FIRST PERSON: Gwent police and crime commissioner Ian Johnston
4:38pm Wednesday 18th December 2013 in News
After being inspired by a conversation as a teenager with a local policeman, Ian Johnston worked his way up through the force and now has one main aim as Gwent’s police and crime commissioner. He talks to RUTH MANSFIELD.
“IN my first 12 months as a policeman I crashed a Panda car into the front window of a jewellers’ shop.
It was back in 1971 and about 4.30am. I was driving up the hill and didn’t make it. I ended up parking the car right in the front window. All the alarms were going off and everything.
People reminded me of that for the next 30 odd years. I got done for driving without due care and attention at the time and it was three penalty points and about a £10 fine.
I’d just got engaged at the time too and was about to be married so quite a few people were suggesting that I should stick to going to the jewellers in the daytime.
I grew up in Oakdale and joining the police had never been an idea of mine until I was about 16 or 17. I had never thought about it until then.
But I was talking to a local bobby about an incident that I’d witnessed and he suggested that I joined the police cadets. That was back in 1969. I then realised that was what I wanted to do.
I spent 33 years in the police service, the majority at senior detective ranks, and a further seven years as vice president and then president of the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales.
Cases from my time in the police force do stick with me.
One which will stay with me forever came from a call we had on Christmas Day in 1994.
It was the case of Philip Manning who murdered his ex-wife.
He had previously been sent to prison for four-and-a-half years for attempting to murder his wife in 1991. He’d been released but then shot her on Christmas Day and attacked her boyfriend with a butcher’s knife.
He went on the run and we were all on tenterhooks. All members of the family were put in protective housing. It wasn’t a nice Christmas.
He was found in London 26 days later where he was arrested.
Cases like that certainly bring home how lucky people are.
Another one which will always stick with me is the case of the murder of Tyrone France.
His remains were found in Wentwood Forest and a man was jailed for his murder.
It does certainly stay with you.
It affects your family life too but my wife Janet and children Hayley, 37, Mark, 36, and Peter, 33, have always been very supportive of me throughout my whole policing career.
Right from the start I’d always wanted to be a detective and after joining the force, it was by 1974 that I was made detective.
In 1978 I then passed my police probationary exams and did reasonably well. I was interviewed for the accelerated promotion course and in 1979 was promoted to the rank of sergeant.
I got involved in lecturing on law, training and supervising probationer constables and tutoring promotion examination candidates.
During that time, in 1980, we had the most successful year in Gwent Police for people passing the promotional exams.
I then went back to the CID as a detective sergeant and was later promoted to the rank of inspector at Newport.
I was then appointed to serve as a detective inspector but was asked by the then-chief constable to work as his staff officer.
In 1986 I was promoted to the rank of detective chief inspector, transferring to the force headquarters in 1989.
It was then that I was selected to be seconded to the Home Office as the senior detective leading on the psychological profiling project.
We were looking at the psychological profiles of murders and rapists and worked across Europe and America.
I then returned to Gwent Police in 1992 and returned to CID shortly afterwards. I was appointed head of CID in 1995. I then transferred to a divisional commander’s role which I retained until my secondment to the Police Superintendent’s Association of England and Wales.
In 2003, I was recognised with the award of the Queen’s Police Medal for distinguished service.
When it came to standing for the Gwent police and crime commissioner, I had previously questioned the concept of it.
But after talking to friends and colleagues I reconsidered my position and stood for it.
It has been a testing first year. It’s a very demanding job and my diary is always manic but it’s enjoyable.
I’m looking forward now. Anything that happened in the past is gone. My main focus is to improve the service.
The feedback across the force now is that it’s an inclusive environment and we are looking to moving forward.
As commissioner my aim must be public confidence in the police. That’s the most important. Quite frankly, people are not interested in the crime statistics, they are interested in how much response and service they get in their time of need.
I want to increase public engagement. It’s about looking to the people and serving the public.
When I speak to officers they say that’s what they joined for and what they want to be doing.
And I believe there is a significant link between how the police officers and police staff feel about being employed by Gwent Police and the level of public confidence in Gwent Police.
I’m also looking forward to the relationship with the new chief constable Jeff Farrar.
A relationship is about trust and respect and I have total respect for how Jeff leads Gwent Police.
The chief and commissioner are as one. That’s not to say we won’t have healthy discussions about matters. That’s allowed. We’ve got to build an environment where people know its OK to disagree.
I’m very passionate to keep our reputation. We’ve got some of the best police in the country and it’s up to us now to make sure there is confidence.
It is all about moving forward and not looking back.”
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