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The Big Interview...with Richard Palusinski
RICHARD Palusinski is happy in his work.
“If at the end of a week I went home and thought ‘We’re not doing anything’, I’d pack it in. I’ve long held the belief that I fail to see why public money should be used without making a difference.”
Richard’s role with Swindon Community Safety Partnership sees him co-ordinating the efforts of the council, the police, the fire and ambulance services, the health service, probation officers and other bodies Major concerns include the ever changing roster of potentially lethal legal highs, alcohol-related problems and the fear of crime.
“People’s concerns about becoming victims of crime far exceeds the reality of the number of crimes that are taking place. Some of the fear is based around the environments people are in. The bus shelters story – perhaps what you had there was that every Monday morning people wanting to go shopping or to go to work had to stand in a pile of glass at the bus shelter. Subliminally, that is saying it’s a high crime area.
“Changing that environment, keeping it looking the same but changing the materials, doesn’t spark fears that we have to have bomb-proof bus shelters but it does mean generally people realise it’s a nice place to be.
“If there is graffiti on a wall, then some people feel with impunity they can put more on the wall, and if they see lots of litter they think, ‘What’s to stop me from dropping my litter?’ because it’s almost giving permission.”
The safety partnership’s remit covers everything from anti-social behaviour to drug awareness, and from crime reduction to helping people reduce alcohol and tobacco use.
Unlike many senior people in such a role, Richard has personal experience of many issues his partnership deals with. Four decades as a volunteer police officer will do that to a person.
“At age 19 I joined the Special Constabulary,” he said. “I hold the rank of Chief Officer Special Constabulary Wiltshire. I’m responsible for 247 special constables across the whole of the Wiltshire Police area.”
But does he still get to experience the sharp end of policing by going out on patrol? He grinned at the question. “Do you think I’d still want to do it if I couldn’t?”
Richard has seen attitudes to the police change during his long stint. “There’s less respect. I can remember as a new Special getting called to a pub fight. All the PC had to do was walk in and say in an authoritative voice, ‘Right then.’ They stopped. That wouldn’t happen now.”
Richard is from Burnham On Sea in Somerset. His mother, Olive, was a teacher and his father, Herbert, was a tailor and former member of the Polish army. At the beginning of the Second World War, Stalin and Hitler divided Poland between them according to a plan previously agreed by the two tyrants. This was before Germany invaded the Soviet Union and Stalin switched sides.
“My father was captured by the Russians,” said Richard. “He was imprisoned in Siberia for a while and then freed when the Russians became our allies and Churchill persuaded Stalin to let them go.”
Herbert saw action in Italy, including the crucial and bloody battle for the key hilltop position at Monte Cassino in 1944.
Richard said: “I think because Father came through these times he had definite views on life, and some of them would have rubbed off on me.” Those views included the value of hard work and the motto: “It’s better to have tried and failed than not tried at all.”
Herbert met Richard’s mother after being demobbed near Bridgwater. They had three children. Herbert died when Richard was 13.
Richard had no early career ambitions. At 16 he became a trainee manager with Woolworth, and then went into motor sales.
At 21 he joined the Department of Employment as a Civil Servant and something changed: “That’s where I think I found the real reward of going to work because the Department of Employment was about trying to help people get into work – it was about dealing with disadvantaged people.
“There was job satisfaction; when you went home at the end of the day you started to feel you’d made a difference.”
Richard spent 20 years in the Civil Service and rose to the rank of Higher Executive Officer before leaving and working in a variety of other public service roles. He’s been in his current one for five years and has no intention of moving on.
Current projects include the planned rolling out of a project piloted in a Swindon neighbourhood, in which carefully chosen local people were chosen to reach out to young people most at risk of becoming involved in antisocial behaviour.
“One of the problems we have had in the past has always been about authorities – whoever they are – doing things to people. It stops communities from being communities because they won’t get involved, and it puts all the costs on to the authorities.
“For too long now we have been saying to people, ‘Don’t get involved, people, will sue you, there are health and safety issues.’ What we have done is put barriers in front of people trying to be active in their communities.”