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Cannabis use by children has hit a new high: On bike patrol with the PCSOs

By Tom Seaward, The Swindon Advertiser, 29 December 2018

CANNABIS is becoming more popular among Swindon youngsters, as they turn their back on boozing in parks.

And while the town’s police community support officers are able to confiscate alcohol and dispose of it, they are not able to issue cannabis warnings or caution teens for drug possession.

If they seize cannabis, they must retain the drugs until they are told what to do by a constable or another police officer. PCSOs have no powers of arrest.

On bicycle patrol across North Swindon, experienced PCSOs Lee Hare and Kate Jackson said extensions to the power of police community support officers to deal with cannabis smokers at the roadside could make their job easier. Currently, they must call out a police constable if they find someone in possession of the class B drug, as the PCSOs are unable to arrest or caution suspects.

The pair have been patrolling Swindon since they joined the force 12-years-ago. In that time, they say they have seen use of cannabis among young people increase relative to alcohol use.

Official figures show that in Swindon 22 children were convicted over drug offences in the year to March 2017, the latest year for which data is available. 72 youngsters received cautions from police.

While the PCSOs may not have the powers to caution teens at the roadside, they do have a new tool in their arsenal.

Boasting chunky tyres and blue-and-red flashing lights, Lee and Kate now do their regular patrols around North Swindon on £1,500 mountain bikes donated by the Orbital Shopping Park.

The new bikes are lighter and faster than previous models, enabling the PCSOs to get to incidents faster.

Former Nationwide worker PCSO Lee Hare said: “The benefit of being out on the bikes is that we know the geography, we know and the cycle paths and routes. We can get to places quicker and we know where people like to hang out.”

Both Lee and Kate have chased down suspects on their bikes - and got to 999 calls quicker than their first responder colleagues driving patrol cars.

Kate said: “There was a brief spate of kids getting onto the roof of the library and Asda at the Orbital. We had so many reports from members of the public. People were really concerned for the children’s safety.”

“On one occasion, one of the kids ran off so I hopped off on the bike and chased after him. I managed to get hold of him.”

While the purpose of the cycle patrols is in part to catch criminals, it also allows the PCSOs to speak to locals.

Kate and Lee regularly post to the Swindon North Police Facebook page, asking residents where they would like the PCSOs to patrol on their bikes.

Lee added: “There’s no barrier like there is with a police car. In a car you could drive around and not speak to anybody.”

Jamie Turner, centre manager at the Orbital Shopping Park, which has bought the new police bikes, praised the pair: “Our PCSOs do great work to help keep our local area safe. I was over the moon to be able to donate the two mountain mikes and hope they'll help both of them to do their job more easily.”

The shopping centre would be running bike security marking events in the new year, he added.

ON PATROL WITH NORTH SWINDON’S BIKE COPS…

It’s been raining all day. Part of me hopes this means we won’t have to go out on the bikes. It’s a Saturday and I’ve been at work since 8am - after the newsroom Christmas party the night before. I’m tired and I want to go to bed.

PCSO Lee Hare sends me a text. Together with colleague Kate Jackson, he’s still planning to head out on patrol on the pair’s new police bikes.

We meet outside the North Swindon police point in the Orbital. There’s a lot of water on the ground. I’m wearing my thickest coat and waterproof trousers, making up for the shameful lack of mudguards on my built-like-a-tank touring bike.

But if I think the rain we’ve had is bad, it’s nothing compared to what PCSOs Kate and Lee have had to endure. Kate says she once had to be rescued by a colleague driving a police van when she got caught cycling through a lightning storm. Covered in radios and other electrical kit, continuing the cycle patrol was deemed too much of a risk.

We spend a happy three hours on the cycle paths, criss-crossing Thamesdown Drive to cover Redhouse, Abbey Meads and Haydon Wick.

The first call of the night is to the park at the top of Addinsell Road. A number of 101 callers have reported a group of youths using offensive language. When we get there, the lads are polite. They’ve gone by the time we return about an hour later.

While this group is mild-mannered, not everyone is so polite. The day before I go out on the bikes with the PCSOs, a driver hurled foul-mouthed abuse at the pair. It was a foolish move, as it turned out. Lee and Kate knew the man and a police officer later went to his house to hand him a fine under Public Order Act.

With their mountain bikes, the PCSOs are able to patrol the quieter byways more easily than PCs in panda cars. Recently, Lee and Kate were tasked to tackle a spate of anti-social behaviour incidents, where motorcycles were being ridden along footpaths in Redhouse.

And the pair have had to contend with an altogether slower challenge, saying they are occasionally followed by bike-mad Swindon teens with a fondness for pulling wheelies behind the officers.

As we finish the patrol with a coffee and chat at McDonald’s, three youngsters involved in a Swindon campaign aimed at pushing people away from violence and into cycling, joke with the PCSOs.

“We don’t like the police officers,” one teen says. “Do you like us?” asks Kate. He replies: “Yes, we know who you are.”

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