A day in the life of Sidmouth's police team
PUBLISHED: 09:30 27 May 2017
Crime in Sidmouth occurred at a rate of just over one incident a day last year. The officers also get called out to car crashes and other incidents that don't become criminal offences. But what do they do the rest of the time? Sidmouth Magazine spent a day at the station to find out.
Sergeant Andy Squires, who also heads the Seaton team, begins the day with a telephone conference with some of Devon and Cornwall’s top-ranking police and his counterparts across the force. They will discuss any major incidents, events that day that might need a strong police presence and how to allocate resources. Some events are planned well in advance – Sgt Squires already has a plan in place for FolkWeek, months before.
While that happens, PCSO Phil Thomas clocks on, catches up with incidents since his last shift and then we head down to Vicarage Road to make sure traffic is flowing and everyone is safe. Phil, who was a constable for 30 years before he moved to the civilian role, likes to vary between the different Sidmouth Primary School sites at the beginning and end of the day, when he can.
“The powers of a PCSO are limited, but it’s a case of keeping traffic flowing and keeping young people safe,” he said. “High visibility is one of our key roles. People will report crimes or give you bits of information. It’s surprising what you can learn.”
His role is about visibility and being approachable – forging early links with Sidmouth’s youngsters.
PC Steve Lee said the PCSOs are less ‘threatening’ than the kitted-up constables and have a real skill for getting children and teens to open up.
We return to the station for a cuppa. The Temple Street premises may have lost its reception, but, contrary to popular belief, it is still well used. The force is keen to promote fitness, so the old cells are now home to gym equipment, there’s an interview room straight out of The Bill and an evidence store (complete with riot shields that are gathering dust). There is also an area rented by parking wardens – an extra source of income to help ensure Sidmouth’s police station stays open.
The next task is a tour of the rural car parks in and around the Sid Valley. On average, vehicle break-ins in these secluded spots happen four times a week, so officers aim to visit each of them once a day – to maintain a strong police presence and get the message out. Our first stop was Salcombe Regis car park, a popular spot for dog walkers, where Sgt Squires, PC Lee and I made like criminals and set to work peering through car windows for any goodies on show. Bingo – in one go we see handbags tucked under seats and tell-tale sat-nav holders on windscreens.
“They could break the window with barely a sound and be gone in 20 seconds,” said PC Lee. “Speed is of the essence. Don’t call us four hours later – call us there and then.”
Sgt Squires added: “The chances of us being in the car park when it happens are fortuitous to say the least. That’s why we do as much as we can to educate people.”
If they find valuables on show, the officers will leave a warning letter – disguised as a parking fine – on the windscreen. It says: “By working together, we can deny these criminals the opportunity to commit crime.”
After touring the other rural car parks and giving stern words to one woman who left her bag on display, we head back into Sidmouth.
I’m dropped off at Christian café The Mustard Seed, where PCSO Dave Keeler, the newest member of the team, is attending a Gateway meeting. The organisation was founded in 2015 following the deaths of two homeless men, Tommy Duffy and Bradley Forrest, who had been staying in the town. The police are one of the key players in a multi-agency effort to prevent any future tragedies and support anyone who is homeless or is in danger of losing their home. Out on the beat, they can flag up someone sleeping in a tent in The Byes, say, with East Devon District Council’s housing team or the Sid Valley Food Bank. Much of the Gateway meeting is confidential, so I step out until they finish.
PCSO Keeler and I drop into the food bank, based in the nearby Unitarian Church, then head back to the station.
We regroup for lunch and the banter of a close-knit team ensues. PC Lee said, despite all the pressures of his job, he’s never had a shift when his colleagues haven’t lifted his spirits.
I attended on one of the rare days when the full team’s shifts overlap, so they had the resources for a multi-purpose vehicle operation. PCSO Steve Blanchford-Cox was stationed at the top of Four Elms Hill to spot people using their mobile phones behind the wheel or not wearing their seatbelts. PCSO Keeler was the other side of Newton Poppleford in the ANPR car – that’s automatic number plate recognition – which is fitted with cutting-edge kit that flags up any vehicles that are uninsured, untaxed, with expired MOTs or that are reported stolen. Both of them would radio ahead to the third car, stationed in Otter Reach. There, Sgt Squires, PC Lee and PSCO Thomas, also wielding a speed gun, pulled over drivers for any breaches. Word quickly spread that we were there – there was a buzz on social media and motorists were spotted flashing their headlights at each other so they didn’t get caught out.
The team also sometimes links up with the Government’s Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency officers and HMRC to crack down on offences such as the illegal use of red diesel, a tax-free fuel reserved for agriculture, or pull over vehicles that look like they would fail an MOT.
One last cup of tea and then I bid farewell to the team.
Sgt Squires reflected: “Neighbourhood police teams address deep-rooted and long-term issues of crime and antisocial behaviour that impact our communities and help to safeguard the vulnerable in partnership with other agencies. “We fight the war, not the battles.”