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Drug use and breach of guidelines – the reason Crawley Police increased their presence across Maidenbower Park

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Photo: @Crawley_Police

Crawley Police increased their presence across Maidenbower Park after receiving reports of Anti Social Behaviour.

The reports included use of Class B drugs being taken within the park.

What constitutes antisocial behaviour?

There are three main categories for antisocial behaviour, depending on how many people are affected:

  • Personal antisocial behaviour is when a person targets a specific individual or group.
  • Nuisance antisocial behaviour is when a person causes trouble, annoyance or suffering to a community.
  • Environmental antisocial behaviour is when a person’s actions affect the wider environment, such as public spaces or buildings.

Sussex Police confirmed they are working with Crawley Borough council to deal with any reports of on going anti social behaviour at Maidenbower Park.

In a statement Crawley Police said:

“These reports are mainly focused on but are not limited to groups congregating in breach of previous Covid-19 guidelines and the use of Class B drugs in the park.”

The public are encouraged to continue to report any new incidents to Sussex Police via 101 or the Sussex Police internet reporting system. If the matter is an emergency then please ring 999

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Hope & Commitment: The reality of frontline policing in Crawley

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Just over a month ago there was a protest through the centre of Crawley. The protest was one of many that were taking place around the world as a reaction to a senseless and horrific act that had taken place in America.

Those taking part in the Crawley protest were obviously passionate about what they felt and this came across in the placards and banners they had created, holding them high above their heads as they marched, their voices calling out for change.

But one placard caught my attention more than any. It was one that I had seen before on TV and in papers at other rallies and yet here it was again. This time it was held high above the head of a young teenage girl and written in foot high letters the words:

F*CK THE POLICE

Three words, that’s all it was, and yet these three words have resounded through communities in ways that are both dangerous and frightening. The reasoning behind the protests is unquestioned, the need for change obvious and there is hope that this may now happen.

But, there is a wake that has been left and one that is very troubling especially for those in a profession that only wants to help people. They know that what a few people have done does in no means represent what they will do, but the damage is done.

In light of these tensions, the national press stories, the daily coverage that seems to perpetually want to attack our services, I wanted to go out with our local police. It has been almost a year since I last went out with them and this time I wanted to speak to them directly, not through a media department, but on the street as they worked. I wanted to see what they were having to face every second of every day.

What I found was both distressing but heatwarming and incredibly moving.

It’s 4:30pm and a briefing with the next shift is about to start at Crawley Police Station. The room is filled with roughly a dozen officers all smiling, chatting and laughing, it’s almost like a first day back at school where you are catching up with your friends.

The Sergeant comes in, the room hushes down and the briefing begins. What’s been happening in the town, updates on cases, things to note, the usual I would have expected from a briefing.

But then something I wasn’t expecting. The Sergeant goes around the room asking each officer what happened in their last shift.

We just hope we can change opinions by keep doing our job to the best we can

One by one each officer describes briefly what they had to deal with.

Missing child, domestic, drug dealer

That was just one officer. The next one goes:

RTC (Road Traffic Collision), robbery, domestic

I’m confused although I try not to show it. This is Crawley, a town, not some metropolis.

Next one:

Wanted man, domestic, drug dealer, child protection

We are only three officers in. The laughter, banter I saw when I first entered the room has died down. Now each officer is listening intently to their colleagues, even asking questions in-case they can help.

I was so wrong earlier, my analogy of children excitedly chatting was not even close to the reality of the situation. This was a group of professionals supporting each other through the only way possible when dealing with such serious and daily issues – a smile.

The rest of the officers finish their updates which are all painfully similar before they are assigned their tasks for the day and sent off to begin their shift.

I am assigned to two young male officers who between them have only just over 5 years experience, yes they are very young as well but as I was about to find out, they were worldly wise beyond their years.

No time is wasted before we are straight out in a marked car. Time to catch bad people I think. Two corners out from the station:

BOOM!

“I feel naked in this car!”

The statement catches me completely off guard. Naked? What does he mean? We are in a powerful police car, emblazoned with all the trimmings you would expect. Surely this would make you feel safe, not ‘naked’.

The officer goes on to explain his reasoning but I can sum it up better by something his colleague adds. ‘Just watch peoples reactions as we drive around.’

He was right. Yes there was the odd person who smiled and waved, but that was it, the ‘odd’ person. The rest, every single one of them, either gave a vicious sneer or turned their backs on them purposefully and with no attempt to hide that.

The very people who are here to protect us were being visibly snubbed.

“How long has it been like this?” I ask, but there is no need for a response, the look they give each other is enough.

“We just hope we can change opinions by keep doing our job to the best we can,” he adds.

“Why do you put up with it? Why do this when you are being treated like this?” I ask.

Calmly, without hesitation, the officers response explains everything.

This is my town, I grew up here, I love it and care for the people. I don’t need a pat on the back from them as long as I know I am helping them.

It’s not just words, it’s genuine sincerity.

“You don’t think we do this for the money do you?” his colleague laughs.

