During the weeks of Lent, I have decided to try and spend a day a week in the shoes of someone else, watching, listening, learning, about the opportunities and challenges, people I regularly meet have in their everyday life and place of work. How can the church speak truth to power, and make the church relevant if it doesn’t immerse itself in the lives of ordinary people, and make a compelling case for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
John Robins I’ve met on a number of occasions in his role as the new Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, but also as the son of a man whose funeral I took in the Minster and subsequently buried his ashes. John is a dignified and humble man just like his father was. He is married with children, and has a strong vocation to serve not only the people of West Yorkshire, but has spent his whole professional life working his way from being a local bobby to becoming Chief Constable in the Force and County he’s given his life too.
John works long days – usually twelve hours, from around 7.15am – 7.15pm. My alarm went off at 6am and I was in his office in Wakefield, the Headquarters of West Yorkshire Police, by 7.30am. John was already in a meeting, being briefed by a Senior Officer on events that had taken place during the previous night, and seeking permission for surveillance activity that only the Chief Constable can give, in relation to a series of police investigations involving firearms. These investigations carry high risk for Officers, and the criminal fraternity across the nation and now across the world are very sophisticated in their operations. Some of the information shared was too sensitive for me to know, and I only joined the meeting towards the end, and after John had the opportunity to make a number of decisions, which hopefully means we can all sleep happily in the knowledge that West Yorkshire Police go above and beyond the call of duty in keeping us safe day in day out.
By 8.30am we were joined by other Senior Officers to keep the Chief Officer Team up to speed with operational matters, and to clarify the day a head. 9am John was opening a conference for the British Association for Women in Policing on diversity and inclusion. This subject is close to John’s heart, and later in the day I was able to see his leadership in this particular area of police work. The conference was hosted by Assistant Chief Constable Angela Williams, former Divisional Commander for Calderdale, whom I know well. After John opened the conference, up came Lisa Winward, Chief Constable of North Yorkshire, who gave an inspiring and moving account of her career, and of the obstacles she has faced through her professional life, simply because she was a woman.
10.30am We arrived at a meeting of the West Yorkshire Partnership Executive Chaired by Mark Burns-Williamson, the Police and Crime Commissioner for West Yorkshire. Mark I’ve met on numerous occasions, both in the Minster and elsewhere. The main topic for discussion was around Violent Reduction and Serious and Organised Crime. As you can imagine, funding was a constant issue, and exploring how resources could be brought together to achieve the best outcomes for everyone. The Partnership brings together the Crime Commissioners Office, the Police, the five Local Authorities of the County, Public Health, the NHS, Probation and the CPS combining to make up the Partnership Executive Group for West Yorkshire. Towards the end of the meeting there was a presentation on Adverse Childhood Experience, drawing on good practise from Young Offender Institutions and Prisons, and how evidence suggests that these childhood experiences can lead to issues of domestic violence in later life, and a lack of personal resilience, and the need to reduce violent behaviour. I found this pretty depressing to be honest, as these same issues have been discussed for years, and as a society, we don’t seem to have made much progress?
John needed to get back to his Office, and following a sandwich lunch for 20 minutes, I had the opportunity to be taken round Carr Gate, the West Yorkshire Police Training Centre, located just off Junction 41 of the M1. Here is a ‘state of the art’ training centre for a modern police force. Inside are hangers, not with aircraft but literally streets and houses, with buildings erected so that police can learn how to enter property, manage domestic violence, deal with protest situations, and a whole list of other scenarios that the police deal with on a regular basis. After ten years of austerity, at last West Yorkshire Police can once again begin to recruit new Officers, and this training centre is being put to good use. Alongside the hangers, are the horses, dogs, helicopter, and firing range, where officers new and experienced, train together in using some serious weaponry in pursuit of armed gangs and robbers and giving confidence to the public at times of threat. Every Officer in the firearms unit undergoes constant and regular training to keep them fresh and alert to the tasks they face.
Back at HQ John is Chairing a meeting of people concerned with BAME (Black, Asian, and Minority Ethnic people) within West Yorkshire Police Force. This is a subject John feels passionate about, and he’s determined that as part of his legacy this area of recruitment and retention will have significantly improved. If the people of West Yorkshire are going to trust the police in their work, then the Force needs to look like the people they serve. This was a theme throughout the whole day – beginning with the diversity and inclusion conference earlier in the morning. I could sense John’s desire to improve this area of policing, and his determination to get each of the five command centres to go out and recruit people from these communities. The meeting included others via skype across the County, including Dickie Whitehead, my own Divisional Commander in Calderdale.
It was Friday, and the time was nearly six, when most people would be looking to finish early. But not with John, for after this meeting, he took me to visit those answering 999 and 101 calls and, making sure that all the staff were aware of his support and presence in the building, when others has gone home for the weekend. I myself have been hugely critical of the 101 response, or lack of, and I was able to see first-hand how its organised, and the level of new investment to try and provide an improved and efficient service to the people of West Yorkshire.
By 6.30pm there was just time to drink a cup of tea and to reflect together on the day we had just shared. It was not an untypical day for John, long, demanding, at times frustrating, and challenging. John displayed confidence and wisdom that he has learnt through his many years in serving West Yorkshire Police, and I was truly grateful for the privilege of walking alongside him and having a snapshot of his professional life and vocation.