The best of Dorset in words and pictures

Bicycles to BMWs

Marion Crichton celebrates 150 years of the police force in Dorset

Official transportation at Poole Constabulary in 1903

On Sunday 23 July this year, over 10,000 members of the public poured through the gates of Dorset Police headquarters in Winfrith for a Community Open Day to celebrate 150 years of policing in Dorset and 175 years of the Special Constabulary. Hundreds of police, staff and volunteers gave up their Sunday to ensure that the public had a great day out and to support a major event in a series running throughout the year and right across the county.

It was an opportunity for the public to see and understand the work of the force. Operating the Dorset Police values of Integrity, Professionalism, Fairness and Respect is nothing new, but a modern expression of the standards set by the present force’s predecessors. These values will be no less relevant to Dorset Police 150 years into the future, but the current team is a far cry from the small force that began 150 years ago.

It was on 14 October 1856 that Dorset Quarter Sessions formally appointed 39-year-old Colonel Samuel Symes Cox as the very first Chief Constable of Dorset and so began the first police force working to make the lives of those living in and visiting Dorset safer. The Borough Councils were quick to follow, with their own forces in Blandford, Bridport, Dorchester, Lyme Regis, Poole, Shaftesbury, Wareham and Weymouth. Amalgamation was not popular, but in 1873 the first amalgamation took place between Bridport, Lyme Regis and Shaftesbury. The county of Dorset, Wareham and Poole followed in 1890 and 1891 respectively, but it was another 30 years before the Borough of Weymouth joined the force.

Special Constables on parade at Dorchester in 1955

Today, Chief Constable Martin Baker, QPM, leads a force which has grown from 110 officers to 2500 officers, special constabulary, volunteers and police support staff. It is ironic that he, too, faced taking his force through the problems of prospective amalgamation, but this time to create a huge regional force. Following much consultation, the government decided not to go ahead with the mergers right across the country, but to develop better strategic capability crossing border lines.
In 1872 the force experienced its first taste of duty at an important public event when the Bath and West of England Society’s Show was held at Dorchester. Later that year, HRH Edward, Prince of Wales, visited Weymouth and Portland. Members of the Royal Family have made several visits to Dorset over the years and 134 years after the first Prince of Wales came to the county, on 10 March 2006, HRH The Prince of Wales and HRH The Duchess of Cornwall arrived by helicopter at the headquarters of Dorset Police to mark the 150th anniversary. Their Royal Highnesses visited the force control room (Comcen), which receives 94,000 999 calls from the public annually and which also co-ordinates the deployment of police officers and other specialist resources to incidents. Here they listened in on a 999 call and spoke to police and radio operators. They also toured the casualty bureau and unveiled a ceremonial plaque. In his speech, the Prince of Wales expressed his appreciation for all the work that is so often unseen and unheard and wished the force great success in the next 150 years.

A BMW 530d road policing vehicle

One area of dramatic change over the last 150 years has been methods of transport. In 1894 the Chief Constable, Captain Amyatt Brown, decided that the bicycle had made sufficient progress to warrant its experimental use as a method of transport for officers and bought one for use in the Dorchester Division. A further six followed over the following two years and officers were paid £3 per annum for using their own machine.

In recent years the pace of change has hotted up considerably. In 1965 the force pioneered the use of computers to produce man-management data on crime and traffic accident locations by grid reference, period and day. Three years later, the force developed the first-ever purpose-built police motorcycle.

In 1974 came another first with the installation of an optical fibre data link in the Eastern Division control room. This was followed by Dorset being the first county in England to introduce a Witness Care Unit. Now part of Victim Support, this unit works in co-operation with the Probation Service and the courts.

Winfrith has been the HQ for Dorset Police since late 1977. Before the move to Winfrith, the force headquarters was in the county town of Dorchester. Historic parts of the old building in Weymouth Avenue have been incorporated into the new state-of-the-art police station opened in January 2002.

Dog handler Louise Dutch and Archie alongside the Dorset Police helicopter

Despite experiments being carried out in 1967 involving nine Southern forces as to the usefulness of the helicopter, it was 1999 before Dorset Police became airborne. The Air Support Unit was formed after the force took delivery of an MD Explorer helicopter. It flies out of the headquarters at Winfrith and can reach the furthest points of the county within twelve minutes of take-off, covering areas that would take 400 men on the ground to search. This service saves many lives every year.

999 has long been the telephone number associated with the Police and will continue to be so for the foreseeable future, but in 2005 an additional number was introduced. For the first time members of the public could call 01202/01305 22 22 22 if they had an enquiry which was non-emergency.
This year, together with BMW and other key suppliers, Dorset Police designed the country’s first range of next generation, fully integrated police response and patrol vehicles that include state-of-the-art technology and equipment. The Dorset Police Mobile Data Team designed a new in-car mobile data system including a central processor and touch screen facility. This will provide automatic number plate recognition, speed detection, video capture, satellite navigation, vehicle data recording and access to the countywide system in one overall structure. Work continues on this project and roadside biometric fingerprint scanners and facial recognition systems are being considered as the next additions.

Chief Constable Martin Baker with HRH The Prince of Wales, Sue Dodd and Maice Sanders in the Casualty Bureau

However much our communities have changed over the last 150 years and become more diverse in their composition and needs, the one vital element necessary for good policing remains the same – the personal touch. This was demonstrated in spades on the Community Open Day as officers, staff and volunteers involved the public in the Dorset Police of 2006. Crowds flocked to the arena for demonstrations of the ever- popular dog section and vehicles from vintage to the very latest in high tech. Rides in the police cars were so popular that additional cars had to be brought in and the Air Support Unit and Coastguard helicopters had a queue all day. Amateur sleuths practised solving crimes with the Forensic Investigation Unit as well as putting their driving skills to the test with a Scalextric race watched by the Enid Blyton characters, Noddy and Mr Plod.

Dorset is safer than it was ten years ago, but with the roll-out of dedicated Safer Neighbourhood teams across the county, the force is concentrating on ensuring that local people are part of the solution to the kind of crime and disorder problems that can blight their lives and their neighbourhoods. Developing a deeper, stronger connection with local people is crucial to building confidence in the Dorset Police of the 21st century.

Charlotte Clarke-Fuidge (9) and her brother Jacob (7) with Echo the police puppy at the Community Open Day

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