#didsburybeat: In Pictures
Over the weekend Sgt Tariq Butt and the rest of Didsbury neighbourhood police team in Manchester kindly agreed to have me along on a shift to see the day to day reality of working as a PCSO.
It was a really informative day and a unique opportunity to see how the policing cuts are affecting staff on the ground. Read on below for a rundown of the full day in pictures.
Hopefully you managed to follow our live tweets on the day despite some unfortunate network issues! If you want to see them again check out @onthebeat101 under the hashtag #didsburybeat.
A bright and early start at the station in time for the morning meeting, where the team discuss crimes that have happened overnight and priorities for the day.
It was here I learnt I’d be paired up with PCSO Simon Clements for the day, who has been with the force now for three and a half years.
After the meeting, I had a chance to chat with Sgt Butt. One thing that was very evident was how much the policing cuts were beginning to bite. He explained how the boundaries of neighbourhood police teams were all changing, so Didsbury would eventually be split into two and each part join another ward. Apparently this is causing a lot of worries for the team as they aren’t sure what their roles will be like after the changes.
Much like Met police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe last week, Sgt Butt was also aware of the inevitable gaps in neighbourhood policing due to the heavy recruitment of new PCs from existing PCSOs. With so little funding to go around, it’s a much cheaper option to recruit new officers from PCSOs, Special Constables and police staff as they have already had police training.
PCSO Clements gave me a tour of the station before we set off for the day.
While the station was open to the public just three months earlier, the front desk was now closed down due to the cuts. PCSO Clements said this was unfortunately true of a number of stations in the area; the nearest for Didsbury residents is now 5 miles away in each direction, either Longsight to the North or Wythenshawe to the South.
He then explained our schedule for the day. We would be spending the morning at a community event in the area, interacting with local residents and giving out crime prevention tips, with the afternoon visiting burglary victims and their neighbours to gather intelligence and offer advice.
We set off to the event, organised by the “Johnnie” Johnson Housing Trust at Digby Lodge. It was an Easter funday for the local kids, organised to give them something to do for free over the Easter weekend.
PCSO Clements usually takes a bicylcle so we got a lift there from PC John Williams in his flashy Interceptor car- it’s fitted with seven different cameras to automatically recognise numberplates and flag up stolen vehicles.
The organisers had asked the local police and fire service to come down to the event to chat to local residents and build up a bit of community spirit.
PC Williams was there on a rest day to raise money for Retrak, a charity sending officers to Africa to work with disadvantaged children.
He let the children jump all over his car for a small donation by the parents. The kids were absolutely loving it- one boy decided he wanted to be a police officer just from pressing the siren!
PCSO Clements spent the time chatting to the kids and also to local residents, talking to them about any worries they have and offering crime prevention tips.
PCSO Clements explained that he does quite a lot of work like this as Didsbury has a fairly low rate of antisocial behaviour. The role of a PCSO varies greatly from ward to ward- he has friends in neighbouring areas who spend most of their time responding to incidents, whereas his role is more about interacting with the community and being the approachable face of the police.
He said the advantage of attending events like this is to get known within the community, and give children especially a positive impression of the police that they will hopefully carry through into later life.
After a quick lunch break at the station we went out ‘cocooning’ a street in the local area.
This basically means visiting a street where a crime has taken place, posting leaflets through neighbours’ doors to warn them and speaking to the victims and other residents to get information and to offer reassurance and advice.
This time it was a burglary that had occured the previous night, where a gang of young boys had broken their way into a family home.
The local community were really keen to interact- one man came outside especially as he saw us just to tell PCSO Clements what he had seen the previous evening.
We also stopped to give directions to a lady who was lost- an unofficial part of the job that PCSO Clements says he gets all the time! Well, at least it means he’s approachable…
After visiting the neighbouring houses we went to check on the burglary victims themselves.
Again, they were very keen to talk to PCSO Clements and invited us in to show him the damage that had been done and entry routes they thought the burglars may have used.
The family said the police had been great and very keen to help. We spent about half an hour there with PCSO Clements going through everything they had seen and heard and offering advice to stop it happening again.
We left the street to go and visit a vunerable person in the area to see if they needed any further help- an elderly man who’d had a bad fall but refused to get in an ambulance. The police had sorted things out at the time but PCSO Clements went along to see if there were any underlying issues or something the local team needed to keep an eye on.
On the way we had chance to talk about the day to day experience of the job and any concerns PCSO Clements had about his work. He told me again how badly the cuts were biting- when he joined almost four years ago PCSOs would always patrol in twos, but now they can only afford for one to go alone. Though he hasn’t been in danger himself yet, he does worry about colleagues coming into contact with hostile criminals, especially without any kit to protect themselves. He told me of a colleague who had been driven into once and luckily escaped with minor injuries, but he worries it’s only a matter of time before something more serious happens if budgets continue to be slashed.
Despite this, he loves the work and says it’s the best job he’s ever had, mainly because of waking up knowing each day is going to be different. Though he plans to apply to become a PC soon, this was never the intention when he joined, and he would be quite happy staying in the role if the opportunity wasn’t there.
We reached the address but noone was in, so PCSO Clements said he would call and arrange to visit another time.
As he headed back to the station to finish up, it was the end of my day with the team. A fantastic experience and thanks again to Didsbury neighbourhood team for having me along!
If you’ve got any comments or questions about the day please feel free to leave them below, or don’t forget you can always tweet us @onthebeat101