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Alumni Spotlight: Sergeant Nicky Dewhurst, operational lead for neighbourhood policing South Yorkshire

Former psychology teacher foils drug-dealers’ hidden network of tunnels in South Yorkshire

Alumni Spotlight: Sergeant Nicky Dewhurst

Thursday 28th March 2024

A uniformed officer, Sergeant Nicky Dewhurst, holds a tarantula at the Eastwood Festival - which is organised and run by Clifton Learning Partnership to bring the community together, with input from partners including the police, fire and rescue services, and local authorities

Nicky Dewhurst swapped her Head of Psychology teaching role for a job on the policing frontline in 2017, when she joined South Yorkshire Police via Police Now’s National Graduate Leadership Programme. She tells us how she engaged with the community in Eastwood, Rotherham, and the creative way she used gardening and multi-agency work to eradicate drug dealing in the local park.

Driven by her personal experiences growing up in a community that had low trust and confidence in the police, Nicky was motivated to build better relationships between the police and the public as a neighbourhood officer in one of South Yorkshire’s most challenging communities. Seven years on, she is now the operational lead for neighbourhood policing in South Yorkshire Police and helped the force achieve an ‘outstanding’ grading for neighbourhood policing in its last HMICFRS inspection.

Sergeant Nicky Dewhurst

“I grew up in a working-class community in Accrington, Lancashire, and saw quite an ingrained dislike of police officers and low trust in the service. Often the mere mention of wanting to join the force resulted in negative comments from friends or neighbours, so although I wanted to become a frontline officer and my parents were supportive, I was put off the idea and decided to go into teaching instead.

“I worked as a teacher for almost nine years and became the Head of Psychology at a local secondary school. Although that was a very fulfilling career, I could never quite get policing out of my mind. When I came across Police Now’s National Graduate Leadership Programme, which offered a structured route into policing for graduates and career-changers and the chance to build meaningful connections as a neighbourhood police officer, I decided to finally take the plunge. I joined South Yorkshire Police in 2017 via the programme and have never looked back.

“The Police Now officers I trained with were posted across some of the most deprived or high-crime areas in South Yorkshire, to help tackle crime and build community relationships. I joined Rotherham Central Neighbourhood Policing Team as a ward officer for Rotherham East – which covered Eastwood. Eastwood carries scars from some truly awful child sexual exploitation cases dating as far back as the ’80s. Although a lot of this happened before I was even born, it has had lasting effects on public trust and confidence in the area to this day.

“We now have stronger relationships with local authorities and community partners and the neighbourhood team is building long-lasting relationships with people in the community. I can pinpoint work I did on that team where I secured a strong conviction against an offender or took part in an exciting raid, but for me the most rewarding part of the job was building those relationships. Seeing that transformation – of people going from avoiding me in the street to recognising me and coming over for a chat – was what it was all about for me.

“Building relationships with local agencies and authorities as well as the general public is key to strong neighbourhood policing. For example, I worked with the council, the probation service and local schools to tackle drug-dealing in the area. In one local park, drug dealers were operating in the open space, so they could see the police coming and get away in plenty of time. They had fashioned an entire system of hidden tunnels in the undergrowth, so they could escape undetected and before police could arrive.

“Instead of just pursuing arrests, I wanted to tackle the problem at its roots by removing the drug dealers’ ability to operate effectively in the area – and the obvious solution was cutting back the bushes to remove the hidden tunnels. However, the police didn’t own or control that green space, so instead I approached the local probation service, which has a community payback programme for offenders undergoing community service. We introduced this idea as part of the community service, so those serving sentences would cut back the bushes twice a year – a cost-effective and sustainable solution. I was also able to get extra lighting installed in the area through collaborative work with the local council. As a result, the drug dealing problem was completely eradicated in the park. Seeing that direct impact was a highlight of my early policing career. 

“Drug dealers often exploited or targeted young people in the area and settlers from abroad who had previously been less exposed to, or aware of, the dangers of drug culture here. I therefore set up breakfast drop-in sessions during the morning school run to engage with students and their parents, often with an interpreter present, to try to tackle this problem. I was able to use my teaching experience here to create a safe space and build strong, positive relationships with members of the community – which in turn led to better intelligence gathering about drug dealing in the area, identifying early intervention opportunities, and educating students and their families of the issues and consequences.

“I loved neighbourhood policing so much that I stayed in the Rotherham team after completing Police Now’s two-year programme. I then decided to move onto the Response team, to build my experience in operational risk management. I was on Response for two years and promoted to sergeant rank there.

“However, my heart still lay in neighbourhood policing and so I jumped at the chance to work at Police Now’s academy to train their latest neighbourhood recruits when I was offered the ‘Syndicate Lead’ role. It was a fantastic secondment and I loved supporting the new officers and sharing my experience with them, having started my policing career in the same place.

“I was thrilled to later be offered the operational lead role for neighbourhood policing in force. In this role, I now work alongside an inspector, superintendent, and assistant chief constable to oversee the South Yorkshire Police neighbourhood portfolio. We work to ensure that the force is compliant with and correctly implementing the College of Policing’s neighbourhood policing measures, and I also coordinate the College’s annual Neighbourhood Policing Week of Action in force. I work closely with HR, police staff and the federation to review policies and shift patterns, as well as analyse data, to ensure the neighbourhood function is running smoothly. In the last HMICFRS inspection, the force was graded ‘outstanding’ in neighbourhood policing – which I am immeasurably proud of and has led to lots of opportunities to work with other forces across the UK, to share our learning and insights.

“I would absolutely encourage others to consider joining the police as a neighbourhood officer. It’s a career that allows you to help transform communities and make a lasting impact – not only by making arrests and securing convictions but also through collaborative working, building meaningful connections, and small, creative, acts.”

IMAGE (top left): Sergeant Nicky Dewhurst at the Eastwood Festival, organised and run by Clifton Learning Partnership to bring the community together, with input from partners including the police, fire and rescue services, and local authorities.

Applications for our National Graduate Leadership Programme are currently closed.

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