The senior officer leading police in Portsmouth has vowed to ‘seek out’ criminals causing ‘havoc’.
Superintendent Maggie Blyth spoke to The News after starting as the city’s district commander – her first post as a direct-entry police officer – in January this year.
In a joint interview with Assistant Chief Constable Scott Chilton, the force lead for neighbourhood policing, Supt Blyth told The News:
• Of her pride in ‘motivated’ police officers in Portsmouth.
• A senior detective will join her team in a bid to boost the battle against an increase in drug-related violence.
• Police numbers were maintained in the last 12 months.
• There has been a steady decline in commercial burglaries following a spike.
• Of her desire to work with more agencies to end the exploitation of children and vulnerable adults.
Supt Blyth, currently based at the civic offices in Guildhall Square, said she was bringing her more than 30 years of experience as a leader in the public sector and child protection to bear in policing.
She said: ‘I’m really pleased to be posted to Portsmouth, I think it’s a really vibrant city and what I like about it is – and of course it has its challenges as other cities do – that it has a lot of aspiration to increase its footprint in a big way.’
Now the most senior officer in Portsmouth, the former chair of Local Safeguarding Children Boards, including in Hampshire, said her top priorities are keeping Portsmouth safe, tackling criminals including drug peddlers, and protecting the vulnerable.
Supt Blyth said: ‘First and foremost my priority is ensuring that our communities feel safe, that we are listening to the people of Portsmouth and working very much in partnership with other parts of the public sector to do that.
‘That’s a really important part for me, and very much part of the background that I bring with me.
‘A lot of emphasis is put on the leadership across Portsmouth, that we’re aligned with our key priorities for the city.
‘We want Portsmouth to feel like a place that people come to and live in, and feel comfortable working in.
‘We’re absolutely adamant from a policing perspective, as part of this main priority, that anyone who’s here to commit crime or do harm to people living here – we want to seek them out.
‘Secondly, attached to that is our emphasis on those types of crime that cause havoc in our communities, like drug-related harm.
‘We have a clear co-ordinated grip on that with our partners and across our own policing resource.
‘And third – this a big priority for Hampshire Constabulary generally but also for us in Portsmouth – protecting those individuals who are particularly vulnerable in our communities, whatever that may mean, and that’s obviously working with partners around the risks facing our children.’
Supt Blyth added: ‘We have clear focus with schools across the city, with other organisations, to protect, raise awareness matters like exploitation - whether its criminal or radicalisation.
‘There’s a big focus on supporting vulnerable people and vulnerable adults across the city.’
Both Supt Blyth and Mr Chilton reiterated a major effort is underway to tackle drug-related harm, battling drug dealers who are exploiting young people in Portsmouth and whose trade leads to burglaries and crime.
Mr Chilton, who started as a beat officer in the city 26 years ago and who has served as gold commander for major public events including the America’s Cup and Victorious Festival, said a detective chief inspector will join Supt Blyth’s command team to tackle drug-related harm.
Mr Chilton, a former head of special branch, said: ‘Twenty years ago I knew in Portsmouth what the drug networks were, who was connected to who and what the level of risk is.
‘We’ve got a different dimension now, there’s been a displacement of drug networks out of other major cities that are now impacting on Hampshire.
‘The skills of policing and other partnership organisations to deal with how they go about their business has evolved.
‘Most people in Portsmouth quite rightfully live a perfectly safe existence but it’s the indirect consequences on young people, burglary, volume crime – that’s linked.’
He added: ‘It’s an acknowledgment of the fact that when you’ve got a major city like Portsmouth with an increase in violence, we’ve got an intelligence picture showing drug networks are operating from outside of the area here – our focus is to relentlessly pursue those individuals to make sure the communities of Portsmouth aren’t affected.’
Mr Chilton said despite high-profile drug-linked stabbings, 48 per cent of violent crime in Portsmouth is domestic assaults – with policing overseeing a 66 per cent increase in solving it.
And Supt Blyth spoke of her pride in hard-working police under her command in Portsmouth who are on the ground solving crimes.
She said: ‘There are a lot of very motivated, very able and very experienced officers in Portsmouth.
‘One of the things that has struck me is that a lot of people who work in Portsmouth are from Pompey, see themselves as Pompey officers and that brings with it a lot of strength, because people understand the city – and know where to find people.
‘I had an officer say to me (in an investigation looking for someone): “I know Pompey, I know every street, I will find him” and within an hour he did.
‘That is a huge strength to have people in the city.’
And she said her officers have been on top of a spike last year in burglaries on firms in Southsea.
She said: ‘Quite rightly businesses, as any other part of Portsmouth, want to feel safe – they want their businesses to thrive here.
‘Some of the incidents affecting some local businesses may not be on the same level as drug-related harm, but businesses need to feel they can function here.’
She said there had been a steady drop, with under 10 a month now despite a spike in February when beach huts were targeted.
Supt Blyth is a direct-entry superintendent, joining the force under training in November 2016 prior to taking up her post in January.
She has previously told The News of the ‘life-changing’ moment of becoming a warranted officer.
‘Any element of public sector leadership these days needs to have a strong understanding of the elements of society that presents risk, much that any public sector leadership does around risk,’ Supt Blyth said.
‘So a senior leadership role in policing, in terms of managing risk, is not significantly different than managing other elements of the public sector, such as running a hospital, or in my case, a background in child protection.’
Now in charge of policing in the city, Supt Blyth said: ‘I was given good inroads into understanding Portsmouth before I took up the role.
‘There have been no surprises and I understood from a range of different insights into Portsmouth working alongside a number of different colleagues what particular issues there are for this city.’
Mr Chilton said Supt Blyth was bringing in skills to help work ‘cross-sector in partnership to enable us to meet challenges that communities face’.
He added: ‘I’m really confident that what Maggie does have in over 30 plus years of senior leadership in the public sector, she absolutely has the skills, credibility and the expertise to be able to do that.’