Family first at home and work for retiring Andy

Date published: 22 June 2018 10:16
Dated: 22 June 2018 11:11:25

Standing up for those less fortunate. Seeing justice served for victims. Police Sergeant Andy Whittaker is understandably proud to have served on South Yorkshire’s frontline for thirty years.

Andy retires in September this year, having seen good times, sad times and tragedy with the force, spending the majority of his time in roads policing and as the face of many an investigation in his Senior Investigating Officer and Family Liaison Officer roles.

Sergeant Andy Whittaker outside the force's HQ at Carbrook

Sergeant Andy Whittaker outside the force's HQ at Carbrook

It all started back in September 1988 when Andy was posted to Attercliffe on Whitworth Lane, known as the old D2 area, before Meadowhall was even built! As was customary back then, he started as a probationer with two years on foot patrol when, as a luxury, he may have been allocated to the double-crewed response car. It was ‘character building’ to walk daily across the area, incorporating the Manor, Burngreave, Page Hall, Darnall and Wincobank, tackling the Jenkin Road hill!

Andy said: “My first-ever Inspector Fred Atkinson used to come and find you and ask for your ‘QTH’, which is an RAF term ‘Query Time and Height’ (e.g. where are you?), and give you a one-liner in your pocket book. Fred was superb, a disciplinarian, but would back you 100%. He was a true leader.”

The second football match Andy ever worked was the day of the Hillsborough Disaster, starting on a police serial outside the ground but ending as one of the PCs inside the stadium at the Leppings Lane end. Like many people, the disaster affected Andy deeply, particularly just six months into his police service, and it’s something that never has, and never will, leave him.

“Rugby is my game but I love sporting events. To do the semi-final of the FA Cup, the excitement to be involved turned into such a massive tragedy. It affected everybody, police officers and public alike. If you weren’t there, you can only try to imagine what it was like working that day.”

After his first few years with the force, Andy moved to Mexborough where he became a response-car driver on a duty group. He completed some CID training, as he saw his career path more towards CID at the time, before being promoted to Main Street in Rotherham in the late 90s.

Andy then ‘kicked, screamed and objected massively’ but was posted into the control room at Ecclesfield, dealing with the Darnall mini riots at Staniforth Road in his first few weeks in charge. A stint at Doncaster’s control room followed before he ‘managed to escape’ and went to Armthorpe as a Duty Group Sergeant.

Sergeant Andy Whittaker at Doncaster Sheffield Airport

Sergeant Andy Whittaker at Doncaster Sheffield Airport

It was at this point in 2001 that Andy moved into Operational Support Services (OSS), starting with ‘Operation Impact’, which he describes as a fantastic period of 12 months dedicated pro-active work, tackling violent crime, in particular the spike in street robberies.

Andy became an FLO – a Family Liaison Officer – quite soon after joining OSS, and it wasn’t necessarily his choice: “I was walking past Inspector Andy Battle’s office and he asked me what I was doing the following Monday. I paused and he said ‘too long, you’re doing an FLO course, I need a Sergeant on it’. So I did the course and soon after I did the FLC course, coordinator’s course, as a Sergeant.”

Not only has Andy performed the roles of Traffic Sergeant, FLO and FLO coordinator, he’s also a trained Senior Investigating Officer (SIO) but it’s his family liaison role that’s brought the biggest challenges in his career.

Soon after his FLO training, Andy was deployed to support an officer whose daughter and niece were killed in the Bali bombings. The Met had deployed 300 FLOs to Bali and Andy supported from the UK, liaising with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, taking the family to various meetings in London, including meeting the Foreign Secretary at the time, Jack Straw.

Andy has tragically dealt with the death of two close colleagues while on duty. He was the FLO when PC Glen Howe died in 2008, working with Glen in the Roads Policing Group and speaking with Glen over a cup of coffee just a few days before he died. Andy was then on nights when PC Dave Fields died last Christmas, breaking the news to Dave’s parents and spending time with his wife Emma at hospital.

“Both Dave and Glen were dedicated officers, both loved policing and both died doing something they loved,” Andy said.

There is so much that has made Andy proud over the years: “Standing up for those less fortunate and victims of crime, seeing some justice for them. I thrive on helping people, especially as a family liaison officer, from delivering devastating, life changing news to actually helping them to stand up again.

“The FLO role is the face of the police investigation to the family/next of kin; you are representing South Yorkshire Police so you have to perform the role with the utmost integrity and professionalism, above all, first and foremost, you, as the FLO are an investigator, forming an integral part of the investigation team.

“Being a FLO is one of the most rewarding roles that I’ve done but you have to remain professional, you can’t ever let it become personal. I’m a father, I’m a husband, a brother, a son; that transfers over. You have to have an invisible barrier and the resilience not to get emotionally involved but you can’t help feel empathy towards the people you’re supporting.”

A junior Andy Whittaker early in his policing career with SYP

A junior Andy Whittaker early in his policing career with SYP

Andy has many highlights from his time with the force – meeting Prince Charles at Kensington Palace to talk about his FLO work/role, presenting at two national conferences in Italy about FLOs – police work is clearly in his DNA.

“I still thoroughly enjoy my job. I’m privileged to have served with similar-minded officers; it’s more than a job, it becomes a family. I’m glad we’ve gone back to neighbourhood policing, as intelligence starts within communities and local people. We had become detached. I can see how things have improved, the positive response we get on social media, so I’m pleased to be leaving an organisation that is on the up.”

The demands and expectations of the public have changed the most in Andy’s three decades serving the people of South Yorkshire. People want answers and actions now. Social media and ways of reporting are incredibly quick. Andy now contacts the force’s media team from the scene of fatal crashes, as he knows the incident will end up on Facebook in five or ten minutes.

Andy plans to take the whole of the summer off. He’s going away with ‘Mrs W’ who is now happy to be getting her husband back from ‘being married to the job’, and he’s looking forward to spending time with his daughter, son and his parents. Andy says he will work again ‘free to a good home’ but is not desperately seeking employment, yet.

Away from the office, Andy loves walking and sports: “It’s a standing joke at work that whenever I post something on Facebook it’s a picture of the Lake District or of some other mountain.”

Andy also has an English Springer Spaniel dog called Peppa (yes, named by a three-year-old after the TV pig!) who keeps him active: “I won’t deny but I am totally smitten with her and as such she gets away with a lot!”

Police Sergeant Andy Whittaker’s final day in the office is Monday 25 June, but he officially retires on Tuesday 4 September.

“I’m still highly motivated and enjoy my work, being proud to be part of SYP. I admit, there are frustrations but nothing that’s unsurmountable. If I can drive home thinking I’ve done my job to the best of my ability, I’m happy.”

Everyone at Team SYP wishes Andy all the best with his retirement!

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