Surreal moment the other night – standing outside a cannabis factory, with several police officers, all of us eating a slice of pizza each, with me thinking to myself “if I’d’ve taken a few leaves, would anyone a) notice and b) mind?”
It was late into the day and I should’ve gone home an hour or so earlier when I got a call from an officer who has an unerring habit of finding drugs in her patch.
The officer had got my name put on the warrant by a magistrate and I was invited on the bust and the search of the premises, a basement flat.
Quick aside here - apparently the magistrate had told police it was rather unusual for a reporter to be put on the warrant. My response to that nugget when told was ‘he needs to get out a lot more then’ because across the rest of the UK for the past couple of decades it’s actually regular practice.
So, the officers who’d been brought to the party had completed their shift and were a bit hungry, as was I. So after having a good mooch around the flat, marvelling at the care which had gone into growing the cannabis, or marijuana if you’re over 50, we decamped to the back garden for the pizza.
As I said to the officers, it was like being a student again – a huge pile of grass and then pizza for the munchies. To their credit they all laughed. But I think my reference to putting on a Crosby Stills and Nash LP went right over their heads.
The point of this story was I found out the next day that the officers who sniffed out the drugs were actually two PCSO’s - Chris Kinski and Tom Bayley - who work the Efford patch but were on their way back to the station via St Jude’s. They caught the scent, did some sensible checking, then called up the regulars to carry out the formal search. And hey presto, a few thousand pounds of drugs are taken out of circulation.
For me this incident highlights why PCSOs are a valuable resource to modern policing.
The days of Dixon are long gone. No regular officer has time to roll up his sleeves and play cricket with the local kids, before nipping around to catch a cat burglar red handed, and then chatting over a cup of tea with Mrs Miggins and her cat Charlie about her new neighbours who keep funny hours and have too many visitors for her liking. Patrol officers hair it about from 999 call to 999 call, leaving less than a handful of neighbourhood beat officers to pick up the pieces and attempt to solve the far more complex and enduring problems of every Plymouthonian.
Pc’s have one weapon left in their armour and it’s called arrest. They see a problem, they arrest someone. Guidelines, public opinion and circumstances mean they can’t have a friendly word or issue a clip around the ear – it’s either arrest or nothing else.
But the neighbourhood teams, which are largely populated by PCSO’s can be far more inventive, more lateral in their approach. Oh they can bring in the heavy mob to do arrests if they want, but many of the PCSOs I’ve dealt with in Plymouth have been amazingly creative.
While you may scoff – and have scoffed – at streetdance groups, boxing/football/martial arts sessions, community parties and climbing clubs, along with in-school safety sessions on everything from knives and guns to Chlamydia and cyber-bulling, it’s been working. I’ve met local PCSOs who have resuscitated dying men, snapped up information about major drug dealers, fronted up to violent thugs as well as those who’ve taken the time to chat at length to a group of old dears who really don’t believe that youths on their street corner are probably more bored than bad and really, if you got to talk to them like the PCSO had, you’d find they were rather decent youngsters, if only you didn’t bitch, swear and moan at them every time you see them.
So, the next time you guffaw and refer to all PCSOs as Blunkett’s bobbies, keep in mind that a good percentage of them take more time and effort to make their hometown a better place than you ever will.
Anyway, I didn’t pocket any grass and the pizza was delicious.