Women on the Force: Meet the classical musician turned North Yorkshire police officer

A new television series documents the professional and personal lives of some of North Yorkshire Police’s female officers and staff. Chris Burn speaks to two of them.

Alicia Oakes is one of the officers who features in new series Women on the Force.

Working for the police requires an ability to get to the truth of people’s stories – now it is the officers themselves who are in the spotlight for a new TV series going behind-the-scenes at North Yorkshire Police.

Given Women on the Force is co-produced by former police officer Dan Clark-Neal (who knows what it is like in front of the camera as a past Big Brother contestant), it is perhaps no surprise that the show uncovers fascinating details about the lives and motivations of the very different women who work for North Yorkshire Police (NYP) as it follows them both at work and at home.

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Among those who feature in the documentary – which is the second series of Women on the Force after a first focusing on neighbouring West Yorkshire Police in 2019 – is PC Alicia Oakes.

Alicia trained as a musician before joining the police.

The 29-year-old has been a police officer for four years after initially volunteering as a special constable but had an unusual route into the job after training as a flautist and doing a classical music degree at York University.

“As many classical musicians find, it is very difficult to get a job. I ended up in events management,” she explains.

“My journey to the police started when we had a detective inspector at an event I had organised. I got speaking to him and I think he probably realised I was bored out of my mind with what I was doing.

“They were recruiting for special constables so I joined up, did that for a year and realised I loved it. I think it just suits my personality. It is exciting, every day is different, you are thinking on your feet and working as a team.

PC Uzma Amireddy pictured wearing a hijab at North Yorkshire Police HQ, Northallerton. Picture by Simon Hulme

“I have to use my brain a lot more than I thought I would. If you had asked me ten years ago about the job of the police, I would have said it is about breaking up fights in the street but it is not like that.”

PC Oakes was being filmed for the series when she had to use her Taser for the first time in her career as her colleague was being seriously attacked during a call-out to a domestic violence incident.

“To be honest, I forgot the cameras were there,” she explains.

“This man assaulted my colleague in front of me. I had never seen such levels of aggression and I had no option but to pull the Taser. It was the only tactical option I had. It was a scary moment and my adrenaline was through the roof. But it was effective and we then arrested him.”

PC Oakes says she feels the programme has an important purpose. “One of the main reasons I wanted to get involved with the show is because there are occasions where you do feel undermined based on people’s stereotypes. I’m a girl doing what many people think is a man’s job.”

She adds: “It is important for people to see that police officers are people too. When you are wearing the uniform you are targeted and it was quite a shock when I first started. The anger and abuse that police officers get, I was getting for the first time in my life. We are people, we have got feelings, lives and families at home.”

PC Oakes says that in addition to the challenges of enforcing new Covid laws, the pandemic has also introduced new risks. “People coughing at police is a real problem – I have been spat at twice since Covid started. It is another danger we have to deal with on top of everything else.”

Police have powers to fine people for breaching Covid regulations but PC Oakes says they are only given as a last resort.

“We don’t give someone a ticket unless we have to. Most people are reasonable and if you ask someone to go home, they will go home. I have given maybe nine or ten tickets which is not a lot when you think of how many people we have been speaking to.”

Starting her career with the police has also coincided with her rediscovering a love of music and she is now a member of York’s Cobweb Orchestra after not playing for a while when she was working in events management.

While group practices are currently on hold due to Covid, she says in normal times the orchestra offers a nice diversion from the pressures of work.

“Everybody that goes has got their own story but when we are just playing a piece of Brahms together, nobody is thinking about work or home, they are thinking about the music they are playing. You can close off everything else.”

PC Oakes says there are some parallels between policing and playing in an orchestra.

“You are not a single police officer, and you are not a single instrumentalist. I didn’t have the motivation to play when I was in my old job so maybe I have been in a better place. Now there is not a day I don’t practice.”

She says being an officer has changed her view of life.

“As soon as I joined the police, I realised what a great upbringing I had but also how sheltered I had been.

“I do feel that I see the world differently now. I don’t take anything at face value because you don’t know what happens behind people’s closed doors. But having been behind those doors now, it makes me appreciate what I have so much more.

“I’m much more open now – before I joined the police, I wouldn’t have said to my parents ‘I love you’ but now I tell them every day. My partner is a police officer and we are so realistic with things and are probably more grounded because of what we do.”

Another participant in the show is PC Uzma Amireddy, who is the force’s Positive Action Coordinator.

She was born in Pakistan. When she moved to the UK at the age of 12, she could not speak English. After learning the language, she ended up getting a law degree, but finances and family circumstances prevented her taking a legal practice course to become a solicitor, she decided to become a police officer instead. She started at Cleveland Police before transferring to North Yorkshire.

She made headlines in November for her work designing a hijab safe to be worn as work uniform should an officer face a violent confrontation.

The programme covers her efforts with a colleague to make sure it was adopted as an official part of the force’s uniform, as well as her wider diversity work that she juggles with being a mum to three young children.

She says that while her role “may not seem that exciting” initially to viewers, she believes the work she is doing is both vital and potentially life-saving.

“Great Britain is one of the most diverse countries on the globe, with people living here speaking different languages. I used to get colleagues saying, ‘We have a domestic but the lady doesn’t speak the language’. That could be someone who has been imprisoned in their home for five years but if you can’t communicate with her as a police force we are letting that woman down. By having more diversity in the police, you could be saving lives.

“I speak more than one language so I can be an asset to the police service. My mum can’t speak English so I help her with GP and hospital appointments. We need to ensure not just policing but the NHS for example has people who speak different languages.”

PC Amireddy says there is still work to be done across policing to change things for the better.

“I think there is a long way to go. I have friends who work in the NHS and when I explain my role, I get comments that policing is really behind but unfortunately we are. I’m really privileged to do the work I do in North Yorkshire but on a national level, we have a long way to go as a police force.

“When I walk into a room, I don’t want people looking at me differently and treating me differently. When I started here four years ago I was afraid to wear a hijab. But I decided I wanted to do it. I don’t want to leave my religion at home because it completes me as a person.

“With this documentary I’m hoping it is going to encourage a lot of females that are thinking of a career in policing to come and join.

“I’m hoping it is not just going to start a conversation, it will ensure a lot more women do come forward and do what they want to do in life.

“We want to be an organisation at North Yorkshire Police where people feel included and where they can be themselves.

“I don’t want to leave my culture and religion at home. It shouldn’t be about fitting in, I should still be who I am.”

Opening up home ‘felt natural’

PC Uzma Amireddy says opening up her home to cameras was slightly nerve-racking but proved to be a positive experience.

“The camera crews were absolutely lovely and so friendly it didn’t feel like a stranger was in my home,” she says of the filming experience last summer when Covid restrictions were at a lower level.

“Because I was taking part in the show, I had to be open and couldn’t shy away from it. My kids behaved really well which was a positive and which I had been stressing out about before! The twins are only three but my seven-year-old is really excited about when she is going to be on TV. We are really looking forward to it.

“I wouldn’t say I’m nervous but I don’t think I’m looking forward to hearing my voice on TV!”

Women on the Force previews on tonight at 10.30pm, the full series starts weekly from Thursday April 8 at 8pm on W.

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