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The main mission for Chief Inspector Mark Barber, who has taken up the new post of Thurrock District Commander, is simple: “I want to make each area of the district safer and, by doing that, Essex will become a safer place.”
Ch/Insp Barber began his policing career as a police constable in Thurrock so it is fitting for him now, 16 years later, to be in charge of policing in the area.
In that time, the 36-year-old has worked at every rank in Thurrock alongside moves into domestic abuse policing, CID, Op Raptor and Public Protection.
He said: “I have effectively come back to where it all started for me. I have actually been here [in Thurrock] at every rank. That’s why I actively applied to come here; I have pre-existing relationships with partner agencies, which means I’m not coming in cold – quite the opposite in fact.”
But he knows policing the area comes with its challenges. Thurrock is unique in Essex, with more than 90 active faith groups and a high proportion of black and minority ethnic residents.
And as well as the day-to-day policing of Grays, South Ockendon, Purfleet and Aveley, Tilbury, East Tilbury, Stanford le Hope and Corringham, the district also takes in the sites such as the Dartford Crossing, Lakeside shopping centre, which has its own policing team.
As a result, Ch/Insp Barber is clear that the district cannot be policed using a one-size-fits-all approach, adding: “In fact it’s very much the opposite of that as every single area in Thurrock is different. And I think when we understand that, we can be a better police service for the area.
“From that I hope we will develop better links with the communities which may even, down the line, lead to an increase in recruitment from our underrepresented areas.”
It’s no surprise then, that Mr Barber’s top priority is to increase engagement with Essex Police from across the community, starting with the district’s Challenge Panel.
The panel gives residents the chance to actively challenge police on how the district is being policed.
The married dad-of-two and keen runner said: “We police by consent so actually all the questions people may have of us are entirely valid. That’s why I am looking forward to events such as the Challenge Panel and engaging with partners and the public.
“As I say, the questions the public have for us are entirely valid and if we don’t hear them, we don’t know about them.
“So for me, the biggest priority is to get that engagement going and that’s where our community safety engagement officers can come in – they are tasked with just going out and opening up that dialogue with people we may not be reaching now or may not have reached historically.”
But engagement is only one part of his job and he is realistic that the first role of Essex Police is to keep its residents safe and that means tackling hate crime, knife and violent crime, domestic abuse and, sadly because the district is home to a number of ports, immigration crime.
He added: “Realistically, that’s what I believe residents want to know; will we tackle these crime types. I’m here to say we will – and not just reactively, there is a lot of proactive work going on in our community policing team here for example.
“My message to the people of Thurrock would be that we are here to help you, to keep you safe and make the area a safer place.
“I live in Essex, my family and friends live in Essex, so I know if I can make Thurrock safer, I am making Essex a safer place for people and I’m proud of that.”