Whenever I get time I love to spend it with people in the frontline of our public services. It really helps me understand how things work and what the challenges are.
Doing a shift with our city’s police prevention team was brilliant for me, I learned so much. This is a team of frontline officers who join up all the work in communities that strives to prevent crime happening and supporting people moving towards criminal activity to make better choices. But they are also out on our streets patrolling and keeping us safe.
Sgt Karen Osborn shepherded me through the shift, starting in the office speaking to community officers prepping for the day, and then out on patrol.
The role of community support officers has changed. They have more power, such as to detain people, but there are much fewer of them due to the cuts. The ones I spoke to loved the new enhanced role, but spoke candidly about the challenges of keeping up a high profile with so many fewer people in the job.
Out on patrol we drove to parts of the city that are known crime hotspots, and also to places where a police presence is needed, and also to places and people who are vulnerable and in need of regular contact with officers.
The relationship that officers have with people, particularly victims of crime and people with vulnerabilities that are exploited by criminals, is exceptional. It’s something that constantly confounds the stereotype of tough police officers. The best care hugely and are sometimes really emotional about the impact crime has on people’s lives. I noticed this last time I shadowed a team and I saw it first hand before I became an MP when I was a victim of serious crime myself. The caring side of policing isn’t talked about often enough, if it were I think more people would be attracted to policing as a job.
The team are out right across the city and in constant contact. We heard that three people had been stopped for suspected drug offences and support was needed, so we zipped into the town centre.
A fantastic officer called Richard (who I recognised from the brilliant TV series The Nick!) had somehow spotted three people amidst the bustle of North Street who peaked his interest. They smelled of cannabis which enabled the officer to act on his hunch and carry out a search.
A sizeable bag was opened, it was jammed with small packets of drugs, I don’t know what type as they will all need to be sent off for testing. It was a sizeable find, Richard’s hunch had paid off.
It was amazing to be with the team as this happened. To know that drug dealing had been interrupted, an activity that blights places and communities and families, had been interrupted was genuinely amazing. But then something happened that added another element, heartbreak.
Sgt Osborn told me that the man carrying the bag with most of the drugs was not a man at all, he was a thirteen year old child. All three of them were children.
Drug dealers have recruiting children to avoid prosecution, knowing that they will not face prison and face alternative sentences and as they are so dispensable it won’t interrupt their operation too much. But the impact this must have on young people is almost unimaginable, and horrific.
I truly wish people who use drugs casually in the belief that irregular usage doesn’t harm people could have seen what I did.
So the euphoria of a successful operation was tainted by the human catastrophe that it revealed, and after speaking to the team I realise that the same is true of of most crime.
For the rest of the shift we were popping in and out of communities, stopping at one point at the sight of someone peering through a ground floor window (as it turned out they had just rented the place but not moved in yet and wanted to have a look), and then to sit down with the team tasked with working solely in Hove.
The final stop was at a homeless night shelter in Hove where the support staff were working closely with the police to tackle street begging which is not only affecting our community but also posing huge problems for many of the people begging too. But I’m going to write another post about that soon so I’ll stop there!
I really want to thank the team for having me along, I learned so much and have thought a great deal about the experience since. I hope you’ve had a good weekend too, all the best, Peter