Video: Reporter Tom goes on the beat to look at progress of patrols in park and outside schools

THEY are the eyes and ears of the community, on the streets every day to crack down on petty crimes such as illegal parking and anti-social behaviour. They are the Police Community Support Officers – or PCSO s – and to find out more about their work

THEY are the eyes and ears of the community, on the streets every day to crack down on 'petty' crimes such as illegal parking and anti-social behaviour.

They are the Police Community Support Officers - or PCSO's - and to find out more about their work, reporter TOM JACKSON became a PCSO in Fenland for a routine afternoon shift.

IN a first for the Cambs Times and Wisbech Standard, I became a PCSO to look at the progress of a school parking clampdown and of regular patrols of Wisbech Park.

I joined PCSO's Cat Francis and Mo Ali on the beat last week, which started with a walk around the park, before targeting illegal parking outside St Peter's Junior School.

I was even dressed for the occasion, complete with jacket, hat and walky-talky – but it is an offence to imitate a police officer and can result in a spell behind bars. However, I signed a special disclaimer form and was supplied with the uniform for the day.

We left the police station at 2pm and, while heading towards the park, we were told of a man drunk in De Havilland Road. A quick check found he had someone taking care of him, but it was necessary to make sure he was ok.

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Seconds later we asked a man to stop cycling on the pavement along Lynn Road - but after dismounting he jumped straight back on his bike and cycled off. It made me realise that some people take no notice of PCSO's.

"We do sometimes get ignored," said PCSO Francis. "A lot of people do get off their bike, or will get off the pavement, but some do hop back on their bike.

"I don't think they realise we've got the power to issue £30 fixed penalty notices for cycling on pavements."

Our patrol of Wisbech Park saw checks carried out in the public toilets for signs of drug use, ask a young girl walking her dog loose to put it back on a lead, and check around the bandstand for any signs of rough sleepers.

The patrol is common practice for PCSO's, to continue the crackdown against crime and anti-social behaviour.

The park was covered by the recent dispersal order and is included in the new Designated Public Places Order which, when it comes into force, will ban alcohol consumption in public.

"All this is common practice," said PCSO Ali. "We also had a problem with homeless people sleeping rough in the bushes and near the bandstand and, although that had died down now, we always check in case."

After a quick walk around the park we headed off to St Peter's Junior School in Trafford Road, for the illegal parking clampdown.

Police have had several complaints from one Trafford Road resident, of parents parking on the double-yellow lines along the road.

Her complaints led to numerous patrols by PCSO's, with warning notes handed to parents and several drivers handed fixed penalty notices.

And the work seemed to pay off. In our time outside the school there were no cars parked illegally - and a few drivers turned around to find somewhere else to park because of our presence.

PCSO Francis said: "Cars would normally have been parked outside the school, without a doubt.

"After the resident spoke to Judith Skelton, the head teacher at St Peter's, PCSO Donna Thompson visited and spoke to pupils' parents. At the same time, I was dealing with parking issues at Orchards Primary School and made some small leaflets to warn drivers before handing out tickets. Donna then used the same tactics.

"We had a few parents who, at first, were unhappy about receiving a fixed penalty notice and it is understandable. But it is something that you have to accept; it comes with the job."

The resident's complaint to the school also saw changes to the road layout approved by Cambridgeshire County Council, as part of the safer routes to school scheme. The work was expected to take place this week.

At that point, we headed back to the police station for a short debrief and a very welcome cuppa.

PCSO's regularly come under fire from critics, who say they provide policing on the cheap and replace higher-trained, better-equipped police constables on the beat. And that's unfair - without them, it was obvious that 'petty' crimes - especially illegal parking - would be rife.

But it's a massive self-reward that comes with the job - as well as the perfect chance to ply your trade in the force before becoming a full police constable - that stood out to me the most behind the scenes.

As PCSO Francis told me on the beat: "This job is a great stepping stone for me, because I would like to become a Pc. I have lived in Wisbech all my life so it is good to make an impact in your home community. You know the problems and have got the local knowledge that's needed for the job."

PCSO Ali added: "We are the link between the public and the police. We visit crime victims and pass the details to police constables, but always keep them up to date with regular visits and make sure they are happy with progress.

"But we are also the eyes and ears of the community and, if we see something we are unable to deal with, can call out constables to deal with it.