Sussex Police: Day in the life of a response officer gives glimpse behind thin blue line

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On Wednesday, Worthing police officer Gareth Lloyd was searching through a building site for a bone. On Thursday, he was attending to concerns for a suicidal young woman andmade sure she got the help she needed.

They were two days that summed up the life of a modern day police officer working in a response unit.

“We have to be the master of everything as we are first on scene,” Sgt Lloyd told me, as I sat alongside him in a police car.

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A daunting but exciting experience I could never have imagined myself in.

This is what you would find inside a Sussex Police car. Photo: SussexWorldThis is what you would find inside a Sussex Police car. Photo: SussexWorld
This is what you would find inside a Sussex Police car. Photo: SussexWorld

Being a journalist opens up all sorts of brilliant opportunities but shadowing a police officer for an afternoon ranks very highly.

I have always had great respect for our law enforcement teams but this was only heightened by seeing first-hand the work they do to keep the public safe.

This opportunity to join a police officer on shift came during Response Policing week of action to highlight the difficult, demanding and unpredictable work of response officers.

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Sgt Lloyd greeted me at Centenary House in Durrington – where hard-working officers file their paperwork and also where accused criminals are kept in a custody block next door.

Stab vests protect Sussex Police officers from 9mm blades. Photo: SussexWorldStab vests protect Sussex Police officers from 9mm blades. Photo: SussexWorld
Stab vests protect Sussex Police officers from 9mm blades. Photo: SussexWorld

The officer, who has been with the police for more than 20 years, has recently started on the Worthing beat after years of working across Sussex. He first talked me through how operational procedures work.

“We have no borders,” he said. “If Chichester has got a lot going on, we can move things around so the demand is met. Even if you’re based in Arundel, you might need to attend a job in Worthing, Shoreham or Crawley. We share one channel.

“When we respond to an incident, the aim is to get things back to normality. When that happens, a response officer turns from attendee to investigator. That’s probably not what people expect. You have to be able to manage the fight. Once the fight is over, you’ve got an investigation to do.

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“I’m public order trained. I’m a licensed search officer for counter terrorism. On response, we have officers who have the ability to be part detective. Just because they are dressed like this, they might have other skills.”

Reporter Sam Morton got to try on police riot gear. Photo: SussexWorldReporter Sam Morton got to try on police riot gear. Photo: SussexWorld
Reporter Sam Morton got to try on police riot gear. Photo: SussexWorld

Just a day earlier, Sgt Lloyd had been searching through rubble looking for a bone after a reported sighting in Findon. It was later confirmed that no such bone was found. The police officer told me that due to the high levels of training, you can be certain there was nothing there to find – if it was, it would have been found.

Sgt Lloyd said: “I was up at Grenfell when the rooms were cleared. We could say absolutely categorically if there were things that needed to be found, they would find it.”

I was taken on a tour around the open plan office. All the staff are based on one floor with all the departments within easy reach of each other. Sgt Lloyd said this helps in emergencies to communicate effectively but is ‘unusual’ when compared to other stations in Sussex.

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The Sgt then took me out in a police car which was a very surreal experience. But first the vehicle had to be checked thoroughly, with ‘nothing left to guess work or chance as we put some bad people in here’, the Sgt said.

There were obviously no guarantees an emergency call would come in but it didn’t take long for one to arrive when two police community support officers called for backup to deal with a mental health incident. On came the blue lights and sirens and we were off.

Upon arrival at the house, I was told to wait inside the police car as Sgt Lloyd offered his support to the SgtSOs, who have limited powers in such situations. It transpired that a young woman had been threatening to take her own life after being released from a psychiatric ward.

It was a distressing situation and a real eye opener to the mental health crisis the country is facing.

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I was extremely impressed by the way the Sgt dealt with the incident with integrity and compassion, whilst also taking control of the situation. He kept a conversation going en route to Worthing Hospital and the woman was very open about her ordeal.

Sgt Lloyd booked her in at the hospital so she could get the help she needed. En route back to the station, the police officer explained that mental health jobs such as this are all too common, which is a sad indictment of the crisis we face.

The officer told me: “I can see both sides as I used to work in the NHS. There are so many people that are poorly and need help.

“The Met has made its announcement regarding mental health but it’s not that black and white. The majority, or least 50 per cent of our work, involves mental health. There’s loads of it.

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“From a response point of view, we will lose a couple of officers each regular shift to something mental health. Whether it’s scene guard because someone is at constant watch at hospital or if they’re in custody.

“There’s not much in general day to day life that cops won’t get involved in. Who else are you going to call?

“There’s a human underneath the stab vest and we’re here to help. There’s not a person in the police that doesn’t want to help. They’re not in it for the money. Things are difficult with staffing pressures. We don’t have a book on, book off type job.

"There are high risk missing people that I’m assigned to. I can’t just clock off. It’s difficult, it’s frustrating but that’s what we do as police. It’s all I’ve known after all these years.”

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Upon arrival back at the station, I was taken on a tour around the 22-year-old custody block – where staff are under some of the most pressure anywhere in the county. I was told how some of the most nasty criminals did the most heinous things to hide evidence – with coppers having the unenviable task of watching and dealing with.

Custody Sgt Max Palfrey told me: “People arrested may be in a custody cell for five minutes or it could be an hour-and-a-half. It can get very busy and processing takes time.

“Worthing is the busiest in Sussex. We have five blocks in Sussex - Worthing, Crawley, Hastings, Eastbourne and Brighton. There are massive pressures as these guys are covering large areas.”

During this part of the tour, I was wearing a stab vest, which protects you from 9mm blades. It was a mild evening by this point but I do not envy police having to wear this heavy piece of clothing in hot weather. But stay on it must, for their own protection when out of the office.

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I also got to try on riot gear which officers use for major sporting events and other occasions when crowds could cause trouble.

“You can’t get equipment on in a couple of minutes,” the Sgt told me - and I quickly found out for myself.

“If there is crowd trouble, we don’t come in, in full riot gear unnecessarily. We get accused of causing the problem by turning up like RoboCop. We have to show that escalation. Then it’s back to police work, investigating. We go to all sorts of different jobs with different extremes the whole time.”