'Ecocop' attacks his bosses: Pioneering policeman says bullies drove him out

Click to follow
The Independent Online
A POLICEMAN nicknamed Ecocop, because of his environmentally-friendly tactics against crime, has entered into a war of words with senior officers whom he accuses of drumming him out of the service.

Peter Bennett, 49, a superintendent who retired last week, won his green spurs with trail-blazing ideas such as painting cell walls bright pink to calm prisoners down, introducing electric patrol carts to inner-city precincts, and conducting research on links between diet and youth crime.

Yesterday, speaking publicly for the first time since his retirement from the West Yorkshire force, he claimed he had been 'bullied' out of his divisional command by his 'autocratic' chief constable, Keith Hellawell.

'I have been advised that I would have grounds for court action under equal opportunities legislation if I was black or a woman,' he said.

West Yorkshire's deputy chief constable, Tom Cook, said Mr Bennett had lost command of the busy Millgarth division in Leeds because of a reorganisation of senior posts. 'Quite simply, in the unanimous view of the command team, Mr Bennett was not judged to be the best person for the job,' he added.

Mr Bennett's imaginative strategies, had been given 'every encouragement', Mr Cook said.

Ecocop, as he became widely known, was deeply enthusiastic about his initiatives. Although fellow officers looked askance at his pink cell walls, Mr Bennett claimed to have obtained encouraging results.

After 10 minutes languishing in a custodial sea of pinkness, he reported, one prisoner in Huddersfield had 'turned from obscene language to singing hymns'.

But Mr Bennett said his career with the force was pushed abruptly sideways within three months of the appointment of Mr Hellawell, 51.

When he took command of Millgarth in November 1992, Mr Bennett believed he was on a fast-track to promotion to at least the rank of assistant chief constable.

The force had been able to assess his leadership qualities during two years in charge of the Shipley division.

The 15-mile move was seen in the force as an endorsement - Millgarth is one of the force's five most important divisions because of 'serious crime and threat of public disorder' - according to internal police documents.

'At Shipley, I shifted the emphasis of policing more toward the mundane issues, like litter and noise,' Mr Bennett said. 'Get them properly dealt with, and it helps catch crooks because the relationship with the public improves and you pick up more information.

'Police officers should turn over the little stones and see what comes out, not wait around for Mr Big to turn up. If, for example, you target disqualified drivers, you may well discover that they are into much bigger things. You can begin with a broken number plate, and pick up a trail which leads to a significant number of arrests.'

Mr Bennett took command of Millgarth, a challenging patch which includes deprived areas and city-centre precincts, in November 1992. He claims that senior officers told him he had at least two years to remedy shortcomings in the division revealed during an inspection. In the event he was given less than half that time.

His innovative approach soon attracted hostility. 'I was picked off by entrenched anti- progressive attitudes,' Mr Bennett said. 'They equated openness and equality with weakness.'

He had been preceded by a reputation for being 'not normal'. He had started a research project in Shipley exploring the links between nutrition and youth crime.

Results from dietary controls on hyperactive young offenders showed dramatic improvement in the conduct of six out of the 10 children in the trial.

'The definition of health as the state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity brings together police and medicine in an ecological framework,' Mr Bennett said.

'We could establish medicinal crime prevention. I have tried to develop an ecological philosophy pertinent to the police, because ecology is about people's relationship to their environment.'

The thoughts of their new Ecocop commander did not enchant some of Millgarth's less green officers, particularly those whose 'obscene' calendars he personally tore down.

Mr Bennett also introduced mini-cabs for non-urgent police journeys, disbanded patrols by groups of officers in Transit vans, began community policing from the saddles of mountain bikes, and introduced electric carts for policing pedestrian precincts.

Senior officers deny charges that Ecocop was victimised. Mr Cook said innovations introduced by Mr Bennett were either still in operational use, or were 'perfectly reasonable experiments' which had no influence on the decision to move him out of divisional command and into a new job in charge of the force's radio communications.

Mr Bennett had 'inappropriately personalised' the decision. Two former posts had been combined in the new Millgarth job.

Mr Bennett, however, is not persuaded. He claims he first heard rumours of his impending demise soon after Mr Hellawell, a supporter of the Government's Sheehy reform proposals, arrived.

The West Yorkshire branch of the superintendents' association passed a unanimous vote of confidence in Mr Bennett, and complained to Mr Hellawell of 'serious disquiet and dissatisfaction'.

Mr Bennett, who now plans to build on his life's work by embarking on postgraduate research into diet and criminality at Exeter University, claimed he was denied fair consideration for remaining at Millgarth.

'I lasted only 11 months at Millgarth because I was trying to sort out bully policing, introduce equal opportunities to entry to the CID, and counter sexual harassment,' he said.

(Photograph omitted)