A previous contributor to our blog, PC Mark McKay is a member of the Police Now cohort. In this post he tells about 3 days on patrol and how in this job – there really is no such thing as ‘an ordinary week’.
Follow him on Twitter : @MPSCamberwellGN
It’s an early start today. I’m sat in our van with an experienced colleague driving through Lewisham and Greenwhich to HMP Thameside. We’re on our way through the streets of South East London to interview a man identified as a suspect for a spate of meat thefts late last year from a supermarket in Denmark Hill.
I cast my mind back to the previous December when we’d have new reports of steaks being pinched from the store’s shelves. The words ‘the steak bandit strikes again’ were being muttered with alarming frequency.
CCTV footage of one suspect was circulated throughout The Met in the hope that a seasoned eagle-eyed officer can put a name to the face. Some have an uncanny ability to recognise and identify suspects from these images. It was one of these ‘super recognisers’ who identified my suspect.
We arrive at the prison armed with the CD recorder, stills from the CCTV footage and a the identifying officer’s statement. Our vests, handcuffs, CS and baton were locked away before we were led to the visitor waiting room. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel vulnerable without my personal protection equipment, but after a few minutes the suspect arrives. We go into an interview room where he makes full and frank admissions after being shown the CCTV stills.
Interviewing meat thieves may not sound glamorous. But the volume of thefts we have from high street stores in Denmark Hill means positive action must be taken. This also includes developing a long-term problem solving strategy. Now, we’ve joined the Business Crime Reduction Partnership which has worked well in Lambeth and, in particular, Clapham High Street. We already share a radio link with other stores part of the scheme in Camberwell. Eventually, we hope to share images of offenders and suspects.
Most of today was spent building the case file from yesterday’s prison interview. It will now be sent to the Crown Prosecution Service which will decide on how to progress with the case.
In the morning though I had time to meet with a franchisee who runs a string of McDonald’s restaurants in south London, including one in Camberwell. He describes the impact street drinkers and beggars have on his business for an impact statement. His will join others I’ve taken from residents, parents, other businesses and a head teacher to support our efforts to clamp down on persistent anti-social behaviour. For a Dedicated Ward Officer being able to connect and build rapport with people in your ward is vital. As I make shorthand notes I can’t help but think of the crossover between the role of a dedicated ward officer my former profession as a journalist in the regional press. Both require the ability to build contacts, earn public trust and be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the community.
The statement is part of the evidential package to support Community Protection Notices (CPNs) being handed to drinkers and beggars in Camberwell. CPNs aim to prevent individuals engaging in specified anti-social behaviour which impacts the community. If they continue to behave anti-socially they will be breaching the CPN, which is a criminal offence. For those successfully convicted a criminal behaviour order banning them from a set area could await. I’ve developed this escalation process in partnership with Southwark Council’s anti-social behaviour unit.
Anti-social behaviour related to street drinking and begging has been ward priority for Camberwell since I joined the team in September. As a result I deal a lot with this portion of the street population. It isn’t good enough to simply move them on or even just to take an enforcement approach. Addiction is, for all too many, the root-cause of their behaviour and we’re always working to refer them to support services. I come from a family which addiction has affected in the worst possible way. In 2007 my cousin, who had been an alcoholic most of his adult life died after taking methadone. He was 27-years-old; one year younger than I am now. Though I never really knew him, this is never far from my mind when I’m on the beat speaking to people who are some of the most vulnerable in society. They are still mothers, fathers, sons and daughters – no one grows up aspiring to be an addict. I’m happy to say I’m on first-name terms with many who know me as the local officer. Compassion always goes a long way.
Today begins by preparing powerpoint slides for our upcoming ward panel meeting. Our panel meets every two months to discuss police and crime-related matters in Camberwell. Until now it has been fairly informal, but I’m planning to revamp our meetings to include presentations, crime trends, and feedback from the panel.
Communicating with our community is essential to build public confidence in the police. I rely heavily on social media, written letters and public engagement while on foot patrol. My vision is for when people in my ward to think of the police they will think of me, and okay, maybe the Commissioner too. Some officers are reluctant to have their image publicised, but to me this seems completely at odds with the aims and intentions of community policing. We are not secret service spies. The DWO’s role is to be the visible face of policing in the community. I don’t see anonymity as an option, especially in wards where building public trust is paramount.
This weekend I’m off to Windsor to speak at a conference about my experience with Police Now. The challenges, excitement, anticipation and opportunity each day brings are hard to put into words.
I’ve been the first through the door during domestics. I’ve been the one the yell ‘police stay where you are’ during warrants. I’ve given evidence in court. I’ve closed crack houses. I’ve given first aid to the bleeding two-year-old punched in the face. I’ve chased after the man who fled the scene, and the one to say ‘you’re under arrest’ when I caught up with him. For some, I’ve been the first person they’ve wanted to see, and the very last person others have wanted to see. I’ve put people in the recovery position while off duty. I’ve been the shoulder to cry on and the one to get the children home safely. I’ve made a difference in ways no other job could. That, I guess, is why they say this is a job like no other. It really is.