Midlothian currently has 16 community police officers, but what exactly do they do on a day to day basis?
I recently went out for a day shadowing community ward officers Dan Lennie and Jack Wall to find out.
After meeting up at Bonnyrigg Police Station and having a quick cuppa, it’s off out into the cold to check on the disabled parking bays at Lasswade Centre, which I’m informed have been a real issue recently.
Within minutes of us being there a car without a badge parks in a disabled bay despite Dan and Jack’s police van being in full view. This illegal parker stopped a blue badge holder parking in this prime spot next to the front door and immediately received a £30 fine.
Dan said: “That’s one of our main issues. It’s a sad thing. I’m just amazed at people.
“She said she was a really busy nurse and had to drop off money for her son. They always have an excuse.
“You had both sides of the argument sitting in front of you there in the space of 30 seconds.
“You have one person with a badge who can’t get parked and another who has no sympathy for the situation.”
Jack added: “We were once approached by the mother of a kid with disabilities who couldn’t get parked at the front door.
“When the staff have asked people without badges to move they wont. All 12 bays can be taken at peak times.
“They are taking their kids there to exercise but they wont walk, there is a bit of irony there.”
Next, we moved on to Rosewell Road for festive road checks, an initiative used in December to January to make sure drivers are not over the limit, as well as for checking insurance and licence details.
Dan said: “We have always done it. It’s just looking for drink drivers, which peaks at this time of year.
“Checking of insurance and giving us the opportunity to decide if the person has been drinking alcohol and whether they are fit to drive.
“It depends how much traffic we have coming down, in the end it’s a lottery.”
With no incidents of note to report we then moved onto Bonnyrigg town centre for a surgery at the town market, with locals encouraged to take their policing concerns directly to the officers.
After speaking to one concerned lady, Jack said: “She told me about parking at the medical centre and vehicles parking on the High Street.
“There has been a change in behaviour regarding parking locally recently. We will keep an eye on it and hopefully they will change their behaviour. If it becomes a long term problem we will get more involved and monitor it more.”
Dan said: “It’s always the small things that cause the biggest ripples.
“Like everything we are trying now to get back to the older style of community policing where we are much more visible. And putting yourself in a position where they can come and speak to you.
“As opposed to expecting them to come to the stations to report something, as most people wont.
“They will speak to us about parking in the street, whereas they wouldn’t phone the police about that.
“So I think make yourself visible and people will speak to you. That’s the bottom line. If it works, fantastic, if not we will try something else.”
Jack added: “We started this in the library about four months ago but we weren’t visible enough. Which is why here is much better. Visible, right in the middle of the town.
“Hopefully people using the market and making a trip into town don’t have to fit it into their lives to see us as we are here anyway. It makes it much easier.”
After heading to Straiton Retail Park for a police campaign photo shoot, I return to the day job. My little glimpse into this profession has left me with a sense that our community officers make a positive difference to Midlothian, and long may that continue.
Although they can still be called into frontline policing, other community officer duties include foot patrols, attending community council meetings and going into schools to discuss anti-social behaviour.
Dan Lennie admitted that he loves his job: “I have had great service, 28 years. I have done lots different things, CID and work with external agencies.
“I can’t recommend it highly enough. Yes it has changed over the years but in a way it’s still the same job. You still speak to people every day.
“I joined at 21, so its a big part of my life. I’ll be quite sad to leave.”
Speaking about his shift pattern Jack Wall said: “The hours are more aimed at being in the community when they need us.
“If we need to change shifts and come in on our days off for things like community council meetings we have been flexible for things like that.
“I don’t think anybody joins this job to have a quiet life.”
The officers have been pleasantly surprised at the positive effect community policing has had in their ward.
Dan said: “Kids in May that weren’t speaking to us are now coming to us with any issues they have. That was a good result.
“Making them understand that, yes, we are here to make sure no crimes are committed, but we are here for them as well.
“We spend a lot of time at Lasswade High and work with lots of local groups. It’s undeniable that it has made a difference. I can see us working more with schools in the future.
“If we speak to teenagers on the street we are far more likely to encourage them to change their behaviour rather than waiting until they are criminalised.
“Early intervention is key.”