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‘Throughout this past year, police staff have been amazing’: Thames Valley top cop

Thames Valley Police Chief Constable John Campbell
Thames Valley Police Chief Constable John Campbell

WHEN John Campbell was announced as the top cop of Thames Valley Police on February 13, 2019, little did he know that what was in store for him.

In the two years since then, he and his team have had to cope with the death of PC Andrew Harper while on duty, the coronavirus pandemic and the Forbury terrorist attack last summer.

Last autumn, a Section 60 order – giving police more power to stop and search people – was used in Crowthorne over fears of knife crime and gang fights.

And since the start of this year, there have been three fatal stabbings in the Reading area, plus another two in Milton Keynes, which is also part of the Thames Valley Police patch.

It led to Detective Chief Superintendent Ian Hunter, Head of Crime for Thames Valley Police, issuing a warning: “Although none of these offences are linked in any way with no threat to the wider public, they all demonstrate to us the simple fact that knives ruin lives.

“If people carry knives as weapons, the consequence is that serious injury and sometimes death can be the tragic result.”

Despite this, Chief Constable Campbell is looking for the positives.

“Knife crime is down 9% across the force area,” he said. “The nature of media today means that reports are across our screens, but the volume of numbers doesn’t reflect an increase.

“We do take these things very seriously, with Section 60 orders in place when a local area commander feels that there could be an outbreak of violence in the community and we need to do something about it.”

One immediate result of a Section 60 order is that people can see an increased police presence in the affected area.

“This can reassure people,” he said. “Public support (for these measures) has been strong, but we have to take them carefully. They are a tool that we have to use sparingly.”

The coronavirus pandemic has also seen police officers in a different role, having to react to new measures and an ever-changing situation.

The past year, that has meant lockdowns and tiers, with restrictions varying on a frequent basis.

“What I have seen is that Thames Valley Police has amazing staff, they’ve proven themselves to be outstanding,” Chief Constable Campbell said, saying they have dealing with regular policing issues, ensuring covid rules are enforced and looking after their families too.

“The staff have been outstanding,” he repeated, stressing his pride in his colleagues.

And while there has been lockdown fatigue in recent weeks, he said that on the whole people have been supportive and respectful of the restrictions, while some don’t follow the rules.

“That’s the nature of policing,” he said. “You always get people who don’t think what we do is right.”

But, he added: “Some forces have not quite got the enforcement right, but there have been thousands and thousands of interactions on covid that have been perfectly well handled.

“The small wins (of policing) don’t always get the attention they deserve, but there’s lots of positive police work.”

And this comes against the backdrop of funding cuts over the past decade, working on budgets shrunk by £110 million, and having to adapt to the changing nature of crime. But it all comes back to the team around Chief Constable Campbell.

“In many parts of the world, people don’t want to see the police, but here they do. The endeavour of my staff is second to none.

“It’s a well-regarded force with strong public support.”

In May, there will be the latest PCC (police and crime commissioner) elections, allowing the public to choose the candidate. It’s something that Chief Constable Campbell relishes.

“We need someone locally to hold us to account. It helps provide direct accountability to the public via the PCC,” he explained.

“People don’t always understand the role of the PCC, or their importance.

“It is absolutely right that someone can hold me to account. I am not an elected official, I’m here through my service. Policing is an important agency in the community and we have to be held to account.”

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