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Antrim's neighbourhood police never miss a beat!

FROM speed cameras and vehicle check points to crime prevention advice and drugs busts, it’s all in a day’s work for the local neighbourhood policing team.

For Sergeant Davy Thom and his colleagues, they never quite know what the day will hold for them when they lace up their boots at the start of their shift.

Sergeant Thom and the NPT are well known faces around the Borough, interacting with the public on a daily basis and tackling a wide range of issues as and when needed.

The Antrim Guardian spent a day ‘on the beat’ with the team and found out just how many different roles they take on in just one shift.

“We start the shift by uploading our daily tasks and when we have things planned, we can do our best to almost ringfence our resources,” Constable Andrew Cunningham explained, as he finished up on his computer system while slinging on his hi-vis jacket.

“Realistically, if our resources are needed though, we can be called to anywhere across North Area so we could find ourselves up around the Port or Coleraine.”

Andrew and his colleague, Paul Savage, gathered up their essentials as we headed out the door to one of the liveried vehicles - there’s certainly no rest for neighbourhood cops as they maximise every minute of their shifts.

The first stop of the day was Toome where we had a quick meeting planned with TIDAL community group, which is a key partner for the neighbourhood team on the ground.

On the way, Andrew and Paul explained that in their role, you can don a number of different hats.

“When you’re out in the car, you’re keeping an eye for traffic issues although being in a liveried vehicle helps to keep people mindful about their driving too,” Andrew continued.

“It’s also great for local people to be able to see us out and about as that visibility can be reassuring.

“You also hear talk about the police nose and very often for us, if something doesn’t quite look right, then it’s not and when we’re out, we can pick up on these things.

“For us, Antrim is a great place to be and we are made very welcome.”

In Toome, Andrew and Paul dropped off some ‘scam aware’ and crime prevention literature with Una Johnston in TIDAL and discussed how to pool resources and contacts to best effect.

With austerity cuts having a huge effect on police resources right across the Borough, the Neighbourhood Police Team keep themselves on their toes by coming up with new ways to interact with people and deliver what they do.

“TIDAL is a key contact for us and by calling out there, we were able to discuss calling in with the local senior citizens’ group to offer crime prevention advice,” Andrew said.

“We were able to pass on information about the Good Morning network and scam literature, as well as discussing Toome Fair.”

Andrew and Paul also took the opportunity to call in at the local Irish medium pre-school where the youngsters were delighted to see them.

A date has been pencilled in for the police to call out at pre-school with an Irish speaking officer and there are hopes to arrange a similar event in Crumlin.

On the way back to Randalstown via the Staffordstown Road, residents were no doubt delighted to see Andrew and Paul take the opportunity to carry out a vehicle check point where they spoke to a number of drivers and performed searches under the Justice and Security Act.

With concerns having been raised over speeding on the road and the increased traffic on the route due to the ongoing roadworks, the visible police presence will have been very welcome for locals.

Back in Randalstown, we called in with South Antrim Community Network, another group which works very closely with local police.

Janine Gaston, Suicide Prevention Development Officer was working away, preparing for a number of upcoming events.

She explained that when there is a suicide, SACN can follow in behind with support for families.

She and Andrew explained that the SD1 form, launched about 2011, is a very important tool in facilitating support for communities after a death by suicide.

“There can be a ripple effect and this form is filled in and we can try to identify that and offer support,” Janine said.

“It is vital as it links us with police and so on so we can keep each other informed and work together to keep services ongoing.

“There are times when the police will be able to phone me and let me know about things that I haven’t heard yet so that partnership is very valuable.”

As we got in the car to head back to Crumlin, Andrew and Paul said that often, when travelling between places, they would take the opportunity to follow up on information passed directly to them by local people.

“We could get a call from a neighbourhood watch coordinator telling us about an issue, like a suspicious van in a housing estate, for example, and we can use the chance to check that out,” he said.

A quick stop at the station to pick up Sergeant Thom and we were on our way to Crumlin where police are keen to continue to build on good work in the area.

Following the tragic murder of well-known Crumlin man, Robert Flowerday, the neighbourhood police are well aware of the vulnerability in the village at the moment and want to build confidence there.

“We have great groups in Randalstown and Toome who we work closely with and we really hope to work to get that going in Crumlin,” Sergeant Thom said en route.

We called with a local resident who had been left terrified in her home after it appeared to be targeted by would-be intruders in recent weeks.

She woke up after hearing noises and the next day, discovered marks around her back door.

Shaken by the incident and concerned for her own safety and that of her disabled children, she was pleased to receive a pack from the police, funded by the PCSP, to help boost her home security.

After this visit, the police were keen to carry out some speed operations in Crumlin after Sinn Fein councillor, Annemarie Logue spoke to them regarding serious concerns on a number of local roads.

“We were informed about speeding on both the Ballydonaghy Road and Cidercourt Road,” Sergeant Thom explained.

“Speeding is one of the big issues raised every single time when we ask about things that local people want us to target.

“We do need people to tell us about problem areas. If we don’t know about it, we can’t do anything.

“If we receive information about a ‘hot spot’ then that allows us to act on it.”

After two successful speed ops where - much to their relief - no local drivers found themselves on the receiving end of a fixed penalty notice, it was back to the station to prepare for the afternoon’s duty.

A quick bite of lunch was all the team took time for as Andrew briefed them on the house search which had been planned.

As the officer leading the search, he reminded the other four officers involved that the warrant had been granted to search the property in the Parkhall area under the misuse of drugs act before we set off.

Arriving at the property, the officers were unaware whether the occupants were at home, and - with the warrant - they were prepared to use the enforcer to gain entry if necessary.

There was no need for this though, as the house was occupied and the officers were granted access with no issue and an amount of Class B drugs was seized.

“This search was planned based on information which was passed on by the public,” Sergeant Thom continued after the rest of the property was searched.

“Most people don’t like drugs. They don’t want drugs in their area, they certainly don’t want to live beside a drug dealer.

“Where that information is passed on to us, we can collate that and obtain a warrant and act on it.

“It’s a great example of police working together with the community.”

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