'We are crime stoppers and social workers' - Special report on Croydon's police response team
Croydon Police’s rapid response teams play a crucial role in catching more criminals and Croydon Guardian reporter Andy Bloss has spent two shifts with team to find out about their work.
Having lived in Croydon all my life I always thought I knew the town inside out.
I admit I am pretty critical at times of my home town. Especially when it comes to crime and policing.
But I wanted to find out more about the work of our police force and what better way than to go out and actually experience the work they are doing.
I started off by looking into policing football matches, the first time a Croydon paper had actually done such a thing, which shed an interesting light on how and why decisions were made before a big game.
I then started to focus on things away from football and went on numerous raids with safer neighbourhood teams before spending time with the Operation Zeus team who were specifically set up to tackle street robberies.
I decided the next step would be Croydon’s rapid response team.
The desk where the incident reports come in
At first I thought this would be pretty hard to organise but during a CPCG meeting Croydon’s borough commander Chief Superintendent David Musker publically offered for people to have a shift with the response team. It was a no brainer really.
Since then I have done two shifts with Croydon’s response team, the most recent two weeks ago.
The first thing I realised was the ridiculous amount of work a response team has to do in terms of both the volume of work and the range of work.
I was in one of the ANPR (automatic number plate recognition) cars with two officers and their remit was immediate response calls.
The ANPR car
During the shift we dealt with two attempted suicide calls, a road traffic collision, two domestic incidents, a car with no insurance, an alleged assault on someone who was trying to clamp a car, a retrieved stolen car and trying to help find a man who said he was being chased by a gang.
Not to mention filling in all the paper work to go with quite a few of those jobs you soon begin to understand the enormity of the job and to be honest the dedication that goes into it.
The key thing was these guys were not just dealing with your usual crimes. They were stopping cars with no insurance one minute, helping with a raid the next, then having to help to deal with a young woman who wanted to cut herself with a knife.
The latter incident was particularly interesting as the woman had cut herself with a razor blade earlier on in the day only to be left alone in the house by the ambulance service. She then called the police to say she was feeling suicidal and it was down to the response team to try and help.
When we got to the house, which was pitch black, the door was already ajar and the woman was quick to welcome in the officers by handing them a knife before inviting us into her living room where she later produced another, much larger knife which she had hidden underneath the sofa.
Thankfully after almost an hour of talking and consoling her, two close friends came to the house and took her under their wing.
PCs McGrath (left) & Toomey
“We are crime stoppers and social workers” one of the officers said. “If someone can’t get through to the ambulance service or the fire brigade or they won’t take the call, then it is up to us to go and deal with it.”
It raises the importance of mental health training and emphasises the flexibility officers need when on duty as you genuinely don’t know how a call is going to turn out.
Both officers had dealt with murder scenes including some well known Croydon cases and stressed the importance of being the first ones on the scene.
Chief Inspector Malcolm Noone, who heads up Croydon’s 24/7 response team and custody centre, told me his response teams play a vital role in the investigation process.
He said: “The response team is key to everything.
“The best response you can get is a fast one and that applies to any incident that happens. If you do that then you have the best chance of securing the best evidence and you are maximising the opportunity to bring someone to justice.
“The best opportunity to catch someone, for example a robber, is in the first 30 minutes to an hour.
“The response team does everything across the board. From a murder scene to a street stabbing to a suicide attempt to a domestic incident.”
Inside one of the response cars
Mr Noone, who has been in Croydon for the past two year having previously worked in Lambeth and Southwark, added: “Mental health is interesting. There is no doubt our officers deal with issues crime or not that have some relation to mental health.
“We have people who threaten to thrown themselves of bridges and they need instant help and we end up spending a lot of time on this.
“It is important as we are serving our communities but is it something the police should be spending a lot of their time on?
“This work for example does not factor into our statistics as these are things you don’t solve. It won’t be included in our stats and it never will be.
“We also have a sizeable number of young people who go missing. Mostly it is those in foster care or other types of cares but they are still missing person and officers spend a reasonable amount of time in finding these people.
“People will depend on the police for these issues and especially with things like suicide, we can deliver an intervention but is it the best intervention? And that is one of the difficulties.
“We get measured for going to X amount of robberies or stabbings or things like that but nowhere does it say you sat with two hours for a 15 year old who is threatening suicide as there was no one else suitable to deal with it.
“It is perhaps something that goes unnoticed in the wider public.”
Ch Insp Noone added: “I have been in Croydon for two years and I am immensely proud of work my officers do.
“The demand that is places upon them and what they deliver daily I am so proud of them and I have worked in other places in London.
“These boys and girls earn their crust. We don’t always get things right and we admit that but with the bad there is a lot of good we do.”
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