This year marks 100 years of Women in Policing. We have already heard from Special Constable Darren Coleman, whose great, great grandmother was the first woman in England with the powers of arrest. 100 years after Edith’s success, and after being interviewed by ITV Anglia about her time with Bedfordshire Police, Inspector Annita Clarke tells us how things have changed for her over 26 years with Bedfordshire Police…
I joined Bedfordshire Police in 1989 because I wanted to put baddies away and keep people safe. That hasn’t changed, and fighting crime and keeping people safe is why I’m still with the force 26 years later.
When I first joined the force, there were fewer women officers and there was an expectation that should offenders have children, female officers were ‘best suited’ to look after them irrespective of the officers experience (or lack of it) of looking after children. Thankfully, times and opinions are maturing in respect of the fabulous contribution that women can, and do, make to the force.
Through my time with Bedfordshire Police, I have worked in many different areas including response, training, traffic management, the force control room and various attachments to vice, domestic violence and drugs units. I am a nationally trained hostage and crisis negotiator, qualified trainer, certificated counsellor, accredited mediator, a qualified tactical firearms commander and qualified coach and mentor.
I’m now a Community Inspector for Central Bedfordshire, working with a hard working dedicated team of officers and staff who balance the needs of the communities they serve with the consistent need to effectively and efficiently manage their crime workloads. I am incredibly proud of their efforts and their undeniable enthusiasm to provide a quality service.
The highlight of my career so far has been winning ‘International Police Woman of the Year’ in 2013 from the International Association of Women Police (IAWP). I was up against officers from forces from across the world – it was only the third time the UK has ever won the award.
The categories I was assessed on included professionalism, community, leadership and coaching and mentoring, and you have to be able to demonstrate how you have met those criteria. It was a long process but a huge achievement for both me and Bedfordshire Police and one that I’m still extremely proud of.
I have continued my association with the IAWP, and am now the organisation’s Region 13 representative which is an honour. There is a lot of responsibility involved in this and I now represent a large geographical area including: Western Europe, Vatican, Monaco and Israel. I am able to develop links to police representatives globally which has already enabled me to provide information for our force in relation to various policing practices.
This year, we are marking 100 years of Women in Policing, and as part of that celebration I was interviewed by ITV Anglia along with a retired officer, Carole Phillips, and a new recruit, PC Katherine Hardy.
Carole retired from the force in 2000 in the rank of Chief Inspector. In 1974, when she was a Sergeant, she submitted a report requesting that female officers be integrated into regular full time frontline policing in Bedfordshire. The scheme proved successful and after six months received the full backing of Chief Constable Armstrong.
The following year, the Sex Discrimination Act was introduced which ensured that women were treated equally in the workplace. However, thanks to Carole it happened sooner at Bedfordshire Police.
It was a pleasure to see her again, and to hear about Katherine’s experiences as a new officer on the beat. We’ve all had different experiences being women in policing – when Carole first joined the force, female officers wore skirts and were issued with a handbag to carry their truncheons in!
Times have changed and thankfully more practical clothing has been introduced for female officers now. I think we have many more opportunities than Carole may have had when she started her career – I can’t imagine back then that it would have been looked upon favourably to have female firearms officers, for example.
Now though, I don’t think there are any limits to what women can achieve with the police. Bedfordshire Police has had two female Chief Constables in the last 10 years, so the sky really is the limit.
When I spoke to Katherine about her experiences as a new recruit, she said to me: “It didn’t even cross my mind when I joined that being a woman would be a disadvantage”, which is fantastic. At the end of the day, whether we are men or women, we all joined and are still here for the same reasons. We want to make a difference and work together to keep our county safe.
I am incredibly proud to be a police officer serving in Bedfordshire. 100 years ago, Edith Smith became the first woman in the UK with the powers of arrest and more recently, Carole Phillips worked hard to strive for equality for women in Bedfordshire Police.
Officers like Edith and Carole have helped pave the way for me and my colleagues, and I hope I can do the same for the future female officers.
To see Annita’s interview on ITV Anglia, click here.