Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire: I have no regrets

Julie Spence, the Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire is to leave the police force. She told ANGELA SINGER about the things she is most proud of during her time in the hot seat. JULIE Spence, 54, was the first married woman to join Avon and Somerset pol

Julie Spence, the Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire is to leave the police force. She told ANGELA SINGER about the things she is most proud of during her time in the hot seat.

JULIE Spence, 54, was the first married woman to join Avon and Somerset police in the 1970s.

She steps down as Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire 32 years on and leaves the police aware that she helped so many more females into the force - as one of a small group who set up the Gender Agenda.

During her time, the number of female officers has risen from seven per cent to 25 per cent. Her "women's work" won her an OBE in the 2006 Queens' Birthday Honours. This year, she also won the Queen's Police Medal.

"There are 90,000 women in the force but the stresses are when you try to rise up the ranks because it's a pyramid higher up in the service," she told The Hunts Post.

In August 2007, Operation Radium was the second stage of a national campaign to stop women being trafficked for sex. This was a particular success in Cambridgeshire where hundreds of members of the public came forward to support the campaign. Mrs Spence galvanised it.

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She denies that having reached the rank of chief constable, she has hit a glass ceiling. She didn't get the job of top cop in Northern Ireland in May last year but then she says she didn't apply for it - something that didn't stop her being the bookmaker's choice.

"I was Paddy Power's favourite even though I hadn't applied for the job."

She was not voted president of ACPO (The Association of Chief Police Officers) last April but she came second in the ballot of her peers, and says that can't be bad. She didn't become Commission of the Metropolitan Police in 2008 but again she says: "It's difficult when you are applying against the current commissioner."

She is proud that her team "turned the Cambridgeshire force around". The Home Office listed it as "failing" in 2005 just as she took over.

"I gave the force three clear objectives - instead of lots of things. First we had to improve the investigation and detection of crime. Second we improved our call handling. Before, we were getting letters saying you never answer the phone and you never turn up, and third we had to understand what the public wanted."

Mrs Spence told officers to throw away the national guidelines and just listen to what Cambridgeshire people said.

"It was putting the citizen at the heart of what we do. This was a major cultural change. We hadn't got the Marks & Spencer and John Lewis customer service. It is easy to say but hard to get embedded and consistent - but officers said this was why they had joined the police force - it was back to core values."

She is outspoken. This year, she called for the drink drive limit to be zero. She has no regrets about saying other things that brought her national headlines. In September 2007 she asked the Government for more cash because of the influx of migrant workers.

"It wasn't just migrants - it was the growth of Cambridgeshire. We had 93 nationalities and 100 different languages and that comes at a cost. I don't regret what I said. We did get some money and a promise of reviewing that."

And she doesn't regret admitting that the police can't respond to every 999 call - another gift to the press.

"The public understand what we are saying: not every 999 call is an emergency -some people just want to know the way to Sainsbury's."

Yes, she admits she did feel let down when more great stories for newspapers were provided last year by DNA being stored in a fridge next to takeaway food.

"It put us in a shabby light," she said.

There was also the rape case file left so long on an officer's desk that the CCTV footage that would have nailed the attacker had been wiped.

"We have 2,500 employees, they can't all be perfect all the time. This is not the norm, this is the odd occasion."

But public confidence rises and falls after press reports she admits. "Even a brief story can have long consequences."

She describes her three decades in the job as "a fantastic journey" seeing so much technological as well as psychological change. "There was no public order equipment when I started. During the Bristol riots, the dustbin lids came out."

E-mail means that no one is remote. Mrs Spence receives about 20 letters and hundreds of e-mails each week, which is why her husband wants to "ceremonially smash her Blackberry."

"I gave myself 24/7. I could not have given any more, I love the county and I want to stay here. I will be 55 this year. We will travel to Equador and Nepal at the end of the year and then I will look at other things I can do. I want to spend time with my husband, he is older than I am. You only live once.

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