The pioneering police officer: Martin Baines
Former Community and Race Relations officer
Retired Inspector Martin Baines has been at the forefront of community policing since his days as a Manningham beat bobby in the 1980s. Martin was often the first point of contact for national media looking to produce stories about the city’s social challenges.
Martin, tell us a bit about your relationship with Bradford?
I was born and raised in Bradford and have lived here all my life. At 19 I joined West Yorkshire Police and spent my career working in Bradford at various ranks for over 30 years. Very early on, I started to work with Bradford’s minority communities in various roles, particularly in 1982 when I became one of the first community liaison officers in Bradford. In the last ten years of my career, up until 2006, I was District Community and Race Relations Officer for the whole of the city.
How do you describe the city to people aren’t familiar with Bradford?
The wonderful thing about Bradford is that it’s got a rich historical past. We were a very wealthy city and we have a long history of people settling here as a consequence. In 2019 we have a very diverse population, a very rich heritage, not just in terms of history, but in terms of culture and in terms of people coming together in Bradford.
During your time as a police officer in Bradford, what have been some of the big historical events you’ve witnessed?
It’s interesting because Bradford actually as a wonderful pioneering history, but throughout the 32 years I was in the police here in the city, there were occasions when things happened that ended up having a national focus. One that springs to mind is perhaps Salman Rushdie affair when his book was actually burned in protest right outside the police headquarters.
What was Bradford’s reputation in the national media like prior to that incident?
I personally think it was overwhelmingly positive, because Bradford was perceived nationally and in the media has a place with a very diverse community. It was perceived, I think, as an area where multiculturalism was working and certainly people living together from all backgrounds was very a very positive thing.
Did some of the incidents change the way the media approached a Bradford story?
It would get to the point where I would have TV production companies calling my office on an almost weekly basis saying, ‘Oh we want to do a story about Bradford, to tell the real story of the riots’, or whatever, and of course when the programme would come out it would be an overwhelmingly negative story. I decided very early on that I would just stop taking part in these programmes. I would always ask, ‘What’s in it for Bradford?’ The programme makers I’ve always dealt with were never interested in the pioneering work we’ve been doing for decades.
How did you go about rising above the negative stereotypes to promote the positive work?
I’ve been having a look through some old photographs, and I found these great ones from where we brought officers from Kashmir, from Pakistan, to patrol on the streets of Bradford. We had many positive visits out there too, and it just illustrates some of the engagement work that was going on in the 1990s. What’s quite interesting is that really, in spite of some of the world challenges, like the 2001, 9/11, the bombings in London… they were all challenges that, because of the friendships that we’ve built here in Bradford, didn’t really set us back in terms of our long term relationship.
How have you set about communicating those messages during your career?
The national media in this country hasn’t really made a difference. What really struck me from our visits to Kashmir was the strength and the depth of the relationships between the local people there with those here in Bradford. Towards the end of the visit, we were invited onto local radio in Kashmir specifically because we were from Bradford and there was such interest and affection for the city. People were so positive about why we were there and what we were doing.
Were you able to replicate some of that positive publicity back in the UK?
We certainly did in the local media and specifically some of the South Asian media. I’m going back 30 years now when I was a PC in Bradford, where I had a very good relationship with Ravi newspaper, which was one of the first Asian newspapers in the city. I remember when I started out as a community liaison officer, Ravi had me featured in their newspaper, with the interview in Urdu. I think these papers tend to be far more newsy. They are there just to report what is going on, and they’re not ‘issues’ based, unlike national press who are here because of an agenda.
Do you think in Bradford we can sometimes be a bit ‘thin skinned’ if the national media publishes something that’s a bit negative?
I think our reaction is entirely justified. I think we have to stick up for our local community. It’s been difficult because in the past the negative news stories and the perception of Bradford has held the district back but we’ve got to a point now I think Bradford’s moving forward it’s moving on, and I think we’re trying to challenge negative stereotypes. I have a stake in Bradford as everybody else does and I think we’re right and proper to stand up for our city and take pride in it if we feel like we’re not being portrayed in a truthful way.
How can Bradfordians change such negative perceptions while still acknowledging some of the major incidents we’ve had in the city?
Well, I think I think we need to be honest about the challenges. Historically, there has been times when finding a safe space to have those conversations hasn’t always been easy. If we can have those difficult conversations in a productive way that benefits the city and simply isn’t an opportunity for, you know, the press to once again want to produce the negative story.
Do you feel like your role at any point was ever something of a mediator between communities, police and the media?
Oh, yes. Always. I think I think the wonderful thing about the job I did, particularly when I was the Race Relations Inspector in Bradford, is that we had no agenda other than we were the police, we wanted to provide a good service, and we wanted to keep the peace and bring communities together. So we were often seen as honest brokers, I guess, in disputes, when communities themselves fell out.
Next time Bradford is on the front page of a national newspaper, what would you like the headline to say?
It should adopt a tone along the lines of, ‘Bradford wins again’, or something about what we are succeeding at. I’d like to see more good news stories about how life in this city is always developing and changing. It can be any headline it likes, but it must tell the real story of Bradford.