2.4 saloon car to try out; being capable of 110 mph it was nicknamed ‘The bullet’.This exciting and flamboyant image however was not to be, as a government inspection found room in the rear to be ‘too cramped’ and more stately Austin Westminster A95s were ordered instead! Warwickshire embraced its first taste of the unique concept of motorway policing when taking shared responsibility for patrolling the newly opened M1/M45 intersection.
At the dawn of the ‘swinging sixties’, Warwickshire moved forward to the ‘Z cars’ era, where the black Ford Zephyrs made famous by the television series were the knights of the road. Cars were now controlled by the radio systems installed in headquarters. However, in 1963, a mobile control vehicle in the form of a Commer van carrying a coach built ‘Eagle Works’ body and the distinctive registration number 999 FWD, was brought into service and affectionately nicknamed ‘The Mobile Nick’.This vehicle, complete with radio mast and awning, served the force well right up to the National Union of Miners (NUM) coal dispute in the 1980s, when it was pensioned off to the Coventry Museum of Transport.
The increased reliance on radio communications in the 1960s was a watershed change in the police patrolling strategy, made complete by the advent of the personal radio which replaced the ‘making of points’ to designated telephone kiosk’s, or to Police Boxes in the cities.The Pye Pocket Phone was one of the earlier models of personal radios, where the transmitters and the receivers were in separate units. The other endearing feature of this modern communication was the automatic telescopic aerial on the handset which had the annoying habit of shooting up into the officer’s face whilst the radio receiver was precariously attached to the tunic lapel. In these progressive years the Royal Agricultural Society Showground was established at Stoneleigh. Although it used permanent farm and exhibition buildings, the main event was the Royal Show, held annually in July, which soon proved to be a prestigious and important deployment for officers engaged in traffic control and safe escort of high profile Royal visitors. Mounted officers were drafted in from Birmingham to support during ceremonial duties as Warwickshire had dispensed with its horses back in the 1920s.
1967 witnessed the nationwide revolution of the ‘Breathalyser Device’ to test a motorist’s intake of alcohol by blowing into a special bag, connected to a glass tube of crystals that changed colour to green if the driver was over the legal limit.The accompanying revolution of the time was the introduction of ‘Unit Beat Policing’, using Austin Mini and Morris 1000 saloon cars known as ‘Pandas’ due to the blue livery with distinctive white doors.The system used a segment of the town patrolled by a team of Constables lead by a Sergeant, relieving much of the responsibility of ‘First Response’ from the traffic crews who could then concentrate on the open roads. 1967 saw Warwickshire’s first female traffic officer, branded by the press of the time as ‘The Petticoat Patrol’.
In 1969 there was a significant change when Warwickshire Constabulary amalgamated with Coventry City Police. Although eminently sensible from a geographic point of view, the partnership only lasted until 1974, when the forces were de-amalgamated during a national shake up of local authority boundaries and Coventry joined the ‘West Midlands Police’. A further casualty was the loss of the boroughs of Solihull, Sutton and Chelmsley Wood to the new midland metropolitan force. During this all too brief association, Warwickshire Constabulary and the country mourned the death of PC Peter Guthrie, shot dead whilst investigating a burglary in Davis’ gun shop in Far Gosford Street, Coventry. PC Guthrie was posthumously awarded the Queen’s Police Medal for gallantry and his colleague, Sgt Meredith, who was also shot but survived, received the George Medal.
1975, the year following de-amalgamation, witnessed one of Warwickshire Constabulary’s most challenging ‘major incidents’- the Nuneaton Rail Crash. The overnight sleeper train derailed in the Trent Valley section on 6th June 1975, resulting in a twisted wreckage of mangled steel. Six people lost their lives, which was remarkably low in the circumstances, and the lessons learned from the experience hold the force in good stead for contingency planning to this present day.
At about this time the ‘Burndept’ Personal radio was adopted for general patrol and, in 1977, a substantial extension was added to the HQ mansion house, incorporating a computerised control room which, for the time, was considered ‘state of the art’.The force was allocated the call sign ‘YJ’ as part of the national identification process.
