Cruising around Lytham and St Annes spotting revellers pouring out of pubs and spying illegally parked cars might not sound like fun to your average lad – but it’s a great evening for two budding police officers.
Ben McGarry and Nick Smith are patrolling Fylde’s streets as special constables, kitted out in full uniform and driving a police car with all but the ‘blues and twos’ on.
At 20 and 22 respectively, they’re relatively young for their status but perfect advocates to show a reporter the ropes on a busy Friday night shift.
The first bit of ‘excitement’ is called in shortly after 9pm about a “ruckus” in a St Annes bistro, but such is the number of staff on that night another patrol car gets to the incident before we’re even out of the station.
Over the course of the evening it quickly becomes clear that alcohol or mental illness are the main causes of calls for police assistance.
There’s vulnerable people missing from home, a man with little clothing walking down the middle of a dark country lane, hot spots to be checked for underage drinkers and people causing a nuisance in pubs or at parties.
At 10pm we drive out to the residential parts of Lytham recently targeted in a spate of burglaries.
Ben, who is already the Specials Sergeant despite being just 20-years-old, said: “We do neighbourhood policing, it’s about being proactive and making sure there’s a presence.”
Call outs for burglaries, thefts or intruders are what make working for free on a Friday worth it for Ben and Nick.
“I think the most exciting is an intruder,” says Nick.
Ben adds: “You get there and think ‘we’re going to get them’, your heart is racing.”
A typical special constable will work around 60 hours unpaid each month, for Ben that’s on top of full-time work as a mechanic and for Nick it’s time out from his studies at the University of Liverpool.
And other than that crucial pay element, they have almost exactly the same role as other officers, learning the law, making arrests and even taking the verbal and physical abuse from those they’re intending to help.
The pair would be out doing much the same as any other lad in their early 20s on a weekend evening were they not on the beat – though consuming less alcohol.
“You realise how vulnerable people can be,” said Ben. “I still drink but just not into that state.”
A perfect case in point wanders into the sight line of the patrol car as it’s parked outside a busy Lytham pub.
The reveller folds his 6ft4in frame in two as he tries, and fails, to pick up some dropped change from the pavement.
But as the officers approach him to check he is alright to find his way home he changes tack on which coppers to pick at and begins to threaten the pair. “That’s what happens,” explains Ben, who the man had gone to grab.
“You go out to help people and they just turn on you, I could have risen to it and arrested him but that’s just one more person in the cells.”
Their tender years and special status don’t hinder their work in any way, they say confidently.
“No-one knows we’re specials,” says Lytham St Annes High School ex-pupil Ben.
“Most people respect us,” adds Nick, a former Montgomery High School pupil.
At midnight, five hours into their shift, there’s a flurry of activity across Lytham and St Annes, they’re listened to over the radio while revellers who’ve had one too many approach the police car asking for a lift home, mainly people getting into scrapes at parties or in pubs, and one woman who walked into a moving car as she crossed a road.
The patrol car is positioned outside some of Lytham’s most popular nightspots.
“If we’re there people really will think twice about what they do,” says Ben.
The intention is that a higher police presence will deter criminals, muggings or anti-social behaviour so specials never know what could have happened had they not been there.
Nevertheless, in Ben’s two years on the job and Nick’s one year they regularly see the same faces. “We’re constantly dealing with the same people,” says Ben.
Nick adds: “We have certain people who keep re-offending and it is frustrating, you wish they’d learn and get on the right track.”