On International Women's Day, we are proud to tell the story of Karen King, who was the first black female officer to serve in Coventry, and has shared her story below:
"I joined West Midlands Police in 1978 as a Police Cadet. In October 1979 when I was 18 and a half years old which was the youngest you could be, I joined as a regular Police officer and attended Ryton on Dunsmore Police training centre.
I started off based at Fletchamstead Highway Police Station, Canley and was there as a uniformed response officer for 12 years becoming a fast response driver having passed my advanced driving course.
Although I loved mainstream policing, I decided it was time to face a different challenge and applied to join the OSU (Operational Support Unit) based in Shirley. In those times this was extremely unusual as it was considered a role for men only and was known for its misogynistic attitude, they were used in riot situations and were called upon to attend serious public order incidents. I recall feeling it was time to address the status quo and prove that males or females could do the job.
I recall turning up at Shirley, Solihull and the building where they were based had NO female showers so they had to put a lock on it for when I was in there. As you can imagine all of the Operational Support Officers were male and at first they were walking around on egg shells so as not to cause me any 'offence'. I found out later that the Sgt had given them a stern warning 'not to indulge in any traditional behaviour’ towards new recruits that usually involved them being imprisoned in the dog kennel which was a standard 'welcome'.
I spent around 18 months there during which I passed my Sgts and Inspectors exam (at a time when you could study for and take both as a PC). I had a very rewarding time on the OSU and once they got to know me, they relaxed somewhat. I think they realised that even as a female the job could still be done.
When I left there - my legacy was a brand new female shower installed for future females and I hope, a message to other females not to be put off by ‘what has gone before’ or be restricted by a ‘females can’t do this’ attitude.
I applied for promotion to Sgt and was successful, getting promoted around 1992. I was posted to Stechford Police Station. I spent approximately two years there and then went to Solihull as a uniformed response Sergeant. After two years or so I joined the Professional Standards Department at West Midlands Police HQ.
During this posting I was promoted to Inspector around 1998 and became one of the first black female Inspectors in the West Mids, in fact I believe I WAS the first! This was a massive achievement to me as it was at a time when there were very few female Officers being promoted to more senior ranks, many females I had initially joined with had left for various reasons, usually following having a family. Again, back then it was common for females to have a baby and be forced to leave as there was virtually no support or efforts to retain them as there are now.
I was in the PSD until 2006 when I returned to Coventry (where I started off so had come full circle), and became a uniformed neighbourhood Inspector in Foleshill, Radford and Holbrooks. I retired after exactly 30 years in 2009.
In 2010 I joined British Transport Police as a uniformed police Inspector (part time) and worked in their control room.In 2015 I became a uniformed response Inspector based at Birmingham New St and that is where I still am, in uniform, fully operational, still keeping up the PST (personal safety training) at nearly 60!
I am married to Mel, also an ex WMP Officer who retired but now works as police support staff still with WMP. We have 3 fantastic children (whom I blame for me not getting promoted to above the rank of Inspector!!!!).
There were MANY challenges joining in 1979, both as a female and as a black female. I was also very young so that alone went against me. There was a fair bit of overt racism but my approach was to rise above it, to do my job and where necessary challenge it head on. Some of this came from other police officers who when challenged about casual racist comments would always say 'but we don't mean you Karen, you're one of us'. I like to think I maintained the balance of doing what was right with a touch of humour too and the vast majority of people I worked with were brilliant.
There are obvious changes between then and now, I recall when I first met my husband (early 80's) you had to apply to the superintendent of your station to live together whilst not married. I think I still have his type writer written reply, 'Permission granted, but should this way of life bring discredit to the Police Force, one of you will be required to move out'. It sounds archaic but the Police Force then was strict and very conservative in its approach.
The Force has changed of course, mainly in that these days EVERYTHING you do is captured on social media whereas in the 70s and 80s there were no phone cameras/CCTV/tech watching your every move. Attitudes have also changed and the Police have definitely become more diverse.
In conclusion, I LOVE this job, I knew I wanted to be a Police Officer from the age of 11, I lived with my Mum and 2 sisters in a single parent family, I grew up in a very poor neighbourhood in Coventry but most of us did to be fair. I credit my Mum for encouraging me to become a Police Officer and refusing to entertain the thought that it was not a job for someone with my background or ethnicity.
I have never regretted it and the only thing I sometimes fantasise about is not getting promoted to superintendent.....but having 3 kids between the ages of 2 and 8 during my 30s put paid to that!!"