New Barking & Dagenham police team keeping parks safe

“I LOVE this job,” proclaimed PC Keith Harvey as we cycled through Barking Park.

“You go to work in the morning, get on your bike and you don’t know where you might be or what might have happened by the end of the day.”

PC Harvey and fellow officer, PC Paul Berry, are part of a new Safer Neighbourhood Team (SNT) exclusively dedicated to parks in the borough.

The unit was formed just two months ago, after Barking & Dagenham council put an end to the parks police.

There are six officers – five PCs and Sergeant James Browning – all brimming with enthusiasm for their new job.

“Granted we haven’t been out on the bikes in the depths of winter yet,” said PC Harvey. “We might all change our minds come November and be longing to be back in the office,” he joked.

But joining them for the day on my own bike to see what their job is all about, I have to say it doesn’t seem very likely.

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First we spot an elderly man who is riding his scooter along the footpaths in Barking Park towards the allotments.

The officers have had a call about him before from the rangers and immediately chase down and stop the vehicle.

The driver, who was unaware he was breaking the law, was issued with a written warning.

PC Harvey said: “This means that if he is caught for another driving offence we can seize his scooter.

“We are in these parks first and foremost to protect the public so the people using the parks properly enjoy their time here.

“What this man was doing endangered other park users.”

Teenagers using mini-motorbikes and mopeds in parks has long been a concern for families living nearby.

Eastbrookend Country Park has had problems recently with teens racing bikes along the road near the cemetery, but the new SNT are targeting the area with their patrols.

Next the officers check the public toilets for drug users. “Quite often we get people smoking cannabis in there,” said PC Berry.

“Occasionally we find sexually explicit messages written in the cubicles which we try to put a stop to because children have to use these toilets too.”

The officers carry out weapons and drugs sweeps in the bushes, checking any bottles they find for alcohol.

“Teenagers have taken to mixing their drinks before they go to the park,” said PC Berry. “Then when we stop them, they claim its just cola. But we have been given dip sticks to test for alcohol.”

In Mayesbrook Park the two PCs stop and search three young lads who are loitering in the undergrowth. None of them are carrying anything illegal.

Back on our bikes and the officers do another drugs sweep around some of the hotspot areas, stopping to chat to dog walkers along the way.

“This job is mainly about reassuring people,” says PC Harvey.

“We are visible on our bikes and people can stop and talk to us and tell us about any problems in the parks.

“And I think it’s working already. We have got to know the areas where drug dealers and takers hang out and now they keep away.”

If you want to contact the borough parks SNT call 07525 410 394.