With a starting salary of £21k actually I don’t, not with all the training and life threatening situations they have to contend with on a daily basis.

Since the start of policing there has been tension with the public. Over the years the force has tried its best to change opinions, but how can you when part of the job is to make sure people always do the right thing – human nature does not want us to be told off, to be reprimanded, to be that child in trouble with their teacher.

We have one chance to create a good impression, we cannot get it wrong because this is how they will think of us for ever

The latest problems have not just added to this, they have exacerbated the problem.

Suddenly a call comes in, a distressed man is walking out in-front of moving vehicles. We race down the road before locating him with an ambulance in tow trying to calm him down.

The officers stop him and check he is ok, creating a instant relationship that even allows the tiniest of smiles to form on his face. Once assured he is ok they offer to drive him back to where he is staying but he doesn’t want to be seen with them in the police car, not by his friends. So one of the officers takes him as we hold back with the paramedic.

What happens next alarms me. The paramedic tries to hand the distressed man over to the police in a ‘not my problem’ kind of way.

When the officer I am with gets back in the car he is shaking his head. “We are not trained psychologists, they are supposed to be helping him, it’s so wrong.” He is angry, annoyed and the moment we catch up with his colleague he tells him – the same reaction comes back.

I ask if this happens a lot, the frantic nodding suggests it was a silly question.

Now a quick a patrol through the town centre to make sure everthing is…the car is stopped suddenly and one of the officers is chatting to three individuals who are just casually walking down the road chatting.

We pull up and both officers jump out to speak to them. It’s all very odd. They didn’t seem to be doing anything wrong. Three middle aged caucasion people, two men and a woman. What was going on.

Before I know it one of the men is being handcuffed and put into the car. What have I missed here?

Turns out the man arrested was breaking bail conditions and all three individuals are well know to the officers. Local knowledge by local officers a custody Sergeant explains to me back at the station. Then the paper work begins – paperwork they have to do for every single incident. It is a given that police have to spend a large part of their shift writing everything up. The incorporation of technology has reduced the time taken up to do this, but it is still laborious though necessary.

It is also this local knowledge which comes into play almost immediately afterwards as a car is spotted being driven a little erratically by a known individual to the police. They pull him over and have a quick chat. But it is the way they speak to the driver which is most assuring. They are friendly, not accusing, not lecturing, they check everything is ok with him before letting him drive off. Then it hits me. Yes they are after bad people, but they are also looking out for people and their wellbeing and whilst it may cause them to hold someone up for a few minutes it is time well spent to ensure someone is ok.

“We have one chance to create a good impression, we cannot get it wrong because this is how they will think of us for ever,” explains one officer as they get back in the car. It is obvious how important building relations with the community is.

Then I make a cardinal mistake. I say it seems to be quite ‘QUIET’. Yes I use the ‘Q’ word. I feel like I have committed a sin. They shake their heads. “You’ve used the Q word!” they declare shaking their heads. I wish I hadn’t!

Within seconds a report of a domestic comes in and we race to the scene. A small culdesac reverberates with loud screeching voices. I race behind the officers as they reach the property to only be greated with more raised voices. I look around and see faces, illuminated by the patrol cars light, all peering out of neighbours houses. More officers arrive and enter the premises, more faces at windows. There must be five crews at the scene now. Then everything suddenly changes. The crews begin to stand down as the situation is controlled. An officer explains that they had multiple reports to domestics at different addresses in the same area. A common issue they say, where what is just one incident has been reported by multiple people giving different addresses. It has meant five crews have been brought in unnecessarily.

This is a prime example of what I and my collegues get told about on a daily basis in our newsroom.

We receive calls claiming something ‘big‘ is ‘going down‘ and we must ‘get here now‘ because there are ‘police everywhere‘. This then creates a request to Sussex Police Comms to find out what is happening. This in turn takes up their resources to speak to officers at the scene who are more concerned with helping solve the situation. Yes there are times this is necessary, but this is not one and I see that first hand.

But it also does another thing, much more alarming. It sets off social media. A single tweet or facebook post showing a road with multiple police cars in attendance creates a form of panic, morbid fascination and horrific speculation that does nothing but add problems to a situation, which in this case, was dealt with swiftly and easily.

I have seen it for myself when following up on a story, I have read the vicious comments made against the police when seen at an incident, comments that serve no purpose other than to be attacking.

In-fact it was just an argument, a heated one yes, but one that was dealt with quickly and by just one crew. But the resources it took up, the reaction by the neighbours and the worry of how the presence of the police at the scene will be reported across social media is a constant worry and one they do not need.

A quick change of lightbulb for a broken brake light and we are back out, this time chasing potential drug dealers who are using back roads to evade being seen.

Now this is more like what I expected, blue lights on, weaving through traffic, fast speeds but strangely very calm driving, you feel extremely safe. Now I see what it is like to be highly trained. Multi-tasking at its best. High speed driving whilst communicating with each other as they search for someone they know is in the area through intel coming quickly through their radios. All I can do is try to keep up with the fast moving situation and I am not driving!

