Operation Dismount - we join Norfolk police as it battles street drinkers and anti-social behaviour
- Credit: Archant
It is 10am on a Tuesday morning and Thetford officers are returning from their first patrol around the town.
A well-known street drinker has been issued with a warning after being found at about 8.30am drinking in the Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) area, where having an open can of alcohol is illegal.
He is recognised by the officers and Sergeant Simon Jones is not surprised.
He explains the system that officers use in the town is designed to help, not to arrest.
Those caught drinking or causing anti-social behaviour (ASB) are first issued with an ASB breach notice, banning them from the town for two days. If the behaviour continues then a community protection warning (CPW) is served.
If the CPW is ignored it escalates to a community protection notice (CPN) and if this is broken then an arrest can be made and they face a trip to court.
Sgt Jones said: "They know what they are doing.
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"The problem is with them drinking in the PSPO. I have asked them before why don't they drink at home and I have heard more than once they don't trust the others at their house."
He then showed me the signs they have put up around the town. It explains the PSPO area and that people should not drink, urinate or defecate in the street.
The start of the patrol
We head off from Thetford Police Station with PC Leah Norton and PC Paula Gilluley heading towards the heart of the town down Grove Lane. We have not walked 100 metres before we are stopped.
A man, about 20 years old, approaches PC Norton and asks for help. He is unable to speak a lot of English but she is able to understand he has problems with his bank account and gambling. She directs him to the station to talk to a translator.
Language is another issue the officers are facing.
PC Gilluley said: "The language barrier is an ever-evolving issue.
"As we are using social media more and more, obviously everything is in English, but we may need to start putting several translations on there."
We continue towards King Street where PC Norton highlights the first drinking spot, St Cuthbert's Church, which sits at the top of Thetford High Street.
With a small courtyard she informs me that last month the area would be full of street drinkers but after issuing CPWs they know not to drink in the centre.
PC Norton said: "We don't want to stop people drinking as many do have a dependency but there is an order not to do it in the town centre as it affects the quality of life."
Business checkpoints and social media
Continuing through the town centre PC Norton stops at Techniques hairdressers, in Whitehart Street, to talk to the owner.
The force was alerted to ASB in the car park behind the shop after the owner contacted the police through the Norfolk Constabulary website.
PC Gilluley said: "The time it takes for someone to post about ASB on social media they could have done it on our website.
"If we are made aware of where it is and what's happening we can tackle it."
A couple of small wine bottles are found but no-one drinking.
The river walk
The hot spot of ABS in Thetford is Butten Island. Crossing the bridge over the Little Ouse River we see the Maharaja Duleep Singh memorial statue, a reminder of Sikh heritage in the town.
Drinkers used to gather on the benches surrounding it, which Sgt Jones said was a mark of disrespect to the faith, which prohibits alcohol.
A man is spotted on a bench and he gets up and walks past us.
"He had a can in his pocket," PC Norton said, "but because it isn't open it's not a problem.
"Having the police presence reminds them that they can't do it."
Continuing towards Nuns' Bridges along the river, gardens of surrounding homes back onto the water.
"No-one wants to come home, sit in their garden and see someone defecating." PC Norton added.
After visiting the main areas on the patrol we make our way back to the station up through the town.
PC Norton makes a stop at Access, a community trust. The trust works with at risk young people and adults, offering support and services to get them back into society.
After a relatively quiet patrol we head back to the station.
Community not just crime
As much as the patrols are to show a police presence and enforce the law, it is also about meeting the community and helping those in need.
On our the route we spoke to many members of the public and stopped at Access, a community trust, which is setting-up a cafe in the town offering jobs to those in need and a place to gather to talk about problems they are facing and how, with help and support, they can be resolved.
Officers Leah Norton and Paula Gilluley spoke to Annette Beal from the trust about how the force could help.
It was raised that the police cadets would be able to do some gardening, put up fences and repair a gate that was recently broken in high winds, as part of a community day.
Garden furniture can also be sourced for the trust, through using the police's contacts.
As a community hub the trust is also a great location for PC Gilluley to host her Coffee with a Cop mornings when the cafe opens.
We were out in the town for about an hour and half with no incidents of people drinking in the street or ASB showing the work Thetford Police is doing in the community is making an impact.