Heather Whoriskey

Detective Chief Inspector
• Yorkshire, England
Heather - Behind the Uniform

I’d had friends impacted by sexual abuse and my time in that role was the most worthwhile work I’ve ever done”

Born and brought up in Belfast, a life of public service had always appealed.  When I left officer training in the Army due to an injury, I was at a crossroads, and I chose policing.

Now, 19 years and five children later, I’m still in uniform having investigated major crimes, ensured public order and authorised and conducted covert operations.

After three years as a Constable in Response attending traffic accidents and domestic incidents in Belfast, I decided to become a trainee detective in child abuse and rape enquiries; it remains the most worthwhile work I’ve ever done.   I’d had friends impacted by sexual abuse and I was determined to not only get convictions but to keep people safe, involving social services and social care so that other children are protected.

After having my first children – twins – in 2009 I came back with a secondment to the Independent Police Ombudsman. It was fascinating to see complaints against police from an outside perspective and see what people really think about the police and what the general complaints were.  Northern Ireland is a massively divided country recovering from 30 years of civil war.  Many people – Catholic and Protestant – still hate the police and the levels of mistrust make it a difficult policing environment in both Republican and Loyalist communities.

I moved on to more covert policing with the Paramilitary Crime Task Force, working with the National Crime Agency and Customs & Revenue to dismantle paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland.  It was fascinating work, but it came with quite a lot of threat and I decided with my husband, also a Detective Inspector, that we’d transfer to England for a brighter future for our kids.  So, after our fifth – and final – child arrived in January 2018 we moved to West Yorkshire Police and a very different policing experience.

Northern Ireland is a massively divided country recovering from 30 years of civil war. Many people – Catholic and Protestant – still hate the police”

As a DCI working on serious and organised crime, I saw that the criminal mindset of drug gangs in England is the same as Northern Ireland, albeit on a bigger scale.  It’s the same things they fall out over and fight about, it’s the same desire to make money from criminal products.

The difference is that Northern Irish gangs are more violent in terms of retribution against each other and individuals, guns are more available to them and the paramilitaries are actively trying to kill the police.

Pressures on policing in England now are different, partly due to the mental health crisis.  There are 20 thousand fewer officers than there were before the austerity cuts and increasing numbers of people reaching out for help.  Community Psychiatric Nurses are the best people to deal with most of these calls, but it takes two Police Officers to accompany them. There’s simply not enough of us to manage the sheer scale of people in crisis.

I work long hours but I’m good at switching off.  On the car journey home, I stick the music on and sing at the top of my voice!   Relaxing for me is spending time with the kids and reading crime fiction.

I also love cop shows on TV, but I do get frustrated.  Dramas like Silent Witness are among my favourites but they’re so unrealistic.  On the other hand, real-life documentaries like ’24 Hours in Custody’ that follow a major crime investigation from start to finish give away some tactics that I worry organised crime will pick up.  I’m swearing at the TV saying, ‘don’t tell them that!’

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