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QUEEN’S ALUMNA IS NEW DISTRICT COMMANDER FOR SHEFFIELDProfile of Chief Superintendent Una Jennings in short sleeved uniform, holding cap in Howard Street Sheffield

31 August 2020

Chief Superintendent Una Jennings, a serving police officer for over 18 years who started her career in the PSNI, has returned to Sheffield to take on responsibility for one of the UK’s largest cities, with big problems of violent knife crime, shootings and community tensions.

The former District Commander for Rotherham where she served for just over a year, Chief Supt Jennings is credited with transforming policing in the town before taking on the bigger challenge of nearby Sheffield.

With a strong academic background and an interest in evidence based policy and practice, Ms Jennings is a Law graduate of Queen's (LLB, 2000), has a Master’s in Criminology from Cambridge University (2017), and holds a Postgraduate Diploma in Police Leadership from Warwick Business School.

“Policing a city like Sheffield brings many challenges,” Chief Supt Jennings told Queen’s, “but it is the UK’s sixth biggest city, so it is all about scale and complexity. The population of Sheffield is around half a million and growing all the time.

“It is a diverse city – a student city – and it is a place where residents, like me (!), are proud to call it home.” 

Leading South Yorkshire’s police force in 2020 is a long way from the convent in County Armagh where Una was born in the 1970s to a 15-year-old mother, and from Donegal, where she was brought up.

The first person in her family to go to university, Una still ‘values greatly’ the time she spent at Queen’s and the degree she earned here.

“It's no exaggeration to say I loved my time at Queen’s; like many students, it’s where I found out who I really was.

“I was there during a hugely significant time in Northern Ireland’s history, with our peace accord and the changes to policing sparked by the Patten Reforms. I wanted to be part of that change and I felt a real sense of responsibility – that’s why I joined the police.”

Though she would go on to enjoy a great many highs in her career, her time as a serving police officer in Northern Ireland also saw many tragic lows, including the murder of Constable Ronan Kerr in 2011. As a Detective Chief Inspector of the Serious Crimes Unit at the time, she was part of the lengthy investigation tasked with finding his killer and supporting her former colleague’s family.

Yet despite this Una remains unwavering in her belief that good policing is more than just about fighting crime. Speaking years later about her experiences as a police officer, Chief Supt Jennings told Aroundtown Magazine: “In my 17 years, most of them spent as a murder detective, I’ve met very few truly bad people but plenty of broken ones. Most people we meet in such circumstances are at their lowest ebb.

“We are there to rebuild society – be that trust, hope, education, ambition, social mobility, peace or health.”

After years in Northern Ireland, Una transferred to South Yorkshire Police in 2017 and has since developed an emotional connection with the region. Describing her time in Rotherham as ‘one of the highlights’ of her career, where ‘people are so passionate’, and where ‘there is some great work happening…to restore and strengthen community relationships and…tackle crime’.

Enjoying a fair measure of policing success in Rotherham, she is credited with turning around the town’s record on public satisfaction with force from the worst in the county to the best.

Una also enjoyed personal success in the town. In March of this year, shortly before she moved back to Sheffield, Chief Supt Jennings received an award recognising her leadership from Barnsley and Rotherham Chamber of Commerce, who presented her with an Athena Leadership award as part of their International Women's Day celebrations.

So what does it mean now to be back in Sheffield?

“It is the city where I have chosen to live and that means I am fully invested in it, not just in my work life but my personal life,” said the Chief Superintendent, who is mother to a 16-year-old daughter and whose partner, ACC Chris Noble (who is a 1996 Queen's LLB graduate and whose daughter is now studying Law at Queen's) is a serving police officer.

“I have a strong personal interest in seeing Sheffield’s communities thrive and in ensuring people feel safe, whether they’re at home, work or enjoying what the city has to offer. 

“We have an absolutely dedicated team here, all of them striving to provide the best possible policing for the public. I am excited to see how they work, what ideas they have and learn how I can support them as they step out onto the streets.”

One of only two PIP 4 qualified senior investigating officers in South Yorkshire Police, a role held by a small cadre of officers nationally, for use in serial, serious and complex homicides.

Though successfully negotiating the higher ranks of the force, Chief Supt Jennings hasn’t forgotten her time at Queen’s or her Northern Ireland roots.

“I still have so many friends from that time in my life. I have remained connected to several members of staff at Queen’s as well, especially when I started other phases of my academic career, such as much Master’s at Cambridge.

“It’s important for me to keep those connections. I am incredibly proud to be part of the Queen’s alumni.

Could the ambitious Chief Superintendent see her career taking her back to this side of the Irish Sea?

“Yes. Of course, I will definitely be back. It’s my home, it’s where I’m from, where I belong and where I can make the biggest contribution.”

For general enquiries about this story, or to submit a graduate news item, please contact Gerry Power, Communications Officer, Development and Alumni Relations Office, Queen’s University Belfast. 

 

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