Newtownabbey police ride along: 'I had a first-hand view as patrols visited anti-social hotspots including Glengormley park'

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Following a spate of anti-social behaviour in Glengormley, which included a play park being forced to close for repair work, reporter Russell Keers joined PSNI Newtownabbey Neighbourhood officers during a weekend shift to see first-hand how the issue is being tackled.

Police started to see an increased number of reports being made about anti-social behaviour in April in Glengormley, including at Lilian Bland Community Park and dedicated resources were put into place in an effort to address the issue.

The following month, comments were posted by the PSNI’s digital team on social media, urging parents and guardians to be aware of what their young people were up to and advising anyone visiting the Antrim and Newtownabbey Council-operated facility to be mindful of residents and their property.

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On May 22, the local authority stated the play park at the Ballyclare Road site had been closed to facilitate repair works after overnight vandalism caused “extensive damage” to the facility.

Bytes Youth Workers have been engaging with young people in Glengormley. (Pic: NI World).Bytes Youth Workers have been engaging with young people in Glengormley. (Pic: NI World).
Bytes Youth Workers have been engaging with young people in Glengormley. (Pic: NI World).

On Friday (May 31) evening, I joined two officers as they patrolled across some of the area’s ‘anti-social hotspots.’ Lilian Bland Community Park was the first location to be attended.

When the patrol arrived in a marked squad car shortly after 5.30pm, dozens of young people were congregating in the park, aged from primary school through to approximately 16.

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Many of the young people were on first-name terms with the officers and it was evident the members of the Neighbourhood Policing Team had a rapport with them.

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The area was calm and as families with children enjoyed the park alongside dog walkers and teenagers who were socialising at the start of their weekend, it was an opportunity to witness some of the hard work going on in the background to help keep a lid on any potential anti-social behaviour.

The Bytes Project, based on the Antrim Road in the centre of Glengormley, works at helping young people transform their lives for the better. Two of the organisation’s youth work staff members detailed how it is important to build relationships with the young people.

Speaking at the location, they explained: “We’re on the ground to ensure the young people are safe. We know a lot of the young people who come to the area and we’ve been able to build up a relationship with many of them.

"We want to be approachable and for the young people to be able to feel that they can talk to us and explain any problems they’re facing.

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"Teenage years can be challenging at the best of times, but following the Covid-19 pandemic we’ve seen an increase in the number of people struggling with anxiety and other issues. We’re here to help.

"We operate a drop-in centre, which is a safe space. It gives the young people somewhere to come and socialise and do activities such as playing pool, gaming, or doing arts and crafts.

"In addition to drop-in, we offer opportunities to engage in educational and awareness raising programmes that promote personal development and life skills in young people.

"Some of the young people are struggling at school and they may not have the backing of someone at home who values education. We offer support services to stop them falling through the net.

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"We can help with preparing CVs for when they’re seeking employment and deliver sessions to support them in gaining employability skills. We want them to reach their potential and we do everything we can to make sure they’re aware of the paths they can take in life.”

Having identified underage drinking as a problem in the area, the youth work staff offer help and guidance.

“We work with other agencies to ensure that if anyone is under the influence of drink or drugs, that they’re safe. We carry a first aid kit and can provide water. We talk to young people on-street about keeping safe and raise awareness of the risks and consequences associated with drugs and alcohol and engaging in anti-social behaviour.

"Glengormley is a nice area and we’re passionate about the young people who live and socialise here. Hopefully we can make a positive difference in their lives.”

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The patrol also took in Global Point, site of a recent incident where a number of windows were smashed at a factory which is currently under construction. The business park was quiet when the officers attended.

V36 has been the site of sporadic anti-social behaviour over recent years. When the patrol car drove through, the skate park was full of young extreme sports fans enjoying their Friday evening, with no anti-social behaviour evident.

As the patrol drew to a close, it appeared that the tactic of engaging with the young people and working alongside partner agencies was helping to tackle anti-social behaviour.

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Sgt Gareth Neill explained: “Some of the young people we speak to could be susceptible to the influence of paramilitary or crime gangs. We want the young people who visit the parks and open spaces across the borough to be safe as well as everyone else who is there to enjoy them.

"There had been a few incidents at Lilian Bland Community Park recently, but these seem to have been out of character for the area.

"We know that young people from outside the area are coming to the park via the bus service into the centre of Glengormley. We would advise that anyone who is coming to the area to be mindful of local residents and their property.

"We’ll continue to conduct visible patrols across the region. If anyone wishes to report an incident, please phone 101, or 999 in an emergency.”