Police have no right to strike, says new chief
AVON and Somerset's new top policeman Nick Gargan believes his officers' work is so vital they should not be allowed to go on strike.
The controversial issue of whether police should be given the right to down tools has been a major talking point in the ranks.
Earlier this month Police Federation members voted on whether they should lobby the Government for the same industrial rights as other professions.
It is currently illegal for police to strike and with the Federation failing to get more than half of its 133,000 members to support the lobby there will be no changes to the law.
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The issue was one of many discussed by Mr Gargan, Avon and Somerset's new Chief Constable during an interview with The Post.
Sitting in his new office at police headquarters in Portishead, Mr Gargan tackled the issue of strikes.
He said: "I joined the police service and understood that I was taking on a role that was rather different from any other job, and there were compromises associated with that."
He said whether on or off duty officers have "responsibilities" to the society in which they live.
He added: "That's important, but it's also important that we ensure those responsibilities and special circumstances are appropriately rewarded, and I will do what I can to ensure the people, the police officers in this constabulary, get a fair deal."
It has been a tough time for the police. The starting salary for new constables will be slashed by £4,000 and budget cuts have been looming over every force for several years.
"I feel a degree of sympathy for the Federation," Mr Gargan added. "They face what is a challenging landscape, a challenging environment and I think that they are going through a period of transition wondering how best can the Federation support its membership in these challenging times."
A fortnight into the job, the 46-year-old has been "absorbing" the landscape and culture of the force and has relished getting to know the communities he now serves, especially in Bristol.
"It's been a pretty busy time, but just fascinating," he said. "It feels a little bit like a new computer, just loading the software onto the new computer."
"It's just been a big data load, getting a sense of the scale of the organisation and it is enormous.
"It's a big, complex undertaking but Avon and Somerset Constabulary is a very good organisation – it's in good shape. The people I've met so far have been thoroughly impressive."
Mr Gargan has spent time at CID's headquarters at Kenneth Steel House, tasted the hustle and bustle of Trinity Road police station and been on walkabouts in Stapleton Road, Easton and St Paul's.
Recalling the late shift briefing at Trinity Road, one of the busiest stations in the force, he said: "Quite frankly, as chief constable you're from a different world – you're normally a million miles away.
"The day I was there, there were some people up on the roof of the building next door, but the officers were frankly more interested in getting the job done than having the chief constable in the briefing room, and that's how it should be."
Accompanied by Neighbourhood Inspector Chris Regan, Mr Gargan enjoyed meeting the people of Easton and St Paul's.
"It was a quiet afternoon by normal standards of policing – kids were coming out of school and saw all the police people walking by. They were happy to say hello, wanted to wave and I even got the odd high five.
"Unfortunately places do get associated with problems of the past, but I was very impressed with St Paul's and I'm really looking forward to the carnival.
"It's a great area and there is something about Bristol generally. There is just something very unusual with the degree of self confidence that this city has, the optimism, the sense of common purpose to build a prosperous, vibrant city for the future.
"It's reflected in a very warm welcome to me as a newcomer, but it's also reflected in places like St Paul's, where there is a confidence and an optimism about that estate that I find striking and impressive."
Like his predecessor Colin Port, Mr Gargan sees interaction between police and the communities they serve as vital.
"There's a maxim that comes from forensics, but it's applicable to all policing and that is: 'every contact leaves a trace'."
The former Chief Constable of the National Policing Improvement Agency (NPIA) has moved to Clifton and has vowed to be here for the "long haul".
"I'm not a part-time chief who disappears off home on a Friday," he said. "This is home too – so I'm just absorbing the organisation, the area, the people, the partners, the stakeholders. Priority one for me is just learning."
As ambitious as he is thorough, Mr Gargan is determined to maintain the crime reductions the force has enjoyed over the last decade, despite millions of pounds worth of Government funding cuts and indications those will continue for years to come.
Mr Gargan was appointed by Police and Crime Commissioner Sue Mountstevens, replacing Mr Port who was at the helm for eight years.
He said he and Ms Mountstevens have been developing a "very strong relationship", talking almost every day, and he will support her priorities which include tackling anti-social behaviour, burglary and violence, especially against women and children.