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County's chief constable is proud to be top cop of Essex
8:10am Tuesday 6th August 2013 in News
WITH a distinguished 28-year career in London’s Metropolitan Police, Essex’s new Chief Constable Stephen Kavanagh could have easily stayed at the force where he held a high-ranking position.
The £192,000 salary Essex Police offered him must have been an attractive proposition – but there is no doubt he is going to have a tough job maintaining law and order in the face of huge cuts.
As one of the “leanest” forces in the country – having made massive steps toward saving the required £44million by 2015 – Essex Police will still have to make huge budget cuts. Some 1,000 jobs have already been axed, along with the mounted unit and front counter services at many police stations.
So why, faced with these massive challenges, has the 47-year-old decided to take on such a tough job? Here, he explains to Crime Reporter GINA MARDEN about the lure of returning home.
Q:The job of Chief Constable is extremely tough – particularly with the financial challenges facing police. With that in mind, why did you want to take on such a hard role?
A:When you are born and bred somewhere, this is the ultimate job in policing. I used to play football over the back of police headquarters and Sir John Peel’s wife would tell us off for making her poodles bark.
I live in the county. My son goes to school here, my wife has a business here and my father lives here.
It isn’t going to be easy, but to have ownership for making Essex safer is the greatest privilege I could have.
I know the history of Essex. It is a fantastic force and has gone through a massive change. But I know the officers and staff appreciate somebody who lives in the county and has been part of it.
There are tough times ahead, but you have got to get a grip of the challenges before they get a grip of us.
We have got to take it on and make difficult decisions. There is a sense that we have been through the tough times, but we are determined to deal with austerity from the bottom to the top.
Q:You inherited a financially “lean force”. Where do you go from there and how do you decide what will have to be cut next?
A:I have to look at the way we deliver services and we have to decide what the risks are. We have tried to stop duplication. We have staff who do too much checking when you should get things right first time.
For example, at the moment, every domestic violence case is treated as a priority, but that can’t be right. For example, some calls are just rows in families, so we don’t need to turn up with blue lights flashing.
If we can prepare officers to do risk assessments where necessary and assess calls where there is an apparent domestic abuse situation, we can respond sensibly and stop some of that duplication.
There will be some difficult decisions when you are having to find that amount of money over the next few years.
But when you live in the county, you understand the challenges. I’ve seen the change. I know of the PCSOs in my village.
I also did nine years as a PC and detective constable, five years as a detective sergeant. I have spent half my service in the ranks and know what things are about for the officers on the front line.
Q:But with even more cuts on the table for Essex Police, how can you ensure standards are maintained?
A:When you make changes, it’s with the aim of improving quality.
Issues around standards and the way we conduct our service and update victims are going to improve.
If you have to make decisions around the number of officers you have, it doesn’t mean the quality will deteriorate.
Essex is one of the leanest forces in the country, in terms of our back office team, and the council tax element for police is one of the lowest in the country.
People want a visible police presence on the streets, but they also want their 999 calls answered in a quality and professional manner.
Q:In June this year, Essex Police started recruiting constables for the first time in five years. Is that because the force had spread itself too thinly?
A:There are a number of officers retiring and leaving the service. It is also important we keep drip feeding those coming through.
We knew there would be a lot of interest around it and that is whywe introduced the residence criteria (all candidates were required to live in Essex).
We had 1,300 people who made it through stage two of the process and 150 will be taken on.
People want to do this job.
The pay and conditions have changed for officers, but people want to feel like they are making a difference.
It’s not just about making money.
It’s a good career in which people can progress.
Q::Many senior officers expressed concern following the introduction of Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC).
How is your relationship with Essex’s PCC Nick Alston and how do you feel about being answerable to a politician?
A:It is fundamental to the success of any police force that the Chief Constable and Police and Crime Commissioner have a good relationship.
We were given a police and crime commissioner to make the county safer and hold police to account for the people of Essex.
As a resident of Essex, that is good. Nick is somebody who did 30 years in public service.
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