Felixstowe's new police chief

FELIXSTOWE'S new police commander Andy Bushell is settling in to his role – and getting to grips with the town's crime. RICHARD CORNWELL reports.VISIBLE, out there on the streets, and reassuring the public.

FELIXSTOWE'S new police commander Andy Bushell is settling in to his role – and getting to grips with the town's crime. RICHARD CORNWