Love Parks: It’s a fair cop
“This is the best job and I wouldn’t trade it in for anything,” said police constable Althea Mason-Josephs. “I like helping people so what better way to serve the community?”
Wandsworth boasts between 1600 – 1700 acres of parks, open spaces and cemeteries making it the greenest of inner London boroughs. It is so big that it is one of the few London boroughs to have its own police service featuring nine full-time police officers and a number of reserves.
Today I’m finding out more about the good work they do, shadowing Althea and police constable Selina Hill for a morning. Althea has been with the Parks and Events Police Service for 14 years and Selina joined just a few months ago. They are two of the most likeable and good-humoured police officers I’ve ever met and, on yet another sunny day, walking around the beautiful parks of Wandsworth makes their job seem one of the best.
“We see ourselves more as community police,” said Selina. “We try to approach every situation in a happy and positive light. As long as the bylaws are upheld these parks are for everyone to enjoy. I want people to feel as safe walking through these parks as I did growing up around here.”
Before we begin our patrol I meet with Inspector Steve Biggs, at their base in Battersea Park, who tells me more about these bylaws.
“We focus on some main areas including offering high profile protection to reassure the public and dealing with anti-social behaviour,” he said. “Then there’s enforcing the bylaws. Cycling can be a problem. There are cycle routes but there are many complaints about irresponsible cyclists going into areas they shouldn’t. Then there’s dog control orders and we’ve had instances of dogs in play areas, dogs fouling and jumping into lakes and chasing swans and geese. We also keep an eye out for rough sleepers, mopeds cutting through the park, illegal fishing, fly-tippers, unauthorised parking and barbecues – which aren’t allowed. But we try to use common sense at every opportunity.”
I’m beginning to have some idea of the amount of work involved…
We head out in a police van to one of our biggest green spaces – Tooting Common. A couple of free car parks there are full of cars illegally parked with vehicles blocking exits, cars parked on the verge and outside the designated parking bays. Althea and Selina whizz around putting ‘Unauthorised Parking’ notices on the windscreens before we head out into the park.
“People really like us just being here,” said Selina, waving at a small child on their bike. “It’s a good sign for them; a reassurance for the public.”
One man is cautioned for cycling in a non-cycling area and quickly dismounts while mostly the duo are smiling and chatting to passers-by, finding out their concerns including the café owner whose had a little trouble with anti-social behaviour in the evenings.
“Unfortunately we cannot go around to every single park every single day,” said Althea. “So it’s important for people to get in touch and tell us about any issues. Every day we get a phonecall from a member of the public.”
At Graveney Woods, near the common, Althea finds signs of rough sleeping the night before and calls it in for one of her colleagues to investigate further. Then we’re heading back to Battersea Park for the duo to oversee a spot of filming taking place by Honda. The many events taking place in the park are yet another aspect to the service’s work which range from overseeing this promotional video to the filming of the latest Mission Impossible film!
“No two days are the same,” said Selina, laughing. “The other day my colleagues found a snake that had somehow got here, we rescued pigeons and helped a gentleman find a dog he had lost.”
“And we meet such a variety of people,” added Althea. “There was David Beckham at an event and then there’s the mother who spoke to me asking if I could speak to her son whom she is worried about. This job gives us the time to hear people’s stories and try and offer some help by pointing them in the right direction for some professional help and guidance.”
As if to emphasise the variety of work they do we then attend the first day of the excellent Battersea Summer Scheme which offers lots of sporting and arty activities for children in the area. Banter with members of the public is mixed with Selina attempting the judo class as Althea cackles in the background.
“The police are a great presence here and we’ve never had a problem at the scheme because of that,” said one of the scheme’s organisers, Henrietta Croker Poole. “And they are so cheery and lovely and we have such a good relationship with them.”
· To contact the Parks and Events Police Service call 020 8871 7532 or 07500 959 442 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
· All summer the Love Parks campaign celebrates the great local parks and open spaces. Find out more at: www.wandsworth.gov.uk/loveparks
· You can post a photo of your favourite Wandsworth park on Instagram under the hashtag: #LoveParksWandsworth.
You can also tweet us a photo at @enableLC , @EnableParks and @wandbc