Horsham police believe that Operation Respect is a key reason why anti-social behaviour is falling across the district. County Times reporter Harley Tamplin joined officers on the beat on Saturday evening (September 28) to see how the scheme works.
There is no way Horsham police can be accused of not taking anti-social behaviour (ASB) seriously.
On Saturday evening, a riot van and a police car could be seen patrolling some of the district’s villages - and it is the young people that are the reason for the police presence.
I join officers based at Steyning to see how police are helping to reduce the number of cases of ASB. It is a figure that police believe is strongly related to the decrease in crime.
At Steyning, I join PC John Burt and special constable (SC) Jackie Connor on patrol.
PC Burt explains that Operation Respect targets 11 to 16 year olds, as we head towards Storrington - ‘one of the troublesome areas’ for ASB.
“Operation Respect is about people respecting the places they live, the people they live with and the community they live in,” says PC Burt.
ASB takes a wide range of forms - from annoying shop keepers and intimidating elderly people to general swearing and neighbourly disputes.
The possibility of a busy evening is high when the officers inform me of a fight in Storrington the night before. Could the trouble continue?
“They [young people] are fine when they are on their own, but in a group it is the pack mentality”, adds PC Burt.
“I would much rather educate them than rap their knuckles, any day.
“They don’t understand at that age what it can mean to them in the future.”
Education is a vital component of the operation. The patrolling riot van carries an ASB case worker, on hand to offer advice and support to youngsters on the streets.
It seems to be a successful formula. Police believe that by supporting offenders at a young age they may not commit crimes in the future.
As soon as our car rolls into Storrington a familiar group is spotted. I am pleasantly surprised as the officers name the teenagers from a distance.
The positive rapport between youngsters and police officers is immediately obvious as they approach the parked car.
The exchange is encouraging - PC Burt and SC Connor offer advice and support, and continue to do so whenever members of the group are spotted throughout the evening.
One says to the officers: “We know you are looking out for us at the end of the day.”
Another asks to speak to ASB case worker Shelley Gosden - proof the operation is improving communications.
PC Burt says: “Some say it is a waste of time talking to these kids, but the way we look at it is it is a way of preventing them from committing crimes in the future.”
The young group seem to be disappearing as the evening draws in. The shift is looking like a quiet one.
But one call, coming just before 7pm, changes everything.
I am spectacularly caught off-guard as the siren suddenly blares out and PC Burt accelerates through a quiet Storrington residential area.
Perhaps sensing my confusion, SC Connor explains that a woman has fallen into a river from a footbridge in Bramber.
“I hope you’ve got your seatbelt on,” she says.
It is a good thing I do, because the blue light run is exhilarating. I admire PC Burt’s driving skills as we overtake a number of vehicles en route to the scene of the accident.
“Quite a unique call, this one,” SC Connor adds. The officers had earlier stressed that it is impossible to say what a shift will be like.
We reach the bridge but there is no sign of the woman. We hear on the radio that other officers have reached the scene and the woman is safe.
As Operation Respect continues, I struggle to re-focus following the adrenaline rush.
I later join Sergeant Bob Trevis in the riot van but there is no sign of any ASB.
This pleases the policing team - there is no doubt that targeting youngsters at an early age through Operation Respct is paying off.