Connection with community is priceless

AS we sit in the crew room at the police station before setting out for the evening there is a palpable sense of eagerness to get out and about on what’s sure to be a long shift.

I’m not sure what I expected from my Halloween patrol but it’s safe to say I was looking forward to the night ahead, if a little nervous at the prospect of the call-outs we might receive.

As we near the beginning of the shift the eight full-time and six part-time officers - some of whom will work a 12-hour shift for Halloween - don their jumpers and high-vis jackets for a cold night and chat about what may lie ahead.

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Some of them have experience working in other stations - the newest officer has been in the service for around eight years - and admit Banbridge provides a pretty pleasant working environment compared to city stations in Belfast.

I’m somewhat surprised that most of the children at the Nomad cage and some of those present at many of the later call-outs know Sergeant Stewart and his team by name. Their strong connection to the community is clear - and it probably helps when some of the team join the young people as they bob for apples in Edenderry Park.

And the personalities behind the uniforms come to the fore the longer I spend with the team. While we’re travelling along the bumpy Circular Road in the landrover Constable Wylie explains that even after leaving her full-time position to look after her three children, she remained as a part-time officer because of her love of the job. She is grateful that she can balance family life with a job she loves - and has done for the past 23 years.

Later Constable Chris Mulholland, who chauffeurs us in the jeep all night, informs me he is set to star in a local production of Cinderella alongside two of his colleagues in an effort reach out to those in the community with learning difficulties. His colleagues delight in asking him to do impressions of his character Buttons during our tea-break back at the station.

It is clear the officers are committed to not only doing their day jobs but also to whatever else may be expected of them outside of that.

Being well-known can mean it takes Sergeant Stewart half an hour to walk from Church Square to Newry Street but he said that connection with the local community is priceless in order to do the job they love - and, from what I can see, it seems to be working.