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Chief Constable Mike Cunningham speaks of time with Staffordshire Police

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: August 01, 2014

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WHEN Mike Cunningham became chief constable of Staffordshire Police, it was a very different time for the force.

Moving from a distinguished career with Lancashire Police, he took the helm of an organisation richly populated with officers and, though by no means over-resourced, it was in a much better position than it is now.

Fast forward five years and the force has fewer officers, fewer resources, and £30 million less to play with. There is no doubting this has been a challenging period of leadership for this top cop.

"The change we have gone through in the past five years has been unprecedented. The pace and scale of the change has been monumental, because of the amount of money which has been taken out. We have had to think very differently about how to take on policing.

"The force is unrecognisable now compared to the one I walked into five years ago, but the results have held up. I'm very proud of that."

Staffordshire Police has been completely restructured under Mr Cunningham.

Here in East Staffordshire, as with other areas around the county, a local policing team has been created.

With Chief Inspector Steve Maskrey at its head, the division has gone from being a minor area with lots of its own infrastructure, to becoming a more streamlined service tailored for the borough – something which officers believe has improved the service they provide.

"It has created a much more responsive and flexible force, and means officers like Steve can have much more contact with people in the borough," Mr Cunningham said.

It was this local policing team which led the high-profile Operation Nemesis, which targeted drug dealers in the area and aimed to bring them to justice.

More than 40 people are now behind bars as a result of the successful scheme, which coincided with a massive drop in crime around the whole of East Staffordshire.

Taking part in the long-running campaign remains one of the highlights of Mr Cunningham's time in Stafforshire, he said.

"When I look back at the operational activities in the force, Nemesis is right up there. We came together as a whole force and cracked down on a long-running problem.

"There was evidence gathering all the way through, and it was a great operation. Drug dealers were arrested and there was lots of razzmatazz, then we secured convictions.

"The important thing is we removed a blight on our communities. We received regular communications from the public about these drug dealers, and we took them off the streets.

"Crime took a nose dive and we had lots of positive feedback as that was what people wanted us to do," the chief constable told the Advertiser.

There is no doubt that Nemesis was a success in terms of bringing these dealers to justice, but the legacy has been even more rewarding for officers, according to the top cop. He said it had created an 'opportunity' to build on policing in the community.

When Mr Cunningham leaves the force this month, he will take with him the experience of Nemesis, as well as five years' worth of other operations, which he says will help in his new role.

Once he takes up the post on September 1, he will work alongside three other people to investigate police forces in England.

He believes his experiences as a manager and as a police officer will benefit him in the job.

"All the experiences I have had as chief constable will be of value to me when I am out assessing, inspecting and making judgements about other police forces.

"In Staffordshire, people think we do a good job for them, and that's important.

"If I am proud of nothing else from my time here, I am proud of that, as the public are the final judge and jury for policing.

"I will take that with me while inspecting other forces."

Mr Cunningham, who succeeds current inspector Roger Baker, was appointed to HM Inspectorate of Constabulary following a recruitment process which involved approval from Prime Minister David Cameron and the Queen.

When the appointment was announced, Home Secretary Theresa May said: "Mike brings a wealth of expertise and experience from his career in the police that will be invaluable in his new role and I look forward to working with him in the future."

Mr Cunningham said he was looking forward to the challenge, but added that he leaves Staffordshire with a heavy heart. Before speaking to the Advertiser he had spent time with officers in East Staffordshire, and he said it had reminded him of the reasons he loved working for the force.

"When talking about leaving it is definitely with mixed emotions. I am looking forward to a new job where I will have a lot of national influence and responsibility, but it's tinged with sadness at leaving an organisation I have been part of for five years and which I am really proud of.

"The men and women have shown absolute devotion to duty right the way through the force. I will miss that," he added.

Mr Cunningham will be replaced by Deputy Chief Constable Jane Sawyers on an interim basis. Police and crime commissioner Matthew Ellis said he believed she would be 'excellent' in the role.

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