On patrol in the city centre

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

After arriving at Ardmore I meet officers from the NPT who I'll be spending the evening with. There are two NPTs which cover Newry and I'll be with the west team which covers Drumgullion, Ballybot, Daisy Hill and Drumalane.
Along with two officers I head out on patrol in the police jeep for a drive around the area, it's around 9.30pm and things are still quiet.
As we drive through housing estates we come across a house in total darkness yet the garage door has been left lying wide open. It's dark and a door to the inside of the house is visible from the garage so the officers go to check things out.
With no-one home they head next door where a neighbour explains the owners of the house regularly leave the garage door open and ensure the officers it's not unusual.
As we drive off a concern for safety call comes through the radio system after parents of a teenager contacted police when their son left a note saying goodbye and left his home. A description is given out of the boy over the radio so all officers in the area can be on the look-out for him.
After another drive around the area we head back to the station where I get a tour of the custody area. I see the booking room where those arrested are taken to be processed, the interview rooms and where drink drivers are breathalysed.
Then it's off to visit the cells - it's all rather daunting and I wonder if the realisation of what is happening hits home when those who have been arrested arrive here.
“Yes you definitely do get people, especially younger ones, who panic a bit, they realise what they've done and they're apologetic. Some catch on as soon as they're put in the car and there are tears but many kick off when arrive in as well."
She then shows me her utility belt and some of the items in it which include the obvious handcuffs, gun, pepper spray, restraints and a surprisingly heavy baton.
When I tell the officer I can nearly imagine how much pain it could inflict, she says: "We use these things as a last resort - in seven years I have only used it once. Even to use the restraints (which simply look like a velcro strap) we have to be trained because people who are struggling and resisting us can really hurts themselves or us.
“If you have someone restrained and they fall they can't use their hands to protect themselves so you have to be very careful and know exactly what you are doing."
As it gets later it's time for the team of seven to head out patrol around the city centre in a landrover. Four officers take off on foot patrol while we drive off and soon spot the first sign of trouble.
On Francis Street a number of buses have pulled up to let scores of young people out to hit the nearby pubs and clubs.
Two young men have been fighting before they even got inside a bar, and other officers are already dealing with it when we arrive.
One of the young men, who has been punched in the face, is extremely agitated and starts mouthing off to police. Despite being abusive and aggressive he is given a number of warnings from officers to calm down which he eventually does. He's lucky to escape with a fine but just after being sent on his way he turns around and urinates against a wall in full view of police - earning himself an 80 fine in the process.
I ask why this young man was not arrested despite his behaviour and the officer tells me: "We don't want these young people having a record. They don't realise how it will affect them in future - they might not get a job and so many want to travel but they won't get into America or Australia with a record.
“That's why we give them warnings and try to reason with them rather than arrest them but there are of course occasions when there's no other option but to arrest them."
Just as she says this the other young man begins to shout abuse and struggle with two female officers. He ignores the warnings to calm down and despite the officer being about half his size, she quickly arrests him and leads him to their car.
“This fight has started before they have even got into the club. That's the problem with young people pre-loading. They're drinking at home and are drunk before they even get near a bar and we have to deal with the result," an officer said.
After another drive about the officers on foot patrol call us over to a car park at Merchants Quay where two southern registration cars are parked - both are wanted by Gardai in connection to crimes.
One of the drivers, who has been drinking, eventually heads back to the car from a nearby bar and is arrested. After taking this rather badly he is then arrested for disorderly behaviour.
Later we come on to Monaghan Street and spot a man being restrained in the middle of the road by door staff of a nearby bar. Officers intervene and deal with the situation while a crowd gathers to watch what's happening.
“If there's something going on everyone wants to get involved, you're talking to one person and everyone wants to have their say and with about 500 people on Monaghan Street that can quickly escalate," he tells me.
Later the officers are pulled over by concerned members of the public on Trevor Hill. A young man was leaving a nightclub when he was punched in the face by a stranger, causing him to fall back and hit his head on a step.
Officers tend to the young man and take statements while waiting for the ambulance to arrive. One officer says this is an example of how dangerous one punch can be: "We have a One Punch awareness campaign to highlight that just one punch can kill someone or cause serious damage. You might hit someone once but you could end up facing a murder or manslaughter charge."
As the young man is treated by paramedics for what luckily seems to a non-serious injury, there is a lot of friendly banter between officers and the young people leaving pubs and clubs.
I'm told a usual Saturday night includes requests for a 'selfie' with an officer, a chance to wear their hat, and even the odd request for a lift home.
One young man approaches an officer and says he wants to join the PSNI and asks for some advice, while a few spot me in the back of the Landrover and ask an officer if I've been arrested.
As the club revellers head home, it's time for another drive around the city centre and at 3am we head back to the station after a long night.
Being on the other side of things on a Saturday night in Newry was a real eye opener - seeing just how much police officers in the city have to deal with on what is a typical shift for them.
While clearly a very rewarding job - there is a lot more to it than what people may expect, it's a vocation that requires a wide range of skills and undoubtedly a lot of patience too.

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