Durham Police launches support network to help women reach star potential

The Northern Echo: (L to R) Chief Constable Mike Barton, of Durham Police, Anna Wilkes,  chair of Star, Ron Hogg, police and crime commissioner, and Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer, of Cleveland Police. (L to R) Chief Constable Mike Barton, of Durham Police, Anna Wilkes, chair of Star, Ron Hogg, police and crime commissioner, and Chief Constable Jacqui Cheer, of Cleveland Police.

A SUPPORT network that strives to get more female police officers into high ranking positions has been officially re-launched.

Star aims to ensure all female officers and civilian staff at Durham Police reach their potential by identifying the issues that affect women in policing and supporting the recruitment, retention and progression of women.

At present, about 28 per cent of police officers in County Durham are women but this figure falls to ten per cent at senior level.

Star hopes to tackle under-representation by highlighting opportunities and meeting the needs of women who require additional support.

Adding a female perspective to debate and involving women in decision-making are also integral to the initiative.

It replaces the Durham Female Support Association, which was launched in 2004 but has tapered off in recent years.

Today (Wednesday, February 5), police officers, civilian staff, councillors and dignitaries gathered for a launch event at the Xcel Centre in Newton Aycliffe.

Star chair Anna Wilkes, media and marketing officer at Durham Police, said: “Last year, we held a consultation to see whether people felt there was still a need for a female support network.

“We were overwhelmed by the response. So many people came forward and said how important they felt it was.

“Over the last few months, we have been coming up with a vision and today’s event is all about finding out what women think our priorities should be.”

As well as speeches by Jackie Cheer, chief constable of Cleveland Police, and Julie Ward, a Member of European Parliament candidate for the North-West, the launch event featured a series of workshops.

Superintendent Kerrin Smith, of Durham Police, started her career at Cleveland Police in the early 1990s and was the only female Asian officer for eight years.

She said gender balance had improved significantly since then but stressed it was important not to become complacent.

“Sometimes it is the small changes that make a big difference,” she said.

“For example, we had women applying for jobs within the firearms unit but not achieving the standards required in the entry process.

"The guns were too bulky and women tend to have smaller hands, so we started looking at smaller firearms.

"It is all about making sure women have the right equipment to do their jobs.”

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