On the beat
After kitting myself out in a “Met-vest” - a knife and bullet proof vest - I was ready to patrol with two of the town centre’s finest, Police Constable Sue Day-Sawyer and Sergeant Juliet Sowter.
Each day a team of officers dedicated to policing Croydon’s shopping district patrols the streets looking for crime and helping those who need it.
We started at North End, scene of a mini riot two weeks ago when police officers asked a school girl to pick up a piece of litter.
This incident made national headlines and reinforced the image of Croydon’s town centre as a hostile place filled with teenage gangs looking for ways to rob you.
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But a new police team, funded with outside money has dramatically reduced crime in the area.
Robberies and assaults are down, arrests up.
Moving from street-to-street PC Day-Sawyer and Sgt Sowter are a proactive presence on the street. Like old fashioned bobbies on the beat, these cops know their patch and the people on it.
One man tries to hide a can of cider in his jacket as the officers approach. Drinking in the town centre is strictly off-limits.
Trying his luck he told the officers that it was his last can and he was an alcoholic. The officers do not succumb to his protests and tipped the booze in the drain.
Sgt Sowter said: “You get to know some of these people really well and you know for some of them it is not going to end well. When they sleep on the streets they are more susceptible to drugs and the treatment they get from passers-by is horrific. I’ve seen some of them covered in cuts and bruises where late night drinkers have attacked them while they sleep.”
As we arrive in Katharine Street, the officers show me another part of their daily duties.
They searched through the bushes next to the bus stops for knives.
Sgt Sowter said: “Sometimes knives are hidden here by people who throw them from the buses or who hide them here in advance of a pre-arranged fight. They stick them in the ground with part of the handle showing so they can retrieve them later.”
PC Day-Sawyer added: “The majority of the weapons we get in the town centre are from people staying in Lunar House.
“Some of its visitors are unaware of what you can and what you can’t carry in England.
“We have seized lock-knives, screw-drivers and even a can of CS gas spray.”
We were nearing the end of the shift when we arrived at the resource centre on Wellesey Road.
An initial disruption was soon calmed down by the officers and the officers told me the majority of people who visit the centre are friendly and harmless but have just fallen on hard times.
PC Day-Sawyer said: “Interaction with the people is one of my favourite parts of the job.
“When we have to confront someone we try to smile at first as it is hard to be horrible to someone smiling at you.
“Overall most people are nice to us and understand what we are doing but you do get some who try it on.”