THE late lamented Hollywood actor, Dennis Farina (Google him and then you will say "Oh him!") was once asked what his favourite cop series on television was. They asked because he was a cop before he went into acting.
Many expected the answer to be Miami Vice or The Wire but instead he said: Barney Miller. To the uninitiated, Barney Miller was a comedy detective series made in the late seventies.
Dennis Farina said: "It summed up 99% of police work. There were no speedboats or chasing international drug dealers, it was mostly the humdrum ann mostly dealing with the everyday crimes and concerns of the public"
This week, this reporter spent four hours with Essex Police up on the west side of the borough.
We "paraded" at South Ockendon police station where we were met by Sgt Nick Hampson. Nick took time to explain what his role is as a Thurrock Sgt. In many people’s eyes, a Sgt is one of the key roles as a cop.
For many, they are the key link between the constables and the brass. Once you get to Inspector, you do start to look like more of a politician than a police officer. it always amuses this reporter when even Assistant Chiefs tell the public they are not politicians. "Officer, if you weren’t a politician you would still be walking down Grays High Street".
It looks like Nick had quite a lot of admin commitments. A stream of jobs still live on the screens but at 6pm on a Saturday night, nothing they could not handle.
Nick explained their priorities as of Dec 2015. The one that stood out was Domestic Violence (DV). A few days later, Essex Police’s handling of DV and associated matters were graded as "Inadequate" by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate.
We compared the report to the constant court cases that come up on the court lists of Assault by Beating. You just wonder how a police force is expected to cope. We are totally confident that Nick and his team can cope but they need to the back up the training and the right resources. Don’t issue glossy videos of all cops using body cameras when the HMI turn up and discover that the men often use their personal mobile phones to collate evidence.
We digress. We spent the next two hours, on the beat with two plain clothes officers in Dilkes Park. Basically, youths and some of them are seventeen to eighteen years of age hang out and then on many occasions commit crimes. We know we all like to call it anti-social behaviour but this reporter likes to still call them crimes because they are..crimes
These crimes include vandalism, public order, racial abuse and possession of offensive weapons. Some are road traffic offence involving 50cc vacuum cleaners, sorry mopeds.
There is a tendency to think: "This is the highlight of your weekend, hanging outside the Tesco Express in Derwent Parade. But what did we expect, them all at home watching a debate on Syria on Channel 4?
It was a quiet night in the park. Bu the police are doing their best, They are responding to concerns expressed by the members of the community. Some have been frightened out of their wits an edit is always a strength of South Ockendon that there are community hubs that people can go to in order to express concerns.
Of course, the cops might say that there are no gangs in the park because they are patrolling.
The cops we walked with (we are not going to use any names) are good guys, who clearly enjoy their jobs and are committed. This is the humdrum that we referred to at the beginning but that is policing.
They are also deploying a soft touch. Many years ago, it would have been a big van and go and wind the youths up and get a capture, especially on a cold night.
This is more on the laissez-faire model and has to be applauded.
All quiet, so into the car and a drive down to warehouse hot spots across the town. Checking the premises. The guys know their ares, they know the trends and the patterns.
We moved onto a new crew who were hoping to get down to Lakeside. But they had spotted a youth on his moped, who had been riding on the pavement and parades. As they checked him out, a van came down the wrong way down a one way street. The Lithuanian driver was very apologetic but once you get a road traffic problem, even on the street you can have a lot of paper work as we enter the area of multiple licences, insurance questions and van ownership. The officer dealt with it diligently and professionally whilst his colleague kept an eye on the youths in Derwent Parade.
After that there was a uniform mobile patrol down into Lakeside, where they explained their hopes of the new powers to deal with cruisers. Both cops are keen to stress that the majority of cruisers are fine but it is, as they say, the small minority that spoil it for everyone.
After a few laps down in Lakeside and a piece of advice for an errant driver, we make our way back to South Ockendon police station.
As we said, it wasn’t the material for a new episode of The Wire or Luther but we can tell you that all over the world, there are shifts like this one.
We can’t help express our concern at the cripplingly low numbers of officers out there and the increasing demands.
We would like to than Chief Inspector Leigh Norris for setting up the "ride along" and we would like to express our thanks to Nick an this team for being so welcoming.