Personnel Today interviews: Jan Berry, retired chair, Police Federation: A force for good

It’s been 10 days since Jan Berry officially stepped down as chairman of the Police Federation, but it is unlikely her attentions will be far from the outcome of today’s (Tuesday 10 June) court decision on the police pay row.

Berry has been at the forefront of representing officers during the pay wrangle, from leading some 25,000 police on a protest march to Westminster, to giving home secretary Jacqui Smith a piece of her mind at last month’s annual federation conference.

Indeed, the federation – which represents rank-and-file officers – took the dispute to court earlier this year after Smith ignored a recommendation from an independent arbitration body that pay for 2007 should be increased by 2.5% from September 2007. Instead, Smith brought in the pay rise in December, effectively reducing it to 1.9%.

At the conference in May, Berry accused Smith of “betraying” the Police Service and subtly questioned her right to remain as home secretary.

Berry’s words and actions obviously impressed police officers, who gave her a minute-long standing ovation. Yet she did not always want to join the Police Service – nor did she ever dream of having the level of influence she achieved in her role as Police Federation chair.

Early on in life, she was set on becoming a physical education teacher. That is until she repeatedly broke her ankle and realised teacher training exams would turn her into a “nervous wreck”.

Then, walking past her local police station in Tonbridge with her mother one day, she was persuaded to pop inside to ask about recruitment. The rest, as they say, is history.

Berry joined Kent Police as a cadet in 1971 and was appointed a constable two years later. By 1997, she was a chief inspector. During her service she worked as a detective, taught police law and practice to recruits, and advised on crime prevention, as well as dealing with cases of child abuse and domestic violence.

After a 12-year stint as chair of the Kent Police Federation, Berry was elected to the National Committee of the Police Federation, representing female inspectors.

In 1992, she became the first woman to be made chair in the Police Federation’s 90-year history. But she remains realistic about the key people challenges facing the Police Service.

“In terms of providing the right training, you’ll never have a Police Service that’s 100% ready for new challenges. We are by our nature reactionary.

“But we do need to be far cuter about how you get good responses to new challenges and share best practice,” she said.

Berry called for all 43 police offices in England and Wales to work together on national crimes. “The challenge is to make sure you have an integrated service, to include specialist coverage.”

But it is important that front-line police officers do not lose sight of basic police skills, Berry said. She insisted that police community support officers (PCSOs), for example, should never be used to carry out tasks such as interviewing and statement-taking at the expense of a fully sworn officer.

“When I first joined the service I gradually improved my portfolio of skills, progressing from minor to major crimes,” Berry said. “If you give all the minor stuff to non-sworn police officers, where are police officers going to gain that experience?”

Berry is looking to her successor, Paul McKeever, to keep police officer skills at the top of the agenda.

“A key priority is how to make sure cops have the right skills and equipment to do the job for the public, and these do not get wasted by bureaucracy.”

But a more urgent priority is improving morale across the service. She admitted that police officers were demotivated, not least because of the pay row, but also because of the target culture.

Earlier this month, independent think-tank Civitas found that officers focus their efforts on minor crimes such as speeding at the expense of major crimes, because every conviction counts towards a ‘sanction detection’ target.

“There’s no real value of quality, it’s just number crunching – and the pay dispute came a time when they were already terribly frustrated,” said Berry. “It was the final straw.”

She added that the government had “crossed the street to pick a fight” on the pay deal. Police pay had been worked out by the independent Police Pay Tribunal for some 20 years.

“Everybody was happy with the way pay was dealt with in the police, and the government chose to stop it. They could have done that in a variety of ways, but they chose to by failing to honour an independent arbitration tribunal.”

Results from a Police Federation poll found 86% of members want the organisation to lobby for industrial action, including strikes, in the absence of independent arbitration.

“I certainly wouldn’t go on strike or vote to go on strike, but I do understand there are people joining the service today who don’t have the same view as me,” said Berry.

Jan Berry’s CV

2002-2008 Chair, Police Federation

1997-2008 Chief inspector, Kent Police

1997-2000 General secretary, Inspectors’ Central Committee

1993-1997 Representing female inspectors on the National Committee of Police Federation

1984 -1997 Inspector, Kent Police

1981-1993 Chairman, Kent Police Federation

1977-1984 Sergeant, Kent Police

1973-1977 Constable, Kent Police

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