Police Officer Profile: Lt. Col. Ronald Berry Greenwood

The First Chief Constable of Devon and Cornwall Police

Lt. Col. Ronald Berry Greenwood – 1967

“A policeman for a policeman’s job…”, [1] so it was said of Lt. Col. Ronald Berry Greenwood when he was appointed as the Devon Constabulary’s sixth chief constable on 1st December 1961. Following the amalgamation of the Devon Constabulary, Exeter City Police, Cornwall Constabulary, and Plymouth City Police over the course of 1966-67, Greenwood became the first chief constable of Devon & Cornwall Police and oversaw one of the most complex and controversial police mergers in British policing history.

Early Life and Career at Lincolnshire Constabulary

Greenwood was born in Preston, Lancashire, on 30th November 1910, the second of three children to Elizabeth Greenwood and David Arnold Greenwood, an insurance inspector. [2] In 1921, the Greenwood family was living in Sherwood, Nottinghamshire, at 31 Cavendish Vale. [3] He was educated at Nottingham High School and Nottingham University College. [4]

In 1931, Greenwood joined Lincolnshire Constabulary as constable no.31 [5] and served at Grimsby, Gainsborough, and police headquarters. In August 1939 he was promoted to inspector and chief clerk on the headquarters staff where he was exposed to the inner workings of the chief officer group, which no doubt inspired in him aspirations of leadership. [6]

World War Two

Barely a year after reaching the rank of inspector, Greenwood was promoted to chief inspector in 1940 and undertook critical civil defence work in Lincolnshire during the war. Following a relaxation of the rules around British police officers undertaking military service, Greenwood joined the Military Government Branch of the British Army in Northwest Europe in 1944 and reached the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. Following the conclusion of hostilities with Nazi Germany in 1945, Greenwood served in the Allied Control Commission which was a multi-nation operation to restore some semblance of order and normality to Germany following Hitler’s defeat. Amongst the objectives of the commission was the restoration of the German constabularies, and Greenwood was placed in charge of a section of the West German Police in the North Rhine region. Although a state of peace existed between Britain and Germany, British policemen in service with the commission faced many dangers. In 1946, a Devon Constabulary policeman attached to the commission got in the way of a Polish serial murderer who was carrying out acts of revenge against German citizens in retaliation for Germany’s treatment of the Polish during the war. The policeman, Ernest Southcott, was shot to death in Lippe when he challenged the man. [7]

Post-War Career

Greenwood was demobilised from the Allied Control Commission in October 1946 and resumed his duties with Lincolnshire Constabulary. From that point, his career continued an upwards trajectory, and he was soon posted to Cleethorpes as a divisional superintendent. On 1st August 1948, he was promoted to assistant chief constable following the retirement of the incumbent.

Greenwood played a leading role in the emergency response to the unprecedented flooding experienced in Lincolnshire on 31st January 1953 which brought untold ruin to thousands on England’s east coast and killed dozens. For services rendered during the crisis, he was awarded the Queen’s Police Medal in the 1953 New Year Honours. [8] Later in the year he was awarded the OBE. [9]

Dorset Constabulary

In 1955, Major Peel Yates, the chief constable of Dorset Constabulary, retired after 31 years’ service. Greenwood was shortlisted to succeed Yates and did so early in 1955. Greenwood found the Dorset force to be well organised and disciplined, however quickly made significant alterations to the force in a bid to save money. New motorcycle beats were established in rural areas, the telephone system was reorganised, motor patrol shifts were reduced, and almost all clerical posts performed by constables were replaced by civilians. [10]

In the first year of his tenure at Dorset, Greenwood oversaw his second experience of emergency flood response when parts of Weymouth were submerged following over 24 hours of torrential rain and displaced over 600 residents. [11]

Devon Constabulary

Greenwood departed Dorset in November 1961 to take up the chief constableship of the Devon Constabulary following the departure of Chief Constable R.R.M. Bacon to London. He officially assumed charge of the Devon Constabulary on 1st December 1961, and nineteen days later was designated as the Regional Commander for civil defence in the South West Region. [12] This was an important duty required of certain senior police officers during the Cold War when nuclear attacks from Russia were a very real possibility.

