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Christmas on the beat with the night patrol
WHILE some people were spending Christmas Eve night settling down at home waiting for Santa, or others were out celebrating with a beverage or two, I spent the night with two officers from West Mercia Police who, year in year out, sacrifice these special days keeping people safe.
I arrived at Worcester Police Station in Castle Street at 9.30pm and was introduced to PC Philip Charles and PC Alex Horsley, who were to take me on their street patrols.
The night began with a briefing – just like you see on television. I was allowed to sit in, which gave the same sort of feeling you get when you are backstage at a major gig.
After being shown some of the items the officers are equipped with, including handcuffs, CS spray, PR 24 batons and specialist vehicles, we were off on a vehicle patrol.
PC Charles said: “The late shift generally goes on to 4am with 14 constables and two sergeants on duty. You never know what to expect. It could be quiet or hectic with any kind of violent crime being committed.”
PC Horsley said: “We could be called out to a murder, armed robbery, car accident, you just don’t know. The hardest thing to balance is doing our job while trying to maintain the public’s support and trust.
“Some people do show ill-feeling toward us, and are not afraid to voice their opinion, so it’s important we show people we are here to help, not hassle.”
So here I was, in a patrol car driving round with the police. The officers were constantly on alert and we were soon stopping a driver whose fog light was switched on.
PC Charles explained ing why they had stopped him. After a breathalyser test, it turned out he was sober but had not realised his fog light was on. He was allowed to continue his journey.
PC Horsley said: “We always try to talk calmly to defuse any potential danger to us or them. Talking is our most effective strategy.”
Back in the car, I was shown how quickly officers can source information about a vehicle and driver by checking registration plates.
Every police vehicle has a laptop, linked to databases that indicate vehicles ‘of interest’ and whether they are insured, have a valid MOT and are taxed. This check takes a matter of seconds.
Cameras are also dotted around Worcestershire that are linked to the database, so a particular vehicle can be located straight away. It’s all very hi-tech and impressive.
A few minutes later, a female driver was swerving on the road, and was immediately stopped and breathalysed. The test revealed alcohol had been consumed, but only a small amount and she was allowed to drive on.
PC Charles said: “Our drink-driving campaign is proving a success. A lot of drink-drivers are of the older generation, which shows young drivers are listening to our messages. They will be caught if they do it, and they know that.” PC Horsley recalled one alcohol-related incident he had to deal with: “A man was in the street with a friend, in the middle of the day, and I was parked in a van. Suddenly, he came up and punched the windscreen, completely unprovoked, and he became aggressive when I confronted him.”
I was most impressed by the ability of the officers to change mentality in an instant.
One minute I was being told about the 18 weeks every officer spends at a training school, followed by two years on probation.
The next moment the sirens were on and we were travelling fast through the city centre, responding to a call from HQ. Despite being unnerved by the sudden change in speed, I felt comfortable putting faith in PC Horsley’s driving abilities.
The suspect was arrested for a breach of the peace and a public order offence. I was kept in the car, out of harm’s way.
“We never really switch off, we can’t afford to,” PC Charles said. “Anything could happen at any time and we need to keep people safe. We’re the last line of defence for most people.”
After taking the man into custody, it was time for paper work, before heading out into the unknown once again.
Christmas Eve night was surprisingly quiet, and by 3am, the town had all but wound down. After one final patrol, which stretched out toward Sixways and back through the town centre, the night’s work was all but finished, or so we thought.
Despite working since 3pm, and having made four arrests during the shift, just as we arrived back at the station PC Charles and Horsley were called out to the Bromsgrove area.
After a very brief goodbye to the officers, there was one more insight to be gained. I was allowed to meet the station’s sergeant and hang around while people were being booked in, seeing the challenges officers have to face during this stage of the arrest process, too.
I could hear shouting and threats being made against the officers, but there were also those who seemed genuinely sorry for their actions. At around 4am, I left the station and called it a day. I had been inside police headquarters, witnessed officers being ever vigilant while on patrol and examples of questionable driving. A slightly unconventional Christmas, maybe, but it was certainly a memorable one.