One of the most senior female police officers, whose career has spanned more than 30 years, has admitted a stigma still exists with some of the most harrowing crimes her force investigates.
West Yorkshire Police Chief Constable Dee Collins, who retires from her role on Tuesday, said attitudes surrounding sexism, diversity and inclusion have changed in the last three decades, but more needs to be done.
And, in a frank admission on the demands which have been placed on the modern police service, she said communities deserve better as the force had “let them down too often” due to limited resources.
The Chief Constable said: “There is still some work to do in society because we still see far too much domestic violence which manifests itself in different communities.
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“We still see far too many sexual offences, so whilst things are improving and changing and people are valuing difference, there are still far too many that don’t recognise or understand why it is so important or choose to ignore it.”
Ms Collins, who joined Cleveland Police as an officer in July 1987, became the first female officer to work in the roads policing team and also the first female on the armed response team.
She recalls how she was told “it wasn’t a role for a woman” but that her “stubborn streak” spurred her on to prove people and their perceptions around women and policing wrong.
“I would quite regularly get comments from members of the public saying a woman shouldn’t be doing the job I was,” she said.
“I would tell them I was good enough, but make light of it. It is only going out and pioneering around this that things change.”
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The Chief Constable, originally from Lymm in Cheshire, has now served 31 years in policing, 12 of those as Assistant Chief Constable of Derbyshire Constabulary. It was during her time there she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
She said: “I had fantastic support from the whole force as was the support from the Royal Derby Hospital. I was very fortunate because the lump was very small and I only had two weeks off work. It was very important for me to keep some normality for myself and family.”
Ms Collins joined West Yorkshire Police in January 2014 as the Deputy Chief Constable.
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She temporarily took over the role of Chief Constable in June that year, before being promoted permanently in November 2016.
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Ms Collins says her proudest moment of her career was when she was awarded a CBE by the Queen for services to policing and to the British Association of Women in Policing, which she chairs.
“I would like to be remembered for raising and encouraging more and more women to join policing,” she said. “I have seen women in this organisation feeling far more confident and putting themselves forward for selection opportunities.
“There are opportunities out there for all, but for a long time I think a lot of women didn’t feel quite confident enough. Having been the first female Chief Constable in West Yorkshire, I hope it has encouraged others to think anything is achievable.
“I am someone who started their career as a 22-year-old PC with an ambition to get to inspector at most. No-one is more surprised than me that I am Chief Constable, but, if in my own way I am encouraging others to enjoy policing and the fantastic career I have had, then that has got to be a good thing.”
Ms Collins is stepping down from her role due to health challenges and said she hopes to have them “resolved over the summer”.
She said she would like the public to remember her in her role as “someone who tried their best” and someone who encouraged people to understand the human side of policing.