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My Night out with Sussex Police Response Unit – by local activist Linda Freedman

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“It all happened as a result of my Twitter response to the Head of Brighton & Hove Police, Chief Superintendent Graham Bartlett. He tweeted about the demise of 300 Superintendents in eighteen months and I presumptuously responded that police forces should be more productive and had to do more for less, like all citizens in times of austerity.

As a result, Ch. Supt. Bartlett invited me to join the Police Response Unit on their night shift (3pm-11.30pm). As is usual for me, I said yes before I thought of the consequences. Because Im a bit squeamish, I chose a Thursday, reasoning that Hallowe’en would have taken place the day before and I would miss all the revelling drunks and spaced-out druggies that congregate around West Street at the weekend.

So, last Thursday I went to the Brighton Sussex Police Headquarters in John Street, along with a colleagues daughter who I invited along for moral support.

Critical Incident Inspector, Richard Delacour first gave us a briefing on Brighton & Hove statistics, as follows:

– A very small proportion of rapes are by complete strangers. By far the majority are by – acquaintances or ex/current partners.
– There were currently 15 inmates in the police cells out of 36
– Three grades of crime response times-

Grade 1 (break-ins. damage, injury)- 10 minutes

Grade 2 (offender not at scene but identifiable through CCTV etc) 1 hour

Grade 3 ( Pre- planned response) later reporting

Grade 4 Information Only

– People with mental health issues, including acute schizophrenia, who commit a crime, are treated on a case by case basis. They are not automatically charged and a mental health professional would be involved. Outside the Metropolitan Police area, Brighton & Hove have the largest number of people detained under the Mental Health Act.
– The previous late shift (Hallowe’en) Brighton & Hove response officers received 44 Grade 1s & 30 Grade 2s between 3pm & 11.30pm (Still with 18 officers).
– Number of police officers are based on workload, not population.Brighton & Hove have 18 officers.
– Administration is centralised so more Police Officers can be out on the beat.
– Pepper spray is mainly used but Tasers being issued to selected specially trained response officers in 2013
– Brighton & Hove have an average of two firearms incidents per week, dealt with by specialist unit.
– The number of protesters had not increased, the general opinion is that they were exhausted, protested out and there was a feel good factor due to the Olympics.

PCs Damien and Justin then took me out in their Police Response car. I had to read the Health and Safety instructions first, which basically said just listen to the officers, stay in the car unless asked to get out and hang on for dear life when the car responds on blues and twos’!

Our first call was a motorcycle crash inLondon Road; no injuries just petrol pouring out all over the pavement. Then up to the administrative police headquarters in Hollingbury (where the police cells are housed) to drop off some papers and have a quick cup of tea.

I asked one of the officers, who has four children and whose wife also works, what he thought of the Police pension scheme, which is being cut. He said because he felt he could not rely on the pension alone, he and his wife did up properties and had accumulated some equity. Good for him, I thought.

He was not impressed with the new Police Crime Commissioner elections, couldnt see the point and thought it was too political. He wondered why someone who had no first-hand knowledge of how the police service worked would be effective as a Commissioner.

Our next call was an all sirens flashing 80+ mph dash along the A27 to Mile Oak to an incident that involved a drunken woman with a knife having a domestic dispute with her husband and standing in a pond. Are you alright there, Linda? asked Damien whilst I was clinging white-faced onto the handle in abject fear of not surviving the sprint. Thankfully, no one was injured.. The woman was known to be an alcoholic and she was sent to the police cells overnight for her and her familys safety.

After that it was a bit quieter (was told not to use the q word) but after all I had chosen a q day deliberately. We drove around Brighton & Hove looking for incidents and waiting for calls from HQ. In the following two hours we had a shoplifter in Urban Outfitters (where I was allowed to attend), a cyclist over a red light, a drug-dealer in Western Road, someone driving without sidelights and various calls out from the police car to suspicious looking people from Damien: Hey, what are you doing there? No one was charged. After some time, a quick stop-off in Wild Bean caf for a latte and sandwich.

I asked many questions of Damien and Justin and nothing was off limits. They had a different view on when to bring charges; one slightly more zero tolerant than the other. They thought there were not more Travellers in the city, just that the current Council were slower to respond to trespass in parks and other open spaces.

When we were driving around Whitehawk, we spoke about young people parked on benefits and how it hadnt helped their lives. One officer said he had first-hand experience of some young people with a similar background to his (he left school at 16) – were irresponsible, took drugs and ended up on benefits. He had taken a different path, which shows everyone ‘ploughs their own furrow.

One more light-flashing, siren blaring sprint over to Kemp Town to investigate a violent pub brawl. I was confined to the car again and saw one of those involved being taken away by ambulance. His face was cut and swollen and he could not have been more than 21 years. It was a family feud that got out of hand (alcohol fuelled?) and no one would admit responsibility. I was released from the car to sit in the pub and watch the staff rewinding the CCTV to view the fight. It was clear from the pictures who had started the fight and one of the staff was taken to HQ to make a witness statement.

By now it was nearly midnight and I was thankful that I had survived the evening.

Overall, I was very impressed with the dedication and professionalism of the force. They operate as a closely knit team almost like a family- and are very approachable and pragmatic. We should be proud of our Sussex Police Force.”

Linda Freedman