Horsham police out in force as Operation Davos targets anti-social behaviour

Ready to go out for Operation Davos
Ready to go out for Operation Davos

Sussex Police research suggests that the weekend before Halloween is one of the busiest nights of the year for anti-social behaviour. To combat this Horsham police were out in force last weekend, joined by County Times reporter Harley Tamplin.

Rightly or wrongly, the grumblings about the ‘youth of today’ as anti-social troublemakers goes hand-in-hand with the common perception of Halloween.

If there is a time of year for young people to pull pranks, disturb their elders and generally be a nuisance, Halloween is that time.

Research by Sussex Police shows that the weekend before Halloween - which is also the start of half term and the date of a large public event in Horsham - is often a common one for anti-social behaviour (ASB).

That is why Horsham police organised Operation Davos for the fourth time on Saturday (October 26), and I was lucky enough to be invited to join officers on the night.

And on my arrival at Horsham police station, it is hard not to be impressed by the scale of the operation.

Sergeant Chris O’Leary briefs a team of police officers, special constables, ASB case workers and council workers in a briefing room that is too small for the number of people involved in the operation.

Davos is closely related to Operation Respect, Horsham police’s regular ASB prevention programme.

An integral part of the evening is policing a fireworks display at Horsham’s cricket ground in Cricketfield Road - PC Darren Worsfold, one of the officers on duty on the night, brilliantly dubs it ‘Respect with fireworks’.

Two riot vans are deployed in the district, and council representatives keep a close eye on CCTV so anything suspicious can be relayed to officers.

It’s a well-oiled machine.

I am handed a fluorescent police jacket - which thrills my inner six-year-old.

The fireworks display is our first stop, and we are greeted by one of the biggest factors combating ASB - anyone that may cause problems on a Saturday night is less likely to be out if it is raining.

It is simple but effective. And at Cricketfield Road the rain is torrential.

I stroll through the monsoon with PCSO Emma Walsh.

Despite the downpour, the atmosphere at the family event is good, and those attending do not hasten to approach PCSO Walsh.

“Davos is part of Operation Autumn, which is the bigger picture”, she explains.

“It is about promoting safety and responsibility.

“It is hard to measure (its success). We get so many calls in, but we encourage it, so it might just be ASB is being reported more.”

There is a strong police presence at the sodden community event, which seems necessary as thousands of people brave the conditions to see the display.

PCSO Walsh adds: “It is nice to get everybody out together to tackle all these issues, and I think it is nice for the public to see us out and about.”

After the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of the fireworks, we meet PC Worsfold, who is advising the dispersing crowd and posing for photographs.

He says: “Being in the police is not all blue light runs and dealing with violence, there is the community side of it as well.”

We leave the display and head to Horsham town centre.

I am hoping to be called to some Halloween parties - apprehending rowdy vampires and zombies so intoxicated it makes them appear all the more undead.

However, ‘PC Rain’ seems to be doing a good job at keeping potential ASB offenders indoors.

PCSO Walsh advises a group of girls to move from an area that has attracted noise complaints.

Our van is en route towards Roffey when we are alerted by the team on CCTV - and Greg Charman, the community safety manager at Horsham’s Community Safety Partnership - to two teenage girls that are suspected to be drunk in Horsham Park.

We meet Greg, on his bicycle, in the park and approach the girls.

They do not appear to be drunk - just grumpy that their privacy had been disturbed.

There is a smile on PC Worsfold’s face as the moody teenagers reject a lift home in the van.

“Four or five years ago, it was chaos,” he says.

It is shortly afterwards, in Southwater, where the only case of ASB on the night appears.

The officers seize two bottles of beer from two 16-year-old boys in Lintot Square.

After offering words of advice and taking their details, one of the boys apologetically calls ‘sorry about the alcohol’ after us.

“Some kids don’t realise that if they talk like that they get respect and a bit of a conversation”, PC Worsfold adds.

We return to Horsham to reports of a laser pen being flashed at smokers outside the Malt Shovel pub in Springfield Road.

The unsubtle presence of the riot van perhaps removes any sign of the lasers - but we are approached by three women who have lost their friend.

She is unfamiliar with Horsham, so we pick them up and, as the van fills with alcohol fumes, set off to look for her.

The most coherent member of the trio, who seems slightly embarrassed by the saga, gives officers as much information as is known.

We eventually track down the missing woman and leave the group at a taxi rank.

PC Worsfold says: “We are not a taxi service, but it is prevention more than anything else, and at least we know she is safe now.”

It may have been almost a week before Halloween - with officers set to be out in number on October 31 itself - but the quiet shift shows the success that these operations are having.

The evening also has its light-hearted moments - takeaway pizza in the office is a reminder that there are real people underneath the uniforms.

And PC Worsfold boasts about his driving ‘talents’ - desperate for recognition in the newspaper - but none of his colleagues voice their agreement.