Crime Writer ELIZABETH BROUGHTON finds out what life is like patrolling Blackpool’s streets - and what is being done to cure the town of its problems.
IN BISPHAM police station, there is no such thing as a typical day for the officers tasked with tackling neighbourhood crime.
The role of the area’s police community support officers (PCSO) involves everything from supporting victims to patrolling the streets chatting to residents and leafletting neighbourhoods with crime advice following burglaries and drugs raids.
But there is one thing which takes up more of their time than anything else – anti-social behaviour.
In PCSO Dave Underwood’s Layton beat anti-social behaviour incidents regularly top 500 a month, accounting for around half of all crime.
It is a similar story in the Ingthorpe area covered by PCSO Dan Matthews, where in September 108 of the 218 recorded crimes related to anti-social behaviour.
“If we ask 100 people what they are most scared of or what phases them the most, it would be anti-social behaviour,” said PCSO Underwood.
“It could happen to anybody and it has the biggest impact on people’s lives.”
PCSO Matthews added: “Anti-social behaviour is part of the job. I’ve been here five years and Dave has been in seven, and over the years anti-social behaviour has changed.
“Now there are a lot more things which are classed as anti-social behaviour.”
Anti-social behaviour includes youths causing a nuisance on the streets, warring neighbours, and noise nuisance, which is often reported to the PCSOs but is now a council issue.
It is a problem which is never going to go away but PCSO Underwood said far from finding that frustrating, helping to resolve issues is one of the most rewarding parts of the job.
The police often try to mediate and resolve issues before they go too far but there are strong powers available to them is perpetrators persistently cause trouble.
PCSO Underwood said: “When people ring up they often say I’m sorry to waste your time but this is what I get paid to do. This is what I enjoy and I would know about the issues because a lot of the time they are quick-fix things.
“We’ve got some great tools to deal with anti-social behaviour. We deal with the aggrieved and the offender because there has to be issues around why they are behaving the way they are.”
It is clear from PCSOs Underwood and Matthews the police would always rather the issue was resolved as quickly as possible for both sides, but in some cases they have no choice but to take extreme action, which can involve forcing people out of their homes.
PCSO Matthews said: “That’s not where we want to go but that’s where it can go if people are not listening.
“That’s why it’s good working with the council and local authority housing associations, because they have the tools to evict people.
“But when people do get evicted it’s a last resort. We try to solve the issues because if we evict them quickly it’s not helping them, it’s just passing the buck to a different part of Blackpool.
“It’s a great tool but nine times out of 10 it doesn’t get anywhere near that far. There was an incident in Bispham village recently with a large group of youths causing problems.
“I asked them what they wanted and they said they wanted to go somewhere where they could play football and hang out, so it was arranged there would be a football Friday put on, and there’s a youth club on Fridays that’s started up.”
On Channel 4’s programme following Blackpool’s emergency services – 999: What’s Your Emergency? – youngsters in the town have not come across in the best light.
But PCSO Underwood said the majority were “very respectful” and, thanks to the show, now had “more awareness” about the role of the police.
PCSO Matthews added: “Kids in school are coming up, asking questions about whether we know the police officers on it.
“I think it’s opened people’s eyes up to what some parts of Blackpool are like and it’s been positive.”
But while it is rarely quiet, the PCSOs role is not the blue-light drama shown on the programme. Instead they are the officers who reassure and support in the aftermath of the crime, and get to know the community and the issues residents are facing.
“People associate the police with putting handcuffs on people,” said PCSO Underwood.
“When I was growing up I did, but the police family has changed. We are out in the community, visible, and we deal with a lot of low-level stuff like shoplifting and criminal damage.
“We also speak to victims after police officers have given the initial response and hopefully try to find solutions to their problems in the short, medium and long-terms.
“The Channel 4 programme touched on what response officers deal with and them being more social workers than anything else, and we’re in keeping with that.”
PCSO Matthews added: “My favourite part of the job is doing things the police officers are not necessarily able to do, the after inquiries.
“There’s nothing better than meeting someone who was at the end of their tether and then seeing the change in them and they thank you so much for your help, even if you just gave them a phone number to ring.”