Leo Olivero: A Copper With an Independent Streak and a Highly Developed Social Conscience
By 04 November, 2007 07:00 This article has been read 7159 times.
His retirement from the Royal Gibraltar Police gave Leo Olivero the opportunity to express his personal views publicly for the first time, and for the past four years the former Superintendent has vigorously drummed up public awareness of such social problems as juvenile crime, under-age drinking and drug abuse. He has published letters and articles and given interviews - something which he was gagged from doing in his personal capacity while serving as a policeman.
It was these social concerns - "as a senior police officer one always kept abreast of things happening in the community" - which last year led him to join Keith Azopardi's newly-formed Progressive Democratic Party, where he was welcomed enthusiastically as he cautiously dipped his toe into the troubled waters of Gibraltar politics. But while a strong belief in what is right or wrong sits comfortably on the shoulders of a senior police officer - indeed, it is expected of him - there is an independence of spirit that verges on the maverick in Olivero's character...and this, he soon found, was less comfortable within the constraints of a political party's machinery.
Within months of announcing his membership of the PDP, he - along with an equally "independent spirit" MarieLou Guerrero - quit the party over its unconditional support for the new Constitution. Unlike his street-wise and savvy fellow dissident, Olivero left with little public fuss and was determined to do or say nothing that would harm the PDP.
SUPPORT FOR PDP
"I still believe in the party's ideals and think that it is good for Gibraltar. I certainly wish it well...and hope that one day the PDP will form a Government," Olivero told VOX when we met this week. "But while I respect the party and its policies and wish it to flourish and develop, I have also realized that my character is not cut out for politics...particularly Gibraltar politics."
Nevertheless, though he will not have a party platform from which to press for the betterment of society, Olivero is not the sort who quits...and he will continue his crusade against under-age drinking and to try to make Gibraltar a drug-free society.
Born in Gibraltar's old Royal Naval Hospital 55 years ago, Olivero actually grew up and went to school in Nottingham. His father, a mechanical engineer, had served in North Africa with the REME (Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers) in World War II and was not "demobbed" until after Olivero was born - hence the Naval Hospital nativity," he explains with a smile. He does not smile a lot, his brow is furrowed and deep worry lines crease the sides of his mouth.
"But though we were living in Nottingham where my father had found an engineering job in post-war Civy Street, I came back to the Rock several times on holiday and it was on one of these visits that I met my future wife."
LOOKING FOR SECURITY
He was 18 and had just left school when he joined the Royal Gibraltar Police - not out of any childhood wish to be a copper and make Gibraltar a better and safer place in which to live (that came later) but with job security and a home for his future wife foremost in his mind.
"It seemed the only way we were going to be able to get a house, a home of our own," he admits. "The career bit came later."
Gibraltar was very different when he joined the RGP in 1971, he points out. "It was geared differently...Gibraltar was still a garrison town geared to the army, the Royal Navy and Naval Dockyard and to visiting warships. And this meant, too, that it was a different form of policing which was expected of us.
"In fact, policing - like other social structures and institutions - changes with time and in those early days of my career it was at times difficult to keep up with how Gibraltar's social life was developing. It went through phases...and a sort of social culture created out of circumstances," he reflects. "There was the time of the fast launches - itself a very dark period - but again something shaped by circumstance."
Policing, he believes, has changed and adapted with society. People today, for instance, are more aware of their rights - though not necessarily as ready to shoulder their responsibilities - than when Olivero first donned his unform and walked the beat through Gibraltar's streets.
"they scan the world through TV and create a climate in which demands on policing have become astronomical he says, with a shrug of his shoulders. "In a sense there has been a loss of respect for each other within society and for the police. Gibraltar is a bit like a village where everyone knows everyone else and, in the old days, there was in a sense a certain amount of policing by the society within the society.
"If a youngster did something wrong, someone would tick him off...threaten to tell his parents, or a relative and he or she probably - though not aways, human nature being what it is - would stop doing whatever it was that they shouldn't be doing. As a result there was far less anti-social behaviour - possibly because of the ‘fear factor' - but today if you catch a kid doing something wrong and say something to them about it, all you get is a lot of verbal."
He acknowledges that "you'll always get people who indulge in illegal drugs" adding that as drug abuse has increased so have the pressures on the police...not only to arrest the dealers and pushers, but to help the addicts. During the 11 years he spent with the CID - entering the branch as an ordinary detective and emerging to other duties as an inspector - there were neither a drug squad nor a fraud squad, Olivero points out.
TACKLING EVERY CRIME
"We tackled everything - drugs, fraud murder and other crimes," he recalls. "I handled a couple of murders and had a spell of day duty carrying out surveillance, but what I really found most satisfying during my time in the CID was starting an investigation from scratch and carrying it through to a successful conclusion, a conclusion which also satisfied the victim..."
He left no unsolved crimes on his desk when he was promoted to his next post - a two-year spell as Police Prosecutor in the Magistrate's Court. But the lengthy spell in the CID and his work with drug-related crimes had engendered an awareness of the problem of drug abuse and under-age drinking that was to stay with him throughout his career - and into retirement. He was a member of the Government's Drugs Advisory Committee and "helped put together the drugs strategy which is now in place...though I have criticisms and have expressed them on the manner of its implementation."
Two years as police prosecutor were followed by a further two as head of the Traffic Department, before a further promotion to Chief Administrative Officer - a post he held for seven years. During his last eight years in the force he headed 130 men as Superintendent in charge of the Operational Division...the coppers on the beat.
As Gibraltar's representative on the European Association of Airport and Seaport Police (EAASP)and on its international counterpart, Olivero traveled extensively and also came to grips with European and global security needs.
"There will always be a security threat and people should be made aware of this," he says. "There's no need to be over dramatic about it, but at the same time Gibraltarians should never think that it can't happen here. In fact it did - in 1988. In terms of policy we should look to continual awareness. The levels of threats change...and are constantly changing. Something that happens 3,000 miles away can suddenly push the local levels of threat sky high."
A thinking, deeply motivated and committed policeman, had Olivero ever contemplated the possibility of becoming Gibraltar's Police Commissioner, VOX asked?
"I suppose that at one stage I did...but my career progress stopped - probably because I was too frank, tended to be too outspoken. Some people don't like to be told things frankly and sometimes this didn't go down too well." A brief, slightly rueful smile.
AN INTEREST IN POLITICS
"In a sense I have always been interested in politics - in what was going on in society and have felt strongly about what was happening on our own patch and the concerns that were not being properly looked at , things like under age drinking, and alcohol and drug abuse...And as a senior police officer I was sometimes placed in a position where I was unable to control the things I wanted to say...and that will have counted against me."
He retired in part because he felt he had reached a career ceiling...and at last felt he had the freedom to speak out. "I entered politics because while it's all very well sitting on the fence and shouting and all very well writing letters and articles, by joining a party - encouraged by its fresh outlook - one felt one could achieve much more."
Hence the brief relationship with the PDP...and his conflict with the party over aspects of the proposed new Constitution with which he did not agree - proposals relating to the police and to the judiciary.
"You can't get anything more important than a new constitution, and the party took a line with which I couldn't completely agree. And look at what's happened to the judiciarfy and the position of the Chief Justice...just as I feared, it's a mess."