1982 was the year of yet another logistical challenge when Pope John Paul II engaged in a ‘Papal Visit’ and a ten square mile restricted traffic zone was imposed around Baginton Airport near Coventry. Crowds were brought in by public transport on a ‘park and ride’ basis from as far afield as The National Exhibition Centre at Birmingham.The A46 Warwick Bypass became a sight to behold with over 2,000 coaches packed in, herringbone style, as it became a giant car park!
In the following year a significant ‘Animal Rights’ protest took place at ‘Cocksparrow Farm’ near Coleshill, where Arctic Foxes were legitimately bred for their fur pelts and officers were subjected to new experiences of crowd control, demonstrations and communication techniques.
On March 17th 1984 Warwickshire Constabulary resources were stretched to the limit when four coal pits in the north of the county were targeted by ‘flying pickets’; in the NUM dispute lead by Arthur Scargill.As some of the coal miners were defying the strike call and others not, feelings ran high and there were ugly scenes.This was the first major deployment where the newly formed and trained ‘Police Support Unit’ (better known as PSUs) were engaged with substantial mutual aid in the form of serials sent to assist from other forces across the country and billeted locally in Army camps.The dispute between the Government and the NUM led to police officers, who were simply trying to maintain the peace, being unkindly referred to by the media as ‘Maggie Thatcher’s boot boys’. Officers working at the pits often completed 16 hour shifts, with many of their rest days cancelled. Meanwhile, those back on division were required to work 12 hour shifts instead of 8 hours to provide normal policing services.The dispute dragged on for some 16 months, causing considerable disruption to both force activities and the personal lives of officers.
At about this time Warwickshire Constabulary engaged in a major civilianisation campaign as part of a strategy to increase specialisation and cut costs. Roles such as Front Office Clerk, Scenes of Crimes Officer, Radio Controller and Training and Personnel Officers, which until this point were primarily police jobs, were opened up to civilian applicants. This new dimension released officers back onto the streets and freed up more resources. If the 1960’s was the radio revolution, then the 1980’s became the age of the computer, more commonly referred to in unsympathetic tones as ‘The Box’. It should be remembered how unnerving it was for officers with little or no IT experience to be expected to embrace the new technology with minimal training at a time when the home computer was almost unheard of!
1985 was the ‘heyday’ of the Warwickshire Police ‘HQ Gala Day’, where the public were invited to join in and experience displays and pageantry in the Leek Wootton grounds and form a closer bond with their police service. Sadly, despite its popularity with the public and the force, the ‘Gala Day’ became too labour intensive in the face of other demands on time and resources and, as the force faced significant financial pressures, had to cease. Financial cuts were to challenge the force for the next decade to come.
In 1987 the Force received it’s first ‘Air Support’ cover in the form of the ‘Midlands Air Unit’ incorporating a four-seater helicopter in collaboration with three other forces. In 1989 the force went a step further by purchasing it’s own Sweitzer helicopter, crewed by a civilian pilot and a police observer.The frail structure of this tiny machine earned it the universal nickname of ‘The Strimmer’’ and it was quaintly operated from the front lawn of headquarters, right in front of the Chief Constable’s office window!
In the late 1980’s the concept of Police Cadets was phased out and new recruits had to wait until 181/2 years of age before they could join the service. ‘Equal Opportunities’ legislation necessitated changes to force policy and procedures and the height limits of 5’4” for women and 5’8” for men were relaxed, along with the upper age limit of 30 years and 35 years for recruits from the armed services.The decision was taken to scrap the term ‘Policewoman’ and WPC and, from then on, all officers were treated equally.
The force was restructured at this time into six ‘Areas’; Nuneaton, Bedworth, Rugby, Leamington ,Warwick and Stratford, plus the Operations Team, including traffic, as an ‘Area’ in its own right.
