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Inspiring Alumni: Dame Vera Baird QC, The Police and Crime Commissioner

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There is no doubt that Dame Vera Baird QC has had an incredibly impressive career to date. She currently holds the title of Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner but has previously worn several different hats in her professional life (such as lawyer and MP) before taking up this position in the North East. Her connection to Northumbria University is twofold; Dame Vera attended Northumbria University in its previous incarnation as a polytechnic, gaining an undergraduate degree in law and then, several years later, she was made Honorary Doctor of Civil Law at the university.

Dame Vera’s bond with Northumbria has remained intact throughout her career. As she tells us herself, “They do some very good law lectures that I attend when I can. Some of the people in the law department there are evaluating some of the work we’ve done here [at the Police and Crime Commissioner’s office], so the connections are reasonably close.” She adds, “I was very happy when they asked me if I would accept the role of Honorary Doctor of Civil Law in 2016.”  

 Dame Vera Baird

Dame Vera continues, explaining that, although the university is quite academic, they have “a very, very high rate of finding people employment after graduation. That seems to me to be really sound.” Drawing on her own experiences at the university, she adds, “They’ve also always been really practical really early on. When I was an undergraduate, they had a student law magazine which reported legal cases in a way that was digestible to students and was hugely helpful for newcomers to law – but it was also nationally esteemed and of a very high quality.”

Dame Vera’s position as Northumbria Police and Crime Commissioner means that her life and work is inextricably connected to the region and, as we talk, her pride in the North East is evident. When we ask her what she thinks the university means to the way the wider area is perceived, her answer is confident and positive.

I think Northumbria’s own reputation contributes to the reputation of the North East because it is so highly regarded – it has won a number of awards in the last few years which is really pleasing. But I think what is particularly good about it is that it is very Northumbria-rooted, it’s right in the centre of the community.

For those wondering exactly what it is that a Police and Crime Commissioner actually does, Dame Vera is well aware that the title is a little obscure – and this is partly because it is a brand-new role, invented in 2012. The position is designed “to oversee the police, consult the public about what their priorities for the police are, turn their priorities into a police and crime plan, give that to the Chief Constable and say, ‘deliver that’.” She continues, explaining that “the statutory obligation is also to work with other agencies to produce an effective and efficient criminal justice system, to work with community safety partnerships to prevent crime and to support the victims by delivering good victims’ services and championing victims’ rights locally.”

Many people may view the field of crime and police-work as one dominated by men, so we asked Dame Vera what she would say to young women hoping to enter a traditionally male profession. “Don’t let the fact that there’s male domination, numerically or otherwise, stop you at all,” she asserts, after a pause.

A big problem for women who want to get ahead is their own self-limiting view about what they can achieve and looking out in the world and maybe not seeing anyone who looks like them in the role they want. It shouldn’t stop you. You should say, I can do this, I am as good as a man.

One of her proudest achievements in this role is the training of door staff at clubs and pubs to spot and safeguard people when they have had too much to drink or are in a vulnerable state. Instead of merely turning them away, door staff will take them in, help to reunite them with their friends and, in some cases, ensure they get home safely. “We’ve had some great feedback from young women who have been being followed by men they don’t know,” Dame Vera tells us. “Even though they haven’t been in the pub that the door-person is working at, they’ll bring them in, sit them down and either get them home or call their parents.”

This policy has been adopted nationally, with staff in all sorts of positions (metro workers, receptionists etc) receiving compulsory safeguarding training. “Things like that make you feel like you’ve made a change,” Dame Vera tells us. What advice would she give current students at Northumbria University who wish to follow in her footsteps and really make a change? “This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to make the most of having the chance to graduate and to learn what you’re really good at, get better at what you like doing and get satisfaction out of that.”

And what does the future look like for her? “This is an excellent job and it’s a growing role; the government is giving us more encouragement and, ultimately, more power, so I think tomorrow we will be responding to the challenge of the job becoming bigger and bigger and bigger. To carry on working in this office to stop crime if we can, to make sure that people who are arrested and people who are victims have their situations resolved fairly and as speedily as possible and that police always behave well and contribute to the wellbeing of the community.”

When asked if her office has a particular motto that they work by, Dame Vera responds simply: “We don’t have a motto or any particular words - we just keep positive and try to improve the way people experience life up here.”

For more information about Dame Vera Baird QC and her role as Police and Crime Commissioner, visit her website here.


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