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An Interesting Night with the Bristol Police

Saturday 19th October, 2013

Written by Adam Fouracre (CEO, Stand Against Violence).

IMG_1641 for webLast night I spent a shift with the Avon and Somerset Constabulary in Bristol. This is something I did in Taunton many years ago when I first started the charity, or what was at the time a campaign.

The first time I went on a ride a long 8 years ago I found it very interesting to see how fights and violence can be dispersed and prevented simply by having a police presence. One event in particular that remains with me was two groups of lads squaring up to each other in Taunton town centre. The PC I was with saw it, stopped the car, ran across and sent the two groups in opposite directions before anything could erupt. That was it, that's all it took to stop an episode of town centre violence. That's why I started the campaign to get more police on the streets, a politically focused campaign which would of course fail thanks to the lack of attention the Government pay their citizens.

Last night I experienced something that has clearly changed in the last 8 years which is extremely worrying. Fights now erupt regardless of police presence. As several of the PC's said prior to myself seeing it, people are now oblivious, whether through alcohol or a complete lack of respect by bright reflective jackets with police written all over them. They are now quite happy to get into fights right in front of a PC. No longer would a simple police presence be enough to curb violence, although at least the police were still there to break it up before things became any worse. Had the police not been there it would have been significantly worse for those on the receiving end whether they were actively spoiling for a fight or a complete innocent.

It was interesting to walk into a huge, new build police station and see a large portion of it deserted. I appreciate it was 5pm and I'm sure it is busier with admin in the day. To hear that there are also no holding cells in this purpose built building was a bit of a shock too. The building is right in the City centre yet prisoners have to be taken to Southmead or Trinity. I appreciate it is in anticipation of the new super station that they are building EVEN FURTHER out of Bristol City centre but I'm not convinced. The time it will take for an already stretched police force to arrest and transport prisoners to custody is going to tie up the polices time even more.

Officers in Bristol

Concerning still was the fact that I sat in a briefing at 10pm surrounded by around 26 police officers all of whom would initially work in pairs so that's roughly 13 patrols of officers on the ground. To hear that on an average Friday or Saturday night they can expect to see around 10,000 people going out in the City centre was a huge shock. 13 patrols across a huge area and monitoring 10,000 individuals most of whom will be intoxicated, making them vulnerable or aggressive. Not to mention they have other crime to deal with. To hear that a further 8% budget cuts are to be made in 2014 (which will always affect the front line) this is a huge worry. At present there is roughly 1 police patrol to 385 individuals or 1 police officer per 192 people who are spread out across the City centre.

It begs the question what happens to those who find themselves victims of violence when there are no police officers around and what is the likelihood of a police officer being around if you are not in the main City centre.

The briefing was interesting. Scrolling through pages of criminal mug shots and who's wanted for what. Some of the current statuses for these people were quite alarming. One individual who had been arrested for violence and assaulting a police officer was on police bail! If someone had a tendency to assault police the one place I wouldn't want him to be is on the streets!

Park Street, Bristol is one of the hot spots for violence on a Friday and Saturday night with around 161 incidents recorded last month. Divided by 8 (4 Fridays and 4 Saturdays in an average month) that's approximately 21 arrests for violence in one street of the City centre alone per night. This is just one area of Bristol. Seeing the spread sheet with another 10 here, 20 there, 30 over there and so on.

Alcohol seems to be the No.1 problem with night time crime. I am sure that if alcohol was developed in the modern day it would have been made an illegal drug with the long term and short term harm it does. It was barely 6pm when the first clearly intoxicated individuals were staggering the streets, crossing the roads without looking and putting their lives and others at risk. To be honest some were not even drunk, just daft by not looking or arrogant to think that they have the right of way on a road, even in front of the police riot van I was sat in. It does make me wonder that if some are this stupid without a drink in them what will they be like later, or when those who have had a drink have even more. It's not just the drunken violence that the police need to deal with but also the safety and vulnerable state people get themselves in to. As the night progressed low and behold the violence began. The van I was in transported two individuals who had been arrested for violence and listening to their drunken conversation was actually rather amusing. The first conversation went like this;

A) You got a b'uty spot, you got a b'uty spot! Hahaha.
B) Nah I got nutted, nah I got nutted! Hahaha.
A) You got a b'uty spot, you got a b'uty spot! Hahaha.
B) Nah I got nutted, nah I got nutted! Hahaha.

And so it went on for about 3 minutes. Then there was some banging as they started to realise they had now been arrested and that of course they had suddenly forgotten what they had done to deserve it and how they hadn't done anything wrong. Then phase three of the process which was probably most amusing was their duet of 'God Save the Queen'. To be honest they knew all the words and didn't sound too out of tune but I wonder what the Queen would have to say about their current predicament?!

BristolWe then had a call come in as a well known individual who was on 'unsupervised weekend leave' from prison was drinking in a local bar, becoming too intoxicated and was about to be removed by the door staff. They had asked for the police to be on standby and trained the CCTV cameras on the door. My only real response to this situation is 'why is a criminal on unsupervised weekend leave and in a city centre pub drinking!'

The police themselves do a fantastic job. The resources at their disposal are, as in many public sector front line work beyond inadequate. The police are not allowed to strike or strongly express themselves as others in the public sector can and literally have no choice. They suffer the negativity and abuse from (sadly) many sectors of the general public, spend roughly 4 hours doing paperwork for each person they decide to arrest (to keep the rest of us safe) which may mean they end their already tiring shift late. They then hand their cases over to the CPS and the courts who make the final decision. I will openly admit if I did their job I would be a very angry, frustrated and bitter individual. I have the upmost respect for them all.

Police in bristolIt is sad that the legal system in this Country (which is of course separate from the police) is so desperately backwards. What some of us may perceive as the police 'not doing their job' or taking years to do anything about a problem is more often than not is the bureaucracy and justice system. The police themselves are as caring and supportive to the public as a health care professional is perceived to be but sadly our frustration with the justice system is being transferred onto the police and not the courts or the Government.

So based on my experience and conversations with the police violence levels are far from acceptable in Bristol. I heard the expression that violence in Bristol is 'well managed' which the police I spoke to found quite comical that it would be referred to in this way. They don't want to manage it they want to reduce it and this is something they are struggling to achieve. It seems to be a situation of sticking a plaster on the problem every weekend but never getting to the bottom of it.

The police deserve our support and our respect. If we all set an example in ourselves to be law abiding and respectable citizens it would make their job much easier. The real criminals will be dealt with instead of the police having to pick up the Friday/Saturday night fall out where Jo Bloggs has had a skin full and thinks he's a hard man in his beer jacket making the decision to get into a fight. If you feel you have been treated unjustly or that justice has not been done then please do not blame the police who are in most cases equally as frustrated.

A huge thank you to the Avon and Somerset Constabulary for allowing me to tag along and for speaking so honestly with me.

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