Merseyside Police Chief Constable Serena Kennedy on the challenges and successes of her first year
1 year ago
Merseyside Police Chief Constable Serena Kennedy is marking her 12-month anniversary in the role, as the first woman ever to hold the force’s top job.
The Guide caught up with her to ask about the challenges and achievements of the past year, her aims for 2022 and how she manages to switch off …
Did coming up through the ranks as Assistant Chief Constable then Deputy mean you knew what to expect?
Working closely with the Chief Constable, I had some idea of what the role involves but until you actually step into the job you don’t fully appreciate the full extent of what you deal with, and I think it’s been a fairly unique year in terms of Covid, the explosion, and the tragic killing of Ava White.
Did you set specific goals for yourself and the force?
When I was preparing to be Chief I spoke to every department, staff on the frontline of all the different teams and with communities to find out what they felt was important and what we needed to do more work on. From the existing force strategy, I set out six priorities around tackling serious and organised crime, violence against women and girls, taking a preventative approach, inclusive community engagement and also wellbeing. I need a happy, well, resilient workforce and when I was appointed staff had been dealing with Covid for over 12 months so I had some really tired officers. But our sickness levels actually fell during Covid and for me that’s a sign of the absolute pride that people have in working for Merseyside Police.
You’ve mentioned two terrible incidents, is it still difficult not to take that awfulness home with you?
Absolutely, policing isn’t just a job, it’s a vocation. Every murder we deal with is a tragedy, there’s always a family who’s lost a loved one, but I think the killing of a 12-year-old child just shocks everyone to the core. But we really saw the communities of Merseyside come together to demonstrate a commitment to making sure that things like this don’t happen again in our great city and our great region.
What have been your first year highlights?
I think some of the work we’ve done and some that’s ongoing. We’ve now got one of the lowest firearms discharge rates that we’ve had over the past 20 years and, through Operation Venetic, we’ve made 179 arrests and had 77 people sentenced, they’re now enjoying life at Her Majesty’s pleasure for 845 years. The county lines work is another area I’m really proud of; we’ve arrested 716 people but we’ve also safeguarded 256 vulnerable people who’ve been exploited and had an opportunity to put them back onto pathways. One of the schemes we’re working with is the Gloves Up Weapons Down boxing programme. Those young people were on the verge of criminality but now they’ve got a qualification and an opportunity which is fantastic.
Knife crime is a big concern for people, what about that?
Over the last two years we’ve reduced the number of under 25s being admitted into hospital because of knife crime and we’ve seen a reduction in under 25s involved. Only small percentages, but it’s going the right way and bucking the trend in other areas.
Merseyside Police’s new HQ opened last October, how has that been?
That was a real moment in history. In my office I have the photo album of Canning Place being opened by The Queen and Prince Philip and I’m hoping that the Chief Constable who’s sitting here in 40 years’ time has got the photo album of this – I’ve asked for a proper traditional album, one that won’t get lost on a hard drive somewhere.
What do you enjoy most about the job?
Getting invited to go and speak in assemblies and meeting youth and community groups. It’s just great to be able to go and talk about the brilliant work that Merseyside Police does in partnership with communities and with our partners.
When you speak to people, what are the issues that they raise most?
I would say knife crime and, because of what’s happened over the past 12 months, violence against women and girls, that’s why they’re both such a priority. I’ve got two daughters aged 20 and 21 and I think since the murder of Sarah Everard they’ve got a really strong view around violence against women. I use them as a litmus test and that was definitely was a watershed moment.
Looking ahead, what are your goals for the next 12 months?
I certainly didn’t pick six easy priorities, so the difference isn’t going to be seen overnight, it’s about building on what we’ve achieved over the last 12 months. We have moved things forward considerably but there’s still a way to go.
As Merseyside’s first female Chief Constable, do you feel under more scrutiny and pressure?
I think people are probably watching more in terms of my decision-making and the direction I’m taking the force, but I’d put myself under the same level of pressure anyway because being the Chief Constable is a hugely important role. I’m incredibly proud to be the first, I recognise the significance of that and my role as a role model. But I like to think I got the job because I was the best person for it – 28 years of policing over three forces and a lot of hard work, not because I was a woman.
In such a high-pressure job, how do you manage to relax?
I suppose spending time with family and friends, and I like to go running, so when I’m out running it’s switch-off time although I always have my phone with me, I’m on call 24/7. Since we moved from Canning Place, I must admit I do miss not being able to nip out to the shops. I always used to be really organised with presents and cards but I’m a bit last minute now. Thank God for Moonpig!