Recent tragic events up in Manchester have served to remind us just what a vital and often dangerous job our policemen and women do, day-in, day-out.
Now squeezed by Government cuts like never before, the thin blue line is getting ever thinner – taking police levels in Staffordshire back to the days when a young bobby called Mark Judson first hit the beat.
The year was 1969 and Mark, from Stafford, had graduated from the police cadets to becoming a full-fledged PC.
Aged 19, he was posted to the outlying Wombourne station on the very fringes of the Staffordshire’s force’s jurisdiction.
Living in digs, the two and a half years he spent there were a relatively gentle introduction to the force.
Mark, now aged 61, recalls: “It was around the time when police officers started to have personal radios.
“Back then we had to carry around a transmitter and receiver. In fact, some people were using the old Army packs and carrying them on their backs as they walked the streets.
“It was a fairly laid-back job in many respects and simple acts like handing out a fine involved us carry around sheets of carbon paper to make copies.”
From the sedate pace of life as a beat bobby in Wombourne, Mark joined the traffic unit in 1972 – driving Jaguars and Ford Zephyrs along the stretch of motorway cutting through our county.
Mark said: “Back then, of course, there was nowhere the near the volume of traffic on the roads that there is now.
“At night time, for example, the M6 was relatively quiet – except for the odd lorry driver or people travelling from the West Midlands to nightspots like the Heavy Steam Machine in Hanley.”
In 1976 Mark was promoted and moved to Leek – due, in part, to the fact that the then Chief Constable Arthur Preece was able to persuade him, as a single man, to move out to the Moorlands.
At the rank of Sergeant Mark then moved to the old police HQ in Bath Street, Stafford, in 1978 – around the time that the first ‘command and control’ computers were being introduced to forces across the UK.
He also worked at Cannock, Codsall, back in the traffic unit and as an Inspector in the force control room from 1989 onwards where a cub reporter called Tideswell would regular pester him for updates.
After working as an Inspector back with the traffic unit, Mark became the Chairman of the Staffordshire Police Federation in 1998 – representing thousands of officers across the force.
It was a role he enjoyed until January, 2011 when he retired after 42 years ‘with a few tears’.
However, Mark is still involved through his new position as Chairman of the Staffordshire branch of the National Association of Retired Police Officers (NARPO). He assumes his role at an interesting and challenging time for the police service – amid cutbacks, an ongoing row over pensioners and the recurring debate over whether or not officers should be armed.
Mark said: “I will certainly be interested to see what the new police and crime commissioner is able to achieve when he or she is elected because it strikes me that neither candidate has any great experience of the challenges facing the police service.
“Policing has changed dramatically in recent years and a lot of that is due to technology – both what the police service uses and effect of things like the internet and mobile phones.
“The workload has also increased. It’s not that it wasn’t there during the Seventies and Eighties but these days it is far easier for people to report crimes.
“There was a time when you had to walk into a police station or find a phone box. Now, most people have mobile phones and that makes everything more immediate.”
But how has the job changed?
Mark said: “I don’t think police officers are able to use their initiative like they were in the past – which was one of the most enjoyable and rewarding aspects of the job.
“Nowadays, and some will argue this is far more effective, officers are directed to take action having been given packets of intelligence.”
Does Mark think that the horrific deaths of the two female police officers in Manchester a couple of weeks ago has reminded the public of the vital work police officers do and the risks they take?
He said: “I think it has to an extent but the fact is it won’t stop the politicians forcing senior officers to make cutbacks in frontline policing.
“When I started my career we had around 1,700 police officers in Staffordshire.
“Over four decades since that time the workload has increased but our staffing levels are actually being diminished back to around that figure.
“Senior officers will disagree with this and point to the numbers of civilian staff and PCSOs.
“They will also argue, understandably, that armed officers and dog patrols are frontline.
“What has changed is that the force has fragmented in that there are so many specialist roles. We used to have general purpose police dogs.
“Now we have dogs trained to sniff out explosives or drugs, for example.”
Does Mark think being a police officer is more dangerous now than it was when he first donned a uniform?
He said: “I think it probably is and this is partly to due a lack of respect that many people have for the police and all forms of authority due to societal problems like family breakdowns, poor education and high levels of unemployment.”
As I leave Mark to enjoy his retirement with his cocker spaniel Poppy, I asked him to sum up his career.
He said: “I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a police officer. In truth I probably put too much of myself into my job. It was my life.
“I’d like to think I did some good and made a difference but I guess that’s for others to judge.”
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