The North-East’s most senior female police officer speaks to Rachel Conner-Hill ahead of International Women’s Day

AFTER almost three decades in policing, Jo Farrell has been at the forefront of major operation, from high profile manhunts to maintaining public order at demonstrations across the region.

In 2016 she became the most senior female officer in the North-East after joining Durham Police as deputy chief constable, second in command to chief constable Mike Barton.

No longer on the frontline of policing, she now plays a strategic role the developing Durham’s response capabilities and creating the ethic, values and culture for the force.

This International Women’s Day she is backing its balance for better theme, which is aimed at building a gender balanced world.

The Northern Echo:

Jo Farrell, Durham's deputy chief constable, at Durham Pride

“It’s part of what we need to do so people have confidence in us,” she said. “We’ve got to represent the community and secure their confidence. We want people to come to us when they’re in trouble so we need to be someone they can trust.

“If we are all the same, if we all look the same, we can start making decisions without having any challenge.”

Times have changed since Mrs Farrell first put on her uniform and joined Cambridgeshire Police in the early 1990s.

“Twenty-eight years ago female officers were much a minority in policing,” she said. “But I can hand on heart say I’ve always had a positive experience of policing.

“It’s very easy to criticise policing. We are serving the public, we are facing cuts to the budget, sometimes our shortcomings are easy to find and easy to publicise.

“But policing and the motivation and enthusiasm of people I’ve worked with is are second to none.”

She added: “It’s not a macho organisation. It’s an organisation that values difference and is working hard to value difference.

“We recruit about 20 student officers at a time and we’re getting close to 40 or 45 per cent of those being women.

“You can project around how long it will take to get to 50/50 and it would be a long time but there’s a really good balance around gender. There’s a good balance in specialist roles like firearms and detectives as well.

“I’ve got a role in promoting that gender mix and increasing it.”

Since joining the police in a neighbourhood team, over the years she has held various positions, including taking on specialist roles in firearms and maintaining public order, playing a part in policing everything from football matches to EDL marches, and in 2010 acted as silver command on the high profile manhunt for Raoul Moat.

On that occasion, which ended with Moat shooting himself, earlier having shot and blinded police officer David Rathband, every decision was later picked over in the High Court following a legal challenge – which would prove unsuccessful – by Mr Rathband’s family.

She said: “The highest impact is if someone loses their life so you have to expect that level of scrutiny.

“In a sophisticated society that is what should happen.”

She added: “Unfortunately sometimes the police end up in harms way. I don’t say that in a crass way but we stand between the bad person and the public because that’s our job.

“Those experiences make you a better leader and a stronger person in terms of resilience.”

Durham now has 355 female officers, just over 30 per cent of the total, and overall almost 48 per cent of its employees are women.

Mrs Farrell, who had wanted to be in the police from her early teens, enthuses about her time in three constabularies (she worked at Northumbria Police for about 12 years, working her way up to assistant chief constable) but admits there is more to be done.

Durham has just commissioned its first ever gender equality to get an indication of how its employees feel about the subject and also has a women in police group, a network aimed at improving gender equality within the force.

Mrs Farrell said: “There is still a need for things like that. Until we have absolute equality there’s always going to be a need.

“I think while my experience has been positive, that’s not to say there isn’t some way to go in improving.

“Our mission is to get to 50/50.”

She added: “I would encourage anyone to be part of it, whether as a police constable, support officer or we have lots of roles that don’t necessarily mean you have to be a police officer.

“It’s a fantastic career. It’s so diverse.

“No two days are the same. It’ s been tremendous.”