Operations Superintendant West Cumbria
We caught up with Gary Slater who looks after policing in West Cumbria for Cumbria Police to find out some more about him and Cumbria Polices Operational Team
1. Could you tell us a little about yourself, your background, family, where you live etc?
I was born in County Durham but moved to Africa at a young age due to my father’s job and loved growing up with my brothers in South West Africa (now Namibia). I moved back to Britain when I was 18 to complete my university degree. After finishing Uni I applied to join Cumbria Constabulary and was posted to Whitehaven. I have lived here ever since and my wife and I have three children.
2. When did you go into the job your currently in?
I have been a police officer for nearly 28 years and started my career as a student officer in Whitehaven. All police officers complete a 2 year probationary period working on the beat and gaining valuable experience. I moved out to Egremont and Cleator Moor before becoming a Sergeant at Workington. I have worked throughout West Cumbria at various ranks before moving to Carlisle as the Chief Inspector. I was promoted to HQ (Penrith) as the Head of Operational Support which included Firearms, Dogs, the Communications Centre and Roads Policing. I have also been involved in various projects and reviews over the years mainly working from HQ during that period. I returned to West Cumbria over three years ago as the Area Superintendent and was really happy to have responsibility for the policing of my home area.
3. What did you want to do when you were younger?
Growing up in Africa I always wanted to work in Nature conservation but my mum and dad had other ideas and wanted me to go to University first before I made any firm decisions. Two of my brothers joined the police in different forces and kept me up to date on issues and it seemed pretty inevitable that I would follow the family trait.
4. Talk us through an average weekday
I think the cliché for most people who enjoy their jobs is that variety is the key and policing is certainly no different. There are certain things that I must do each day, such as chairing management meetings and picking up on the issues of the day to ensure that they are being properly dealt with, however there are also a significant number of spontaneous and challenging issues that occur every week in trying to keep the public of West Cumbria safe. Whether it is drugs/alcohol, traffic accidents, anti-social behaviour or flooding, people rightly look to the police to keep them safe or to deal with the issues and this makes for a very interesting and often challenging job whatever role you are doing in the police service.
5. What does being the Superintendent for West Cumbria involve?
I am responsible for the policing of West Cumbria which is a very broad remit. This includes the performance of my uniformed teams but also specialist departments such as CID, Public Protection, Intelligence, Nuclear Estates Team. Whilst we have a significant number of staff and support services working for us in West Cumbria, we cannot do it alone and a large part of my working life is spent dealing with partner agencies trying to maximise what we can do together to support our local communities. Copeland was the first area in Cumbria to establish the community hub where key partners work together under one roof to address local issues. Our work with Copeland Borough Council has been instrumental in refining this model in order that it can be adopted right across the county. That is one of the best things about West Cumbria, we are used to working together and we try to make the best of what we have, usually leading the way for the rest of the county. Some of my colleagues will take exception with my next line as they routinely do but in their hearts they know that “West is Best” !
6. What do you enjoy doing at weekends and in your spare time?
If I am not covering the command rota then I love getting out and about round Ennerdale , Wasdale, Whinlatter, St Bees with the kids whether that is for a walk or taking the bikes out. You really don’t have to go too far in West Cumbria to find great stuff to do. The kids love the skateparks and recently we have enjoyed the BMX track at Seascale where a number of dads have decided to dust off their old bikes and have a go. Not a pretty sight but great fun!
I always remember an American tourist stopping me for directions years ago and saying “You get paid to work here in this gorgeous environment!” It would be criminal not to get out and about and enjoy what we have on our doorstep.
7. What do you enjoy most about your job?
A friend and colleague of mine used to say to all new recruits, “Remember, a member of the public will ring us up in their darkest hour when they have been hurt, burgled or involved in a traumatic incident and despite being a complete stranger, they will ask for our help.” That has always stuck with me and I think many police officers and staff colleagues can relate to that as their reason for doing the job. The sense of satisfaction that comes from trying to put the wheels back on for someone who has been subject of crime, an accident or some sort of event where they have needed support , that takes some beating.
8. What do you believe are the biggest challenges for our area?
One of our biggest advantages, our location and geography is also one of our biggest disadvantages, in that the relative isolation and poor infrastructure links means that people can be put off coming to live and work here. Those that do come, quickly see the advantages of living in our beautiful area but we need to do more if we are to attract people to the area on a permanent basis. That isolation can also cost us in trying to grow opportunities for our own children, we can’t afford for our kids to go off and train in other parts of the country and to take up opportunities elsewhere. We need to ensure that more opportunities are available for our own kids, so that we can entice them home to help sustain the local communities with new skills and experience. This is as true for the public sector as it is for the private economy.
9. What was your first job and did you enjoy it?
When I was at university I took a part time job in a butchers shop. I pretty much dealt with the menial tasks but really enjoyed assisting in making their specialist fruit and meat pies. You could personalise the topping with your own signature markings. My kids will tell you that anything I cook or bake now is definitely not of the specialist brand and easily identifiable by how poor it looks in comparison to what my wife or any of them cook up !
10. What is the highlight of your career so far?
There have been many unique moments in my career, meeting certain VIPs or members of the Royal household whilst involved in protection duties, going aboard the Leyte Gulf to formally welcome the crew to West Cumbria for one of the first Maritime Festivals at Whitehaven spring to mind. But the moments that really stick in my mind can be quite innocuous such as receiving a letter from a prolific Whitehaven criminal who was in prison, wanting to thank me for one of my junior officers who had tried to assist him in getting his life back on track. He was embarrassed by his poor spelling and grammar but despite that had felt compelled to put his sincere thanks in a letter and explain exactly how the officer had dealt with him for his latest offence but had then listened to him and offered to help. He is out now, has secured a full time job in West Cumbria and has his own flat. I kept the letter and it is a great reminder of what the job should be about when I am having a particularly poor day.
11. What is the funniest thing that has ever happened to you in the workplace?
Too many incidents to recount! That is one of the unique aspects of this job that you come across people and circumstances that can be completely out of the ordinary and the only thing you can do is laugh. I think generally that police officers have a great sense of humour, it does help with some of the traumatic and sad incidents that we have to deal with and enables us to keep a sense of perspective about things. So long as we are not being disrespectful to anyone I certainly encourage people to see the lighter side of life and enjoy the funny moments.
12. Where do you see yourself in 10 years’ time?
Well I will have most certainly retired from the police service and handed over responsibility for the policing of West Cumbria to someone equally as committed to our area. I would hope that I am still contributing to the local area in a useful (but hopefully less demanding) role. Just recently I attended a local awards ceremony and was blown away by the quality and commitment of some of West Cumbria’s volunteers. We need to do what we can to support our local community and institutions like the West Cumberland Hospital so if I can play a meaningful part by volunteering then I think that would keep a smile on my face!