The 1990s saw a major change in uniform, when the blue shirts of Constables and Sergeants were replaced by the ‘White Shirts’ traditionally worn by more senior ranks. Female officers adopted a reinforced bowler hat instead of the white trimmed felt option. Similarly, skirts were phased out to be replaced by more practical ‘culottes’, then eventually full-length trousers.
In 1993 a school minibus crashed on the newly opened M40 motorway to the north of Warwick in the early hours of the morning, catching fire and taking the lives of the schoolteacher driver and 12 children returning from a school trip.Though quick to respond as an emergency service, Warwickshire Constabulary were taken by surprise by the nationwide media attention which this collision attracted and from there on “Media Support” has become a necessary and integral part of policing strategy.
In 1995 the beat bobby was armed with a new form of defence – the PR24 side handled baton.This American-style long stick was worn hanging overtly on a loop from the belt and officers were trained to use it both defensively and aggressively. Though highly effective in restoring order, it changed the concept of the ‘Community Bobby’ forever and catapulted the image of the service to a more military style; with many officers seeing the baton as a barrier to their relationship with the public.The necessity to provide officers with batons, perhaps a sad reflection on changes to society, continued into the next millennium when ‘CS Spray’ would be introduced as standard issue. Stab resistant vests were also made compulsory.The traditional policing image of ‘Dixon of Dock Green’ was lost forever. Firearms officers were by this time quite prevalent in their specialised units, no longer just being deployed for diplomatic or exceptionally serious planned operations, but also on general patrol. Vehicles were double crewed in a high-powered patrol car named the ARV (Armed Response Vehicle).This force-wide resource routinely carried firearms in the car and could be deployed at short notice by the Control Room Inspector, when a threat from firearms was reported.The stringent requirement for specialised training to Home Office Standards for this elite unit of officers placed yet further serious demands on a hard-pressed workforce.
In 1996 Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II performed an official visit to the towns of Warwick and Stratford upon Avon and, in 1997, Prince Michael of Kent opened the newly constructed ‘Centralised Communication Centre’ at HQ, Leek Wootton.This new concept saw the end of the localised control rooms across the force and employed ‘Specialised’ staff to maximise efficiency. The Force Communication Centre excels controlling both ‘Major Incidents’ and planned operations.The most serious natural disaster which the Force has ever experienced took place during Easter 1998; when freak rainstorms over a prolonged period delivered the greatest floods in living memory.The speed at which floodwaters engulfed the whole of the south of the county was incredible and the Communications Centre took thousands of calls for assistance.Within a few hours a chain of command in liaison with other organisations and agencies, lead by the Police, got to grips with the circumstances; logistical aid from as far away as Anglesey was drafted in to assist. Sadly, two people lost their lives and millions of pounds worth of flood damage was caused primarily in Leamington Spa and Stratford upon Avon.
The retiring Chief Constable at this time was Peter Joslin, QPM. Having achieved 44 years of service, Mr Joslin was the longest serving Chief Constable in the country at that time and the longest serving police officer in the history of British policing – a record which is unlikely to be broken!
Animal rights protesters once again challenged the force’s resilience in 1998, with a protracted demonstration against the live export of calves for production as veal meat to France from Baginton Airport. Policing duties were shared with the bordering West Midlands Force and the temperature was dramatically raised when a returning cargo plane crashed, killing the three crew members and, in a separate tragedy, when Gillian Phipps, a protester, was fatally injured by a lorry transporting livestock.
The approaching new Millennium was the dawn of a new era for many, including Warwickshire Police. The new Chief Constable John Burbeck was determined that the organisation projected a ‘cutting edge’ profile and modern image. The Warwickshire Constabulary badge lost its chains from the famous Bear and Ragged Staff, producing a more simplistic logo and, from this time on, ‘Warwickshire Constabulary’ became known as ‘Warwickshire Police’. Traditionalists hated it but the new profile demanded it and in a fairly short period of time, badges, letterheads, flags and signs were transformed to the new corporate design, and a new vision statement “Warwickshire – the safest place to be” was created.
