Senior cop Maggie Blyth is set to take command of all officers in Portsmouth – despite having only put on a uniform a year ago.
As the city’s district commander, she will be leading scores of officers who have climbed their way up the ranks and garnered years of experience on the beat.
Yet Supt Blyth only made her first arrest in the last few months after being handpicked for what’s known as the direct-entry scheme.
Transformed from a civilian to warranted officer in about a year, Supt Blyth knew she would be facing questions over her credibility, even though she has decades of experience in the criminal justice system.
That included leading a child sexual exploitation inquiry into the abuse of more than 300 children in Oxford, being a member of the parole board and working in government on the Youth Justice Board.
Since putting on the uniform, she has been getting ‘full exposure’ to the streets of Portsmouth, making arrests at alcohol-fuelled violence and tackling anti-social behaviour.
Supt Blyth became a warranted officer in November last year, after a tough six-month process to get on the course between February and September last year.
‘During that time I had a lot of questions, I think first and foremost was credibility,’ she told The News.
‘Policing is very much based on working your way up through the ranks. I knew I would be managing a workforce that had never had a senior manager who had not come through the ranks.
‘I wanted to understand what the barriers would be.
‘A lot of the six months was taking to the police officers and other professionals about what the concerns would be.
‘I came on quite prepared for the good and the bad for what I might find.
‘I went in with my eyes open – and I must say I was really, really welcomed in Hampshire.’
Putting on her uniform for the first time was ‘life-changing’, she says, transforming her into a warranted officer of the crown.
She says: ‘It was a really big significant life change for me, it’s still very much a way of life. It’s wearing uniform but becoming a warranted officer and the responsibility that you get with that is different from being a civilian.
‘Having that was a big change and part of the programme that going through the year, 70 per cent of it is out there on the frontline and learning the skills and the other 30 per cent about leading a police service, understanding what it’s like to be a police officer and take those responsibilities very seriously.’
Supt Blyth has a 30-year career in child protection and is hoping to bring her experience to bear on challenges facing the service.
Child sexual exploitation cases have skyrocketed in recent years, with a greater emphasis on police working with social services, charities and others to both police and problem-solve.
‘The transferable skills I bring are working closely with partner agencies to ensure that we have a grip on the sorts of high-harm crime: that’s child sexual exploitation, the other forms of exploitation, grooming, radicalisation.’
Now Supt Blyth is looking forward to taking over in January, having completed stints on response and patrol – answering 999 calls – along with placements on neighbourhood patrols – which Supt Blyth calls the ‘bedrock of policing’, and investigations.
She says: ‘I’m really looking forward to working with partner agencies across Portsmouth and working together, and working with the team I have in place within policing in Portsmouth.’
She is hoping to take on board the experience gained from the frontline during the training scheme – and go back out with officers while in post as district commander.
She says: ‘I was working with officers at a frontline level and that was really interesting. I was able to go back to my colleagues and those managers above me.’
She adds: ‘I’ve had the full exposure to Portsmouth.’
Her first arrest also brought home her new powers as an officer. She says: ‘That was a new duty for me, arresting somebody and realising the impact of taking someone’s liberty.
‘I’d been very well prepared for it. When you go out on a 999 response call things move very quickly. You have to make the decision to arrest someone very quickly.
‘It was an incident around alcohol-related violence, elements of domestic abuse, threats. It was a fast moving situation.’
Supt Blyth, a mother-of-three who is expecting her fourth grandchild soon, was assessed while on placements.
A law test at the College of Policing is the final hurdle to clear before she takes up her position in the city.
The role was previously held by Supt Will Schofield.