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Former ACC Owen Weatherill: ‘It’s been a bit calm for the past couple of weeks, it probably won’t last’…and then the pandemic struck

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Until just a few days ago, Assistant Chief Constable Owen Weatherill led the work of the UK’s National Police Co-ordination Centre (NPoCC), taking on this role shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic swept around the world. He also held roles until very recently as the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC) National Lead for Civil Contingencies, and National Mobilisation Coordinator (NMC).

In a conversation recorded with PolicingTV’s Bernard Rix shortly before ACC Weatherill’s retirement from policing, Owen tells us about that breadth of work, starting with an account of how the UK policing response to the pandemic dominated his early work in the role. He also talks about his early career in policing, and what initially attracted him to become a police officer.

“When I landed in NPoCC, the summer of 2019, [he was briefed that] ‘it’s been a bit calm for the past couple of weeks, it probably won’t last’. Within a very short period of time, we then found ourselves responding to a General Election being called… that led to a number of issues around security threats… there was also the EU Exit delivery planning… and, if that wasn’t enough, just after Christmas, it became apparent that we’d got a health problem”. 

“Very different issues, but a similar need to align the thinking around how we respond across policing, across the country. And tied in to Government around a range of issues”.

“It is very much working together with the Chiefs [Chief Constables and Commissioners], to come up with an approach that we are all bought in to. Yes, there’ll be nuances around that, sometimes there’ll be a need for a differing approach in one area, but that is because of a particular need, as opposed to ‘I just feel like doing things differently'”. 

“Most of my work is around English and Welsh forces, Scotland, Northern Ireland. And that will involve things like the response to large events, planning for things like the COP26 conference, G7 conference, and the resourcing that goes to that… Outside of that, there is something around coordination in general, so testing and exercising to make sure that we can be confident we can deliver”. 

“Beyond that, there is a coordination piece where something is affecting more than one force, and there is a need for a shared understanding and shared coordination. And what we’ve tended to do, over the last two to three years in particular, is step in to that space more and more often”. 

“I’ll be constantly looking at what are the emerging threats and challenges in the UK, where do we think there might be a problem in the future, and then I’ll work with forces and regions to make sure we are doing the thinking and the exercising that we need to”.

“The reason we have this warehouse behind us, full of PPE [Personal Protective Equipment] still, three years on from the pandemic, is to be ready for the next one, if it does occur”.

“One of the things over the last two to three years in particular, because we’ve been involved in more stuff nationally than we probably have been for a long, long time, NPoCC now has a profile that it didn’t have previously”.

“I have deliberately and very overtly tried to engage forces, because I see my role as an enabler, I’m here to help, so I’ve deliberately tried to invest time to understand forces, their unique challenges, they all differ. Build relationships with Chief Officers, with Chief Officer teams, so that when they need help, I understand them better and I can deliver that help”.

How did he get in to policing?! “By circumstance, really. I’d done other things when I first left school, I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do. I’d worked in construction for a while, as a Project Manager… I sold houses for a while – again, interesting, but didn’t feel like a long term career. So I drifted in to policing because I was looking for something offering a bit more… I applied to two forces, to Hertfordshire and Northamptonshire, but it was Hertfordshire that moved things on more quickly, so Hertfordshire is where I landed”. 

When he joined, did he have thoughts of becoming a Chief Officer? “NO! Definitely not! It didn’t even enter my thought process at that stage! I just wanted to be a cop. The attraction of being out on the streets, helping the public, and getting involved in day to day dilemmas and challenges, that’s what attracted me”. 

“I didn’t feel particularly warm about the Crime Office [early in his career]… It didn’t feel like it was for me… I tried to wriggle from that, I tried to avoid it… I didn’t see myself as a detective – and then I became a detective! And I spent the next fifteen years as a detective! I found I loved it!”

And so much more covered in this 30 minute video with (now, former) ACC Owen Weatherill as he reflects on his policing career.

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