Incredibly as it seems now, in the lead up to the Millennium, the entire world was convinced by a scientific notion that at midnight on December 31 1999, computer systems would universally crash, plunging vital services into chaos and providing a fertile opportunity for organised crime and disorder. The phenomena was referred to as the ‘Y2K bug’ and Warwickshire, like all other police services, began to make extensive contingency plans. Extra police recources were deployed and all leave was cancelled across the county. However, in reality, the Millennium celebrations went off without serious disruption. As always, the officers and staff of Warwickshire Police stood by to protect the community, just in case they were needed.
The new Millennium also saw the introduction of equipment belts, blouson type fleece jackets and body armour, rendering the long standing image of the tunic redundant, save for ceremonial occasions. After much discussion the traditional ‘Bobbies Custodian Helmet’ was retained as a distinctive image for those carrying out foot patrol.
In July 2003 the Warwickshire Black Police Association (BPA) was established, its aim to ‘ Improve the working environment of minority ethnic staff based on fairness within Warwickshire Police, with a view to enhancing the quality of service to the public’. As Warwickshire Police enters the new century we aim to employ as diverse a workforce as possible to represent the community we serve. In March 2005 the Rainbow Employee Network (REN) was launched.This group aims to provide an effective support network for police officers and staff to ensure that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Trans issues are included in the development of policies and procedures.
Legislation in October 2004, meant that the employment provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 applied to serving officers, specials and staff. A disability group was established in 2006 to provide a support network for all personnel with disabilities and promote disability equality.
In December 2004,the first Justice Centre in the country was opened in Nuneaton where all of the justice agencies were co-located and work together to deliver local joined up justice services.The Centre provides easy access to 24/7 policing, courts, Crown Prosecution Service, Probation service, Youth Offending Team and Victim/Witness Support Services. This unique partnership approach has influenced thinking on the future of police stations with options emerging,such as contact points in schools and community centres and mobile police stations to regularly visit rural areas.
Warwickshire in line with other forces, invested in Casualty Reduction Partnerships and CCTV (Close Circuit Television) systems along with ANPR (Automatic Number Plate Recognition) to identify offenders and promote ‘Community Safety’ in an ever increasingly technical world.
Volunteer members of the Special Constabulary have long been an important and valuable aspect of Beat Policing in Warwickshire, however few had foreseen the introduction of a new concept in patrol – enter the PCSO (Police Community Support Officer).With fewer police powers and less training requirements, the PCSO provided the opportunity to increase high visibility policing at reduced cost.The increased presence was an instant hit with the public and a vital element of the Safer Neighbourhood teams launched in November 2006.A total of 31 Safer Neighbourhood teams, each lead by a Sergeant and including police officers, PCSOs, Special Constables and volunteers, were introduced. Each team works with local communities and partner organisations to address both force and local policing priorities. Last year (2006), also witnessed the 175th anniversary of the Special Constabulary nationally.
The Specials in Warwickshire continued to play a vital role in the delivery of services to the public and their image has been improved to give greater parity with regular officers. Uniform, protective equipment and training opportunities were by now almost indistinguishable, with Specials driving police vehicles for the first time, and taking a more reactive role in calls for service. In addition to being attached to Safer Neighbourhood teams, the Special Constabulary remained a vital component for the myriad of community events across the county, many of which would simply not have taken place if regular officers alone had been relied upon to police them, due to other demands on the service.
In 2007,Warwickshire Police celebrated the start of its anniversary year on 5th February. In a year that was due to see the force merge with other West Midlands regional forces – West Mercia, Staffordshire and West Midlands – to form a new regional police service, an eleventh hour change of mind by Home Secretary John Reid allowed the force to begin to plan a new era of policing for the county instead.
The force entered 2007 with a new programme team – 150 forward – tasked with producing an effective, efficient and affordable police service for the future.
With 1,041 officers and 680 police staff,the force began its anniversary year with a new vision. Gone was ‘Warwickshire – The safest place to be’, to be replaced with ‘Protecting our communities together.’
Warwickshire remains the smallest force in the country outside the City of London but determined to work in partnership with communities and local partners to prevent and detect crime, reduce harm and maintain the peace.