A third of chief constables are now women, as police leaders say forces have become less The Sweeney and more Line of Duty.

Fifteen of the 46 UK forces including British Transport Police are now headed by a woman, the highest since records began and up from just four in 2019, according to an analysis by The Telegraph.

There are also an additional two female assistant commissioners in the Metropolitan police, who are of chief constable rank in a force headed by Dame Cressida Dick, Britain’s most senior officer.

It marks a dramatic shift in 25 years since Pauline Clare was appointed as the first female chief constable in 1995. That ended 166 years of male domination following Sir Robert Peel laying the foundation of modern professional policing in 1829.

Police chiefs and experts attributed it to efforts to stamp out the sexist canteen culture typified on television by Life on Mars and The Sweeney, as well as increasing numbers of female recruits rising through the ranks.

Half the country’s chief constables have left policing in the past two years, some in anticipation of new police and crime commissioners (PCCs) being elected in May and wanting to appoint “a new person”.

On Thursday it was announced that Pippa Mills, currently deputy chief constable in Essex, is to head West Mercia Police, while Debbie Tedds started work as the first female chief constable in the 164-year history of Warwickshire Police.

Rising through the ranks: Pippa Mills, currently deputy chief constable in Essex, will lead West Mercia Police

Credit: Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Rick Muir, director of the Police Foundation, a think tank, said: “Chief constables are serving much shorter terms, four years rather than 10, and there is a sense that a PCC will often want to appoint a new person.

“There’s also been a culture shift to be much more inclusive. There is not the macho, sexist canteen culture that there was. And as policing has changed, the representation of female characters has shifted so you have female officers or detectives leading investigations like Line of Duty.”

Nearly one third (32.1 per cent) of all police officers are now women, the highest on record, and seven forces have in the past year recruited more women than men.

Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, told The Telegraph: “I’m delighted we are seeing real gains, including more women deciding to go into this incredibly rewarding career and more securing the senior positions they deserve.

“But we are not complacent and continue to work closely with the police to improve diversity as part of our efforts to recruit 20,000 additional officers.”

There remained gender divides, with fewer women in firearms and public order and more gravitating to roles in the investigation of rape, sexual offences and domestic abuse, said Paul Griffiths, president of the police superintendents’ association, who said there was still a long way to full gender parity.

There are also still societal gender biases. Rachel Swann, Derbyshire’s chief constable, quit social media after sexist and homophobic abuse. "Yes, I am a woman. Yes, I might have a slightly different hairstyle. Yes, I am quite small," she said. 

Rachel Swann, Derbyshire’s chief constable, quit social media after receiving sexist and homophobic abuse

Credit: David Higgens/PA Wire

"The bit that astounded me was I could not believe that my mere existence could cause such a depth of feeling. I can take a bit of banter but then it became sexist and homophobic, and really, really insulting."

Jo Farrell, Durham’s chief constable, said: “We have come a long way since I joined up as a constable in the early 1990s, when policing was very much a male-dominated world, but we still have progress to make. Ultimately, we are working towards the day when our communities are policed by a constabulary which reflects them.”

Chief constable Carl Foulkes, National Police Chiefs’ Council lead for Diversity and Inclusion, said: “Today we have the highest proportion of female senior officers since records began. While this is a fantastic achievement, it is important to recognise that there is still much work to be done.

“Our goal is to build a workforce that is truly representative of the communities we serve and there is a fantastic pool of talent that is in the process of coming up through the ranks. Therefore, we hope that these figures will only increase in the years to come.”