Long arm of the law is flexed in additional role of social worker

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The Independent Online
ZULU 1 is talking frankly. Kenneth Clarke, the Home Secretary and a local MP, has the reputation of a hatchet man, he says, and that may be a good thing. The police force had become stagnant, and there were people he and his colleagues would like to get rid of because they do not pull their weight. Clarke might be the man to get rid of them. Individual contracts could be the solution.

In the pre-Clarke, pre-miscarriage of justice days, remarks like these by Zulu 1's alter ego, Inspector Phil Jenkinson, 43, would not aid his promotion. It would be bad for morale. But these are different days and, in Nottinghamshire at least, contributions to debate are welcomed. And morale is rising.

This has nothing to do with the crime figures. By the end of May, there had been a 1.25 per cent increase in reported crimes in Insp Jenkinson's patch, the Carlton sub-division of Nottingham. Although thefts from vehicles and TWOCs (taken without the owner's consent) are down, the police who patrol this typical provincial urban area are mostly reacting to, rather than preventing, crime.

In particular, they are up against juvenile re-offenders who are, they think, treated too leniently by the courts. But those on the beat live in hope that things might change. To force the change, Superintendent John Tennant, the senior officer at Carlton, has turned his staff into quasi-social workers. They work in teams, patrolling the same areas so the public get to know them. Even inspectors are assigned to a patch. All of which will please Mr Clarke, who is keen on community policing. What he does not know yet is whether the right policemen are doing the right jobs at the right time, and for the right money. His inquiry will provide answers.

The Independent spent a Friday - 24 hours - with some of the 153 policemen and women in Carlton to see if the police are as stretched as they often claim.

On the admission of Supt Tennant, Friday night was comparatively quiet and although the day was not one of frantic activity, more people than usual were taken into custody. During the 24 hours, 15 people passed through the 'custody suite' - four cells, an office and a breathalyser room - for offences ranging from theft of a bicycle to grievous bodily harm. The police received 184 messages requiring action, including 41 emergency calls, and recorded 48 crimes, among them nine burglaries, 16 thefts, and eight incidents of criminal damage. But the achievements of his staff cannot be judged by figures alone.

PC Liz Martin was called to a psychiatric hospital where a man had threatened a secretary with a knife while demanding to be readmitted. Her presence was vital because of the risk of physical injury, but the long-term problem was one for the health and social services. The crime statistics show this incident as one of the 15 people going through the custody suite. But it is a lie if used to calculate the effectiveness of the fight against crime.

Last Friday, 76 uniformed officers were on duty, with 61 on the beat. Five police officers and four civilians were in the control room. All were working over six shifts out of three stations - one a converted garage. Sixteen detectives were on duty between 9am to 5pm, and one detective was working overnight.

At 10.20am, five uniformed officers were eating, seven were on foot patrol, two patrolled in a car, seven were in a meeting, one was at a burgled house and one was interviewing a prisoner. Eight of them had started work at 6am, and would be finished by 2pm; six had been working since 8am, finishing at 4pm; and nine had been on duty for 20 minutes, their day scheduled to end at 6pm. In the CID, 11 detectives were on duty, 10 of whom were making inquiries or interviewing a prisoner; one was in a meeting. The superintendent was 'ticking off' a pub licensee for allowing after-hours drinking.

Acting Sergeant John Henley greeted the 2pm shift, telling them that 'Eagle' was the code word for the day, and by 3.30pm, the uniformed branch's workload had been spread among more officers, and more paperwork was being done. Thirteen officers were now on patrol - 10 on foot, two in a car and one on a bicycle. Three were making arrests, four writing reports, two eating because of a late arrest, one dealing with a domestic dispute and one showing a group of disabled people round Carlton police station. One was on the telephone to a family support unit, one taking details of an indecency incident, two out of the station on a crime inquiry and five in the station doing other work. By this time, the detectives were writing reports in addition to their other tasks.

Sergeant Susannah Fish, a graduate of Oxford and the London School of Economics, was in the custody suite office, a small, dark room full of other officers and noise, particularly from one woman banging on a cell door. She telephoned doctors to establish the psychiatric condition of the prisoner and knew her well enough to know that she was 'not a mad woman, just an angry woman banging on the door'. She is on the fast track, having made sergeant after two and a half years. It is her reward for putting the police before a more glamorous and better-paid career. 'It may sound trite, but I have this idea about public service,' she said.

At 11.43pm, PC Kevin Drummond answered an urgent call only to find it was a domestic argument. The social services arm of Nottinghamshire Police was out again. Time will tell how much of that arm will be disbanded and how much will be built on as a result of Mr Clarke's inquiry.

(Photograph omitted)