Supervising Mecca: Policing the streets of Shoreditch

Posted on February 14, 2010

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*Article originally appeared in The Hackney Post

“You’ll have to wear this if you’re coming out with us,” says Sergeant Jeff Fulstone as a younger policeman zips me into a ballistics jacket and helps me into the van that will be their office for the night. Fulstone heads the eight-strong team charged with keeping Shoreditch safe while the weekend’s partying takes place. The Shoreditch triangle is only a small area, but with 30% of Hackney’s licensed premises focused in the area, policing it is a job testing and tedious in equal measure.The van slowly crawls the streets of the area, its inhabitants passing a bag of Haribo between them, keeping their eyes on the busy streets outside. Much of the evening is spent driving around in circles. Occasionally one member of the team will leave the van to patrol on foot for a while. “If we see a potential problem we’ll deal with it straight away,” says Fulstone. “It happens almost nightly, minor things that could escalate. It’s a case of keeping your eyes and ears open”.

Much of the work appears to be about recognising individuals. A beggar receives a hard ticking off for hassling pedestrians. “What have you got a wheelchair for? You can walk,” PC Mandy Eva asks him. He denies it. Eva is adamant she saw him walking earlier in the day. “We’ll see him again tonight,” she says. She is right. Four or five times the pesky beggar is moved on, each time protesting his innocence. Fulstone points out a pair of prostitutes walking arm and arm. “They’re not as much of a nuisance as they used to be,” he says.

When incidents do occur, the team are usually alerted to them by the venues themselves, with whom they have built up a close relationship. Two men refused entry to the Hoxton Pony at 11pm have become involved with the bouncers, with threats allegedly being traded. The team defuses the situation, but one of the men refuses to let it rest. Clearly drunk, he continually repeats himself, much to the irritation of the officers. Eventually his friend drags him away. A rowing couple cause a scene outside East Village Club, and the team steps in to restore calm. The girl involved is taken to the police station to wait for a lift home, and her boyfriend staggers off into the night, angered by the team’s ‘interference’.

“I feel like the mother to 12,000 people,” says Eva. “We’re trying to help them, keep them safe, but they moan about it and raise their voices. It’s a thankless task”. Some people do, however, appreciate the work the team does. Paul Barrett, who runs security at six venues in the area, says the team do good work. “The reason why we call them is because we don’t want any major trouble, any heavy-handed things,” he says. “If people don’t want to leave, we call them and they get moved on. They have the same team all the time, so we know them all. It’s a good relationship”.

The major issues tend to occur later in the evening, once people have had time to have more to drink. A street fight at 2.20am ends with a bleeding man hurling abuse at police and passers-by, but the team’s swift arrival at the scene means a situation that could potentially have become more serious was only a minor one. A man is arrested for punching a bouncer at 333 and throwing a bottle into a crowd. Thanks to cooperation between the bar, police and the CCTV that covers most of the area, the culprit is swiftly located and apprehended. Back at Shoreditch Police Station, he seems barely to remember what he has done. “He’s pissed as a fart,” mutters Fulstone, clearly well-used to intoxicated young men doing stupid things.

One officer admits to me that the night had been “dead”. Taxis parked in the incorrect place are moved on; people leaving clubs are ushered from the roads to the pavement. The team go about this with a sense of resignation, for they are clearly well-used to this. A “dead” night, says Fulstone, is a successful one. “If we can go through the whole night without any serious assaults then we’ve done our job”.

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Posted in: Experience