A night on the beat

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A night on the beat

Tuesday April 14, 2009

By Gavin Rogers

Maybe it was the calm before the storm or perhaps everyone was saving themselves for a long Good Friday, but as I made my way to Hammersmith Broadway on the mild spring Thursday evening before the Easter weekend began in earnest, I was struck by how quiet the town centre seemed.

I was on my way to meet a couple the borough's newest bobbies as they patrolled the town centre, and wondered just what the night had in store. Councillor Greg Smith, H&F Council's Cabinet Member for Crime and Street Scene and Inspector Dan Stobbart were also going to be there.

Above: H&F News reporter Gavin Rogers (far left) and Cllr Greg Smith (far right) 

The first job of the night was to explain the council's latest funding injection of £1.1 million for two new teams of police to crack down on crime and anti-social behaviour in the borough. ITN had picked up on the news and wanted to film a segment for the evening bulletin.

It's hardly surprising that the national media are becoming interested in what's going on with policing in the borough. The two new teams will mean an additional 25 officers for Hammersmith, including a specialist team - codenamed Tyrol - located in the bus station and patrolling all the main transport hubs in the borough.

After an interview with Cllr Smith and a few establishing shots from the film crew, the new bobbies were pictured pounding the streets and talking to a few revellers who had begun to come out of the woodwork. With the journalist and crew pleased with what they had, they headed back to the studio and left me to shadow the bobbies doing it for real.

King Street seemed a different place to the daytime bustling shopping street. Even the obligatory smoker hanging around a pub doorway seemed conspicuous. On arriving at Ashcroft Square we decided to have a wander through the estate and see if there might be more people out and about inside the confines of the tower block complex.

However, once we negotiated our way inside and up to the third level, we found it to be just as quiet as the town centre over which it looms. The ball park and the open areas were desolate and apart from a lone resident providing some late night water to her plants, the place was still and quiet.

Cllr Smith chatted to the lady watering her plants, and she commented on how nice it was to see bobbies on the beat. Again, I couldn’t help but think this was really the point of the evening and indeed, as the night went on, I noticed many more people who greeted the sight of the police with a look of reassurance.

We decided to take a stroll along the back streets and walked a little way towards the river before running parallel to King Street. Again, a serene urban environment greeted us at every turn and I started to realise that actually bobbies on the beat spend an awful lot of time simply…well, walking the beat.

I suppose I should really have been able to work that out before I experienced it first hand, but one has images of chasing drug dealers and restraining drunks every five minutes. Of course the truth of the matter is that a great deal of effective police work is simply about being there. Being there to provide that sense of reassurance and being there to intervene before trouble can escalate.

And on that front there were two incidents that occurred on my night on the beat that pointed to the good work of the police and why it is important to have bobbies on the streets of our town centres. Neither involved running down a suspect or grappling a villain to the floor, but both were important pieces of police work in their own way.

The first broke the serenity we had all enjoyed with alarming volume. Standing at the corner of Beadon Road and the Broadway, a moped approached with such a wail from its exhaust that all three police officers were straight across to pull him over to the side of the road.

In his defence, the motorcyclist had spent good money on a new exhaust a matter of days before, and it had cracked almost instantaneously. It was obvious he was as upset with the awful din it was creating as we were and was already resolved to have the matter sorted.

Because he was reasonable, understanding and able to convince the officers that he realised he needed to deal with the matter, he was dealt with in the same reasonable and understanding manner and sent on his way with the advice that he sort the exhaust sooner rather than later.

The same attitude was not displayed by the second gentleman the officers had occasion to stop. Working our way up King Street to the Broadway, we were approached by a youth in a hooded top. That in itself is not a crime by the way, but he unwisely decided to spit twice in front of the officers as they drew near.

Stupid? Yes, but he was far from done on that front. Having spat in front of them he then let off a volley of abuse when they pulled him to one side for a chat about his anti-social behaviour. Despite efforts to keep the conversation civil, he was not having it and became obstructive in the extreme.

Simple questions about his name, address and whether he had ID were all fought against and he tried to leave on a number of occasions despite the police telling him in no uncertain terms that he had committed a crime.

As I watched on, I felt a mixture of incredulity and sadness. I was incredulous that the individual seemed so intent on making a bad situation worse. Anyone watching on, as I was, could see that all the officers wanted was for him to understand that spitting in the street is wrong. They weren't looking to arrest him, but they also weren't going to simply let him get away with it.

The fact that he couldn’t, or didn’t want to see this was the sad part of the whole sorry situation. No matter how much they tried to explain that what he did was both wrong, and a criminal offence, he simply wasn't prepared to see their side of it.

The officers informed him they could give him an £80 fine; that he could spend the night in the cells; that they would put him in handcuffs if he continued to try to get away. But no matter how many opportunities they gave him to curb his attitude, he continued to protest, claiming he hadn't done anything wrong.

It would have been easy to dismiss the perpetrator as mindless and insignificant, but the approach that police have adopted in the borough is one that seeks to address all crimes, however low level. A zero tolerance approach to this sort of thing is just what these new teams have been formed to put into action.

After numerous further warnings, the lout who spat and swore was cuffed and put into the back of a police van that came to pick him up. He was charged with behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress under Section 5 of the Public Order Act.

The thing that struck me when reflecting on my night on the beat was that while the two incidents we encountered were minor, had beat bobbies not been around, they would have passed without any redress. Hopefully the motorcyclist would have seen to his exhaust anyway, but knowing that he was attracting police attention may well have spurred him on a little quicker.

Likewise, perhaps later when the foolish individual who didn't see anything wrong with spitting in the street was sitting in a police cell he just might have thought that he could have handled it better. That he could have seen the police officers' point of view. That he could have apologised and gone on his way with a warning.

Needless to say I suspect he may think twice before spitting in the street again. Certainly the message to other yobs who think they can do what they like on the streets of Hammersmith, Fulham and Shepherds Bush is quite clear - crime and anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated.

Anyone wanting to put that to the test will find plenty of bobbies out and about to see that zero tolerance means just that. Or you can take it from me - this isn’t the borough to commit crime in.

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