Bognor Regis police officer says re-introduction of bobbies on the beat will reduce crime
The re-introduction of bobbies on the beat will make a 'huge difference' to communities, according to a Bognor Regis-based Police Community Support Officer.
Sussex Police announced earlier this month that every community in Sussex will have a named PCSO starting from November 4.
PCSO Katie Harsley, who has been serving the Arun district for more than 12 years, has been told she will be covering Bognor, although the specific area of the town she will patrol has not been announced yet.
The officer believes the increased visibility of police will 'absolutely' help to deter crime.
She said: "I have covered Bognor Regis town centre for eight to nine years. I am really looking forward to bobbies on the beat coming back. It's about maintaining those links within the community and having that high visibility presence and those direct points of contact.
"It will make a huge difference. We can build up reports from local communities, contacts, collating information so that we can build an intelligence picture. Putting PCSOs back into the beat areas will create that picture we need to be able to do our jobs.
"A huge part of our role is protecting the vulnerable and minimising threat, harm and risk. When you are out in your communities, you can do that.
"I haven't been dedicated to the town for a number of years but I still go in there and maintain that relationship with the businesses and members of the public coming to police notice.
"We get a lot of positive feedback when people see us on foot patrol. There are beaming smiles and they are pleased to see us. Some stop and chat and some tell us some information which we can act upon.
"Once we know our areas, we can really get our teeth stuck into it. I'm looking forward to doing it again."
'There's a perception that the town isn't very safe'
Mark Halls, who works for Bognor Regis BID and is the director of the Business Crime Reduction Partnership (BCRP), said the changes will hopefully change the 'perception that the town isn't safe'.
"When we lost the dedicated high street teams, we saw an impact as businesses in the town centre," he said.
"Having dedicated policing teams back into the town will make a huge difference because it's high visibility reassurance. There's a perception that the town isn't very safe with a lot of people, especially in older communities. Seeing a uniform presence reassures them that it is a safe space."
Specifically on the benefit it will have to businesses which have seen a 'rise in crime', Mark added: "I think businesses gave up reporting crimes, at one time. They were under reporting shoplifting.
"With the BCRP, I actively engage with the businesses to make sure they are reported on our app which links in with the police's 101 system. We are now one of the highest reporting BCRPs in Sussex.
"We've got 68 business members on our books and have 860 reports logged, whilst 16 people are on an exclusion notice."
Mark said the app also logs reports of anti-social behaviour, criminal damage and homelessness.
He added: "It's all about multi-agency working together and businesses helping the police and local authority to come up with responses.
"We share information with police as they do with us, under a user sharing agreement. If there is a vulnerable, missing person in the area, they ping out an alert to our phones and they have access to our system as well. It works well."
'We have given the community what they asked for'
Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner Katy Bourne welcomed the re-introduction of bobbies on the beat, saying a 'thriving community relies on thriving businesses in the town centre'.
She added: "It's not just crime as it's also shop lifters and general anti-social behaviour. There is also verbal abuse.
"People want to enjoy their time here. The last thing they want to see is crime and violence."
The policing changes come after the Sussex Police and Crime Commissioner's office invested in 100 extra PCSOs for the county after securing local funding.
A spokesperson for the office said: "The policing model meant there had to be cuts to services and PCSOs at the time were a pilot role. That had to be the area where we had to make cutbacks.
"Because of the rise in officers, the chief constable could rethink that model and it is what the community was saying they have been wanting back."
'Huge team effort'
PCSO Harsley said the scheme would not be possible without the co-operation of the BID and local businesses.
She said: "It is a huge team effort. We have spent quite some time building a relationship with local businesses and key individuals such as the business warden, now employed full-time.
"They are in uniform with handcuffs and deal predominately with business crime. We tie in with them quite often, as well as the local councils, homeless charities."
PCSO Harsley said she has 'become passionate' about Bognor and 'wants to look after people and keep them safe'.
She added: "When you're there a large percentage of the time, you can do that. For a number of years, we go where the threat harm and risk is.
"It could be an area that has been hit quite hard by vehicle crime over night, so we would go over there and flood it, which made sense. If incidents came in, we were able to pick them up rather than leaving them for the dedicated PCSOs. With the changes, we will be back in the beat areas and maintain that contact with people."
The police officer did stress that waiting to speak to a PCSO on the streets is 'not an alternative' to the normal way of reporting crimes on 101.
"There has been a negative opinion from communities on the reporting system and I think it just gives them that reassurance and we can tell them how to report crimes correctly.
"I'm quite looking forward to doing that again. We will see where I get put."