“I have never been so proud to witness first hand who is out there looking after us”

But before we can catch up a more urgent call comes in. Someone has driven across a junction and gone straight through a wall. It’s also quite far away. We spin round a roundabout and head off down the country roads.

Keep your eye on the road ahead I think to myself as the high speeds, tight corners start to make me feel a little sick. The other officer is quickly looking up the details of what has been reported. Any thought of taking my eyes off the road to make notes is an impossibility. I just don’t want to throw up in their car.

We arrive at a scene of carnage. A young driver has driven straight across a junction and through a solid brick wall. There is debris everywhere. Only a tree stopped the vehicle from continuing, quite possibly, right up to someones house.

There are lots of people milling around and it’s a case of working out what has happened and what to do next.

The officers first concern is checking on the wellbeing of the driver who is in obvious shock. They check for injuries, check his mental wellbeing and the care and time taken to do this is so reassuring.

How he didn’t hurt himself is a miracle. But what is most incredible to witness is the calmness the officers bring to an alarming situation. There is no panic, not for a second. And for the first time in the evening I see real relief and thankfulness for their presence, even from the driver.

The road is closed, traffic diverted, more officers to instruct as they arrive to assist as the situation is analysed.

I am pulled to one side and one of the officers apologises that they are going to have to put me with another crew as they need to escort the driver to hospital. No apology needed I say as I am introduced to another crew, this time with a more experienced pair.

In the new car the blue lights are back on almost immediately as we rush to reports of a fight near the town centre. Up ahead I can see other police units responding, their lights reflecting off signs. The reports suggest numerous individuals.

“Be prepared that they could have all dispersed by the time we get there,” one of the officers tells me. He is right.

On arrival only a handful of people are milling around, some helping a woman who has obviously been hurt. She needs help. Her friends are trying and are grateful to see the police. But she isn’t.

In-fact she wants nothing to do with them. She wants them gone and gone fast.

Another officer takes me aside and explains how this is one of those ‘impossible’ situations to handle. There are mixed reports, some say she was attacked, some say she fell over and the victim herself wants everyone to leave her alone and ‘get off my property!‘. How do you help someone who obviously needs help but refuses any offered to them?

This time there are four units at this scene. Another officer comes and explains that this is very common in Crawley. But more alarmingly they explain that whilst they need help they do not want anyone to see that they take it. They would rather refuse it than be seen with a police officer.

Back in the car and we are patrolling the town centre. The officer driving has been with the force for over a dozen years and explains how they have seen attitudes towards the police decline rapidly. Covid-19 has not helped. What happened in America has not helped. There is a battle going on that is through no fault of their own.

Another call, this time two vans have been pulled over suspected of stealing. We race to find police surrounding two large vans, their doors all open and the occupants being interviewed by officers.

But in-fact this time everything is in order. The report sent in to them from a member of the public was wrong, but there is still a duty to act. I witness yet again just how well the officers handle the situation, the way they talk to the occupants. It is calm, friendly and whilst there is some tension, as you would expect, at no time is anyone made to feel like they have done anything wrong. In-fact there is some laughter between the officers and the occupants.

It’s now 2am and I decide to call it a night, yet for the officers they have hours still to go in their 12-hour shift. I am dropped back at the station but before I leave I ask the officers whether this is a snapshot of what life is like on the frontline in Crawley.

“If I could use the Q word I would, because this has been a very Q night,” he says. Really? This is Q? We have not stopped, what happens when it is busy?

You may have your own opinions of what a police officer does, what their role entails, but let me tell you what I believe, having witnessed a tiny, and it really was a tiny glimpse at it for myself.

For me a police officer is a:

Peace keeper
Therapist
Psychologist
Medic
Protector
Law keeper
Social worker
Detective
Colleague
Friend

But more than any of that they are a human being who has feelings. They are not some robot who just wants to arrest you. In any job there will always be some who betray the very nature and essence of what they are meant to stand for. But to allow these people to reflect what everyone within their service is like is not just wrong, it is abhorrent.

Crawley’s Police officers, like their colleagues around the country are people who have been tarnished with a brush by a minority and who are now having to deal with repercussions they have no control over.

Whilst the very nature of reporting means that more serious incidents will always get the headlines, it needs to be remembered that we all have a responsibility, the readers as well as the writers, to reflect the truth behind the day to day workings of our emergency services.

The first crew I was with were young and relatively new to the force, but you would never know it. What they showed me in the short time I was with them, in the way they handled themselves, in the way that they took control of the situations was something powerful. In any other circumstances out and about you would look at them as young men and women just starting their adult lives. Fresh faces with a lot to learn. Not tonight, not on this shift. Any preconceived ideas vanished. These were trained professionals.

I have never been so proud to witness first hand who is out there looking after us.

Crawley Police, along with all their Sussex colleagues are facing challenges that would scare anyone. But, as one officer explained to me, whilst there is hope they will never give up and every single one of us should be thankful they never, ever, do.

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