Peterborough’s new police chief aims to empower the community

Peterborough Area Commander Superintendent Melanie Dales
Peterborough Area Commander Superintendent Melanie Dales
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Peterborough has a new police chief, but the message is still very much the same.

The reality of cuts to the service and the stretching of resources mean a gold-plated police service cannot be guaranteed for all, according to Superintendent Melanie Dales.

But the city’s new area commander remains “very optimistic” for the future as she waits to find out how much funding the force will lose.

For now, though, she is looking to continue to build on the work of her predecessor, Tony Ixer, and looking to embolden the public so that they do not become victims of crime.

“Tony and I share a really strong set of values. We have to prioritise and be there for the people who really need us,” said Supt Dales.

“It’s really important we work with the public so they can help combat the things that upset them.

“If you see people walking around your street, asking them ‘can I help you?’ They will know they are being seen.

“In Huntingdon we had a lot of burglaries in Holme. A lot of people had their security lights on but were not checking what was happening.

“We reduced burglaries massively by the community working together, making the area less targetable.

“I would do this regardless of cuts. It’s the right thing to do. I’m a big believer in community. It’s empowering the public.

“I would want to have my officers at fêtes but we cannot afford to do that.”

The elevation to area commander is a huge moment for Supt Dales, but reward for more than 20 years of service since joining the Peterborough force as a 19-year-old.

Her CV includes being a detective sergeant, senior investigative officer, crime manager, area commander for Huntingdon and leading on the creation of the Sexual Assault Referral Centre in Rivergate.

In her previous role, in Cambridgeshire Constabulary’s corporate development team, she managed the reduction of the budget and collaborated with Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire forces.

Her decision to join the police was to pursue a career in an organisation which she felt would treat women equally to men.

Speaking in her new office - the same one which as a rookie recruit would leave her shaking in the presence of the “big boss” - the decision appears vindicated.

“It’s a massive honour to come back and be the regional head in Peterborough and represent policing on behalf of the constabulary,” said Supt Dales.

“It’s really important I represent the needs of the public and offer a really good quality service and continue on from my predecessor, working hard to protect the vulnerable.

“It’s a nice feeling. I have worked hard in so many roles before and I know a lot of people here. The ethos here is around hard work and it’s really nice to be back.”

The first week in the post has been a chance for Supt Dales to reacquaint herself with old colleagues, be briefed by her staff and meet new faces.

It has not been made any easier by comments from Peterborough MP Stewart Jackson who followed-up welcoming her to the job by claiming that residents were being abandoned by the police.

Speaking before Mr Jackson’s comments but talking about working with the MP, Supt Dales said: “He has got to speak up for what the public want. My job is to work with him so we can help the public.”

The priorities for the future are tackling child sexual exploitation, violent crime (especially domestic violance) and helping vulnerable people such as those with mental health conditions.

The police chief thinks a rise in reports of domestic violence are positive, as they reflect greater confidence in the police, but that a rise in other violent crime is not.

She will also continue to push her officers to use their slates (tablets) so they can work outside the office.

“People can expect to see my officers in Costa Coffee and Tesco. I encourage people to speak to them. They are there to be spoken to,” is the message.

Returning to the issue of cuts, there is no self-pity. On the one hand Supt Dales acknowledges that “the cuts are really going to hit,” but at the same time she is not going to scaremonger.

“If my staffing gets cut we will have to adapt. Times like these give an opportunity to be clear what we need to do and what is the best way to deliver that. The police are independent. My job is about operational delivery.

And despite optimism that Peterborough will be a safer place to live, and that the force will adapt successfully to changing circumstances, the joys of being the “big boss” will be tempered by the possibility of colleagues facing redundancies.

“The bit I do not like is people I have been working with for years potentially losing their jobs.

“That makes me feel very sad and upset. It keeps me awake at night sometimes,” she added.

“But there needs to be a realisation from the public that we simply cannot afford to do what we have been doing.”