Not long after his appointment, Greenwood was asked by the Standing Joint Committee (the governing body of the police, and one of the predecessors to the modern Office of the Police & Crime Commissioner) what he thought about the use of Regulation 60 of the Police Pensions Regulations to make retirement mandatory for officers with more than 30 years’ service. It was a thorny issue that plagued many English police forces, especially those small in establishment where promotion prospects were severely limited. Many constabularies at the time had only around a dozen officers in the rank of superintendent and above, many of whom had served through the Second World War and were hanging on out of a matter of pride. For those inspectors and chief inspectors who wanted to progress, it was a matter of waiting for dead man’s shoes. Greenwood’s position. was that, regardless of rank, all officers should retire upon completing 30 years’ service so that younger officers could replace them. A Royal Commission later found this view, which was shared by many chief constables, to be improper.

Devon & Exeter Police

Devon Constabulary headquarters was located at Middlemoor, a little under two miles from the headquarters of Exeter City Police on Heavitree Road. Since 1857, the Devon Constabulary and Exeter City Police had enjoyed a peaceful co-existence and by the turn of the 1960s happily shared resources. The late Police Sergeant Syd Rowsell once told the author of this article that he encountered Greenwood one day whilst on foot patrol. Greenwood wound down the window of his motor vehicle and quipped, “I’ll take over you lot one day!”

Although the independent Exeter City Police force was amongst the most efficient and well-respected in the country, there were certain logistical problems with having two constabularies operating very close to one another, and on 1st April 1966, the two forces were merged by order of the Home Secretary. Greenwood assumed control of the amalgamated force, which was renamed ‘Devon & Exeter Police’ in recognition of Exeter’s status as a county town, and Kenwyn Steer, the chief constable of Exeter, was relegated to ACC but retired not long after the appointment was ratified.

Devon & Cornwall Police

On 1st June 1967, Devon & Exeter Police was amalgamated with the Cornwall Constabulary and Plymouth City Police to form the Devon & Cornwall Police we know today. Greenwood was selected to head the new amalgamated force, thereby consigning the chief constables of Plymouth and Cornwall to DCC and ACC roles respectively. Merging three distinctly different constabularies was no easy task, and there was much ill-feeling from some corners of the force who felt that, rather than the merger being a meaningful marriage of the west country’s constabularies, it was instead a “takeover” by Devon. Regardless, enough goodwill prevailed to ensure that, over the following years, the merger was accepted as the right thing for the police service in the southwest of England. Greenwood served out the remainder of his police career with Devon & Cornwall Police and retired in 1973. In that time, he improved the police estate across the region, increased officer numbers, and notably opened the Devon & Cornwall Police Training College at Middlemoor which has provided tuition to police officers and staff from all over the world.

  1. ^ Out of the Blue 2, Mallett, K.J. 1967, p154
  2. ^ 1911 Census
  3. ^ 1921 Census
  4. ^ ‘Devon’s New Chief Constable’ Torquay Times & South Devon Advertiser 15 September 1961, p6
  5. ^ ‘Promoted’ Lincolnshire Echo 11 August 1939, p1
  6. ^ ‘Lincs Constabulary Changes’ Nottingham Evening Post 14 August 1939, p5
  7. ^ Devon & Cornwall Police Roll of Honour
  8. ^ 1953 New Year Honours, Supplement to the London Gazette
  9. ^ ‘Second Successive Honours Award’ Grantham Journal 5 June 1953, p9
  10. ^ ‘Bobbies on the Beat: 150 Years of the Dorset Police’ by Hann, Melvin, p56-57
  11. ^ ‘Bobbies on the Beat: 150 Years of the Dorset Police’ by Hann, Melvin, p58-59
  12. ^ Out of the Blue 2, Mallett, K.J. 1967, p155

Words by Cf Systems