Emilio Acris attended the Sacred Heart Grammar School in his teens. Sensing he was thrown in with a slightly brainier lot he opted for the Technical College in Queensway, got himself a few O Levels and moved on to that ill-fated engineering apprenticeship. “That’s true, and the clerical job came as a result of my father working in the Ministry of Defence at North Front and managing to get me in. I got the job but never went to work because it was in the mid 70s during the CPSA clerical union lockout seeking parity with the UK. At about the same time I enquired about becoming a police cadet, following that, once I was 18, applied to become a police officer and went on to serve for 38 years.”
58 year old Emilio tells me joining the police was another world beyond his expectations. At the time of entering the force there were no specialised units as there are today. It was completely different with there now being a drug squad, fraud squad and other specialised units. “Becoming a police officer was really my first job which I found uplifting. I spent some time as a ‘reserve man’ for callouts and the like, and learnt a lot from office work typing and so on, seeing what was going on behind the scenes. But I always had my sights on promotion, unlike other officers who were quite happy remaining as they were, and that was fine for them. I learnt that the best route when seeking promotion was to move to the Criminal Investigation Department (CID) and that’s what I did.”
Detective Acris moved from unit to unit within the force: back on the beat or `on shift,’ as a Community Constable, Court Officer where you learn a great deal, back to the CID and moving around again as you’re approached to take on different jobs. “I became a sergeant and spent six years in the CID which was the job I loved most, and in 1992 was promoted to Inspector, so I was back in uniform in charge of a shift of about 30 officers, a responsibility where you become more of a manager. Looking back, I’d like to think I was always approachable with an open-door policy as an enforcer.”
As is the case in a number of professions, wanting to become a policeman is not just securing a job for yourself, it’s a vocation, and Emilio poses the question, “Why stay if you don’t really have it in you?” Even in a reasonably calm and safe place like Gibraltar, being a policeman does have its ‘moments’ “Oh yes, for a start you run the risk where you might become unpopular and nobody likes you and they show it when you get your car damaged because maybe you reported or arrested someone for whatever reason. The trouble we had during the confiscating of the fast launches in the mid 90s is certainly one to highlight, working non-stop for a whole weekend not being allowed to go home and sleeping on the floor at the station ready to go out again in full riot gear. Aside from the setting alight of a police car which was quite impacting on arrival at the scene, not knowing if there were officers still inside – luckily there were not – and damage to property, we’d find knuckle dusters, wooden clubs with nails in them and allsorts in certain individuals’ cars and elsewhere ready to harm the officers or whoever. And there are other situations that come up every now and then.”
Emilio remembers the days when the Royal Navy came in much greater numbers than today and Irish Town was a sea of white hats with sailors in uniform not in civilian clothing as they come ashore today. There was also more military serving on the Rock then, so the trouble that often ensued with so many men in town drinking meant another, potentially unpleasant task for the police. “But I remember in those days fights were fist fights and a lot of pushing and shoving only through drink. Today you have to look out for knives and other weapons because of other issues and grievances making the incidents more serious and potentially much more dangerous for officers attending the incident.”
Other aspects of police work that don’t readily come to mind when comparing with police forces in the UK and other countries are the responsibilities undertaken by the force on the Rock. Emilio reminds us, “When some raise the issue about there never being a policeman to be seen in town, it has to be realised officers are engaged in other duties. EU Legislation and other tasks take time to put into practice, work that needs to be sorted out. We have responsibility for an airport, a frontier, a port with its marinas and commercial entry points which also means having a Marine Unit and these days looking after more security – detection has been successful in the past – so there’s so much there that other police forces don’t have to dedicate manpower to and not forgetting that years ago we also used to man the ambulance service! Gibraltar is small, but there is a lot to attend to and a police officer to my mind, is a police officer 24 hours a day.” Perhaps an important factor not to forget also, about serving as a police officer in our little Gibraltar, is that everyone knows everyone else and sticky situations can sometimes arise!
So Inspector Acris continued his move up the ranks which was his intention in seeking promotion when joining. He became Chief Inspector, then Detective Chief Inspector back in the CID, was Superintendant in charge of a Division and also served as Head of Special Branch. Security, in the current climate, I would imagine always being high on the agenda.
Today, although retired, Supt. Emilio Acris tells me he still pops in to Police HQ to do a little work requiring his knowledge and is pleased to comply. After all, `Once a policeman, always a policeman!’
“For my part that is so true. I’ve assisted in situations a number of times when I’ve been off duty. As far as it concerns me, my police values are strongly held and I’ve found my time in the Force very gratifying. I have no regrets!”