THE NEW chief constable of embattled South Yorkshire Police says he is confident he can put the force back on track saying: “This is not a job I’ve taken on because I want an easy life.”
Stephen Watson has taken the reins at the force’s Sheffield HQ on an interim basis but he has already been selected to succeed David Crompton as the substantive chief in November.
Mr Crompton was suspended earlier this year as South Yorkshire Police found itself at the centre of a bewildering range of controversies, including the outcome of the Hillsborough inquests, the child sexual exploitation scandal in Rotherham, calls for a new inquiry into the so-called Battle of Orgreave and its investigation into Sir Cliff Richard.
Such was the maelstrom of controversies associated with the force, the police and crime commissioner for South Yorkshire, Alan Billings, has admitted he worried whether he would get any applicants at all wanting to lead it.
Mr Watson said it was important that the force can never again be accused of “just not getting it”.
He said: “I know, as does everybody else, that public confidence in South Yorkshire Police has suffered. That should upset all people of good will and it’s upset me as a professional police officer.
“I think I have the experience and the ability to offer leadership to the force and in that I’m really optimistic given that the vast, vast majority of people who work for South Yorkshire Police are good, dedicated, professional, resilient, purposeful people.”
Mr Watson said he was not starting his new role thinking he had to prioritise any of the ongoing “legacy” issues over making sure South Yorkshire’s streets are properly policed.
He said: “The in-tray is a bit full at the moment but, in truth, you have to start at the beginning, you have to start with ‘what are we here for; what are the things the public expect of us, and are we equal to the expectations that they place upon us?’.”
And he said it was important all police force’s learned from historical problems.
He said: “The importance of our legacy cannot be overstated. The truth is that no successful organisation exists that doesn’t learn lessons from the past and I’m very clear that we cannot be in a place where folks can legitimately accuse us of just not getting it, not understanding the importance of the past.”
He added: “And, in dealing with a number of difficult issues in the in-tray, so to speak, I’m just going to approach them professionally, with integrity, with transparency, and just do the best to make the best sense out of what we’ve got.
“It’s not that these issues are distractions. These things that are core to what we’re about. Policing is about instilling confidence in our communities and these are all things that are germane to that confidence existing or not.”
Mr Watson said he recognised lifting morale would be a critical part of his role.
But he said it was important not to overstate the low morale in the force and is was not as if officers were “wandering around feeling like some sort of a defeated army”.
Mr Watson said: “Our organisation consists of human beings and it would be very unusual if they weren’t to feel a little beleaguered at the moment and some of them will feel a little tarnished by the misdeeds of those who have gone before.”
He said: “I think people do feel a bit battered and bruised but actually that’s bringing out in them a real spirit of positivity.
“They know that the vast majority of them do a great job and they’re very eager to be able to satisfy what are perfectly legitimate public expectations of us as an organisation.”
Mr Watson said he was “itching to get my hands on the tiller”.
He said: “There are clearly challenges. This is not a job I’ve taken on because I want an easy life.”
And he said: “I don’t typically deal in worry. I deal in being positive. I deal in being focused. I deal in doing my professional best as somebody of some experience, as somebody of personal integrity and somebody who is committed to do the very best for the public.
“If I get it wrong, well, I’ll pay for it. I don’t track my way through life being worried about risk.”
Mr Watson has been a police officer for 28 years and joined South Yorkshire from Durham Constabulary where he was deputy chief constable.
He started his career with Lancashire Police in 1988 and has also worked in Merseyside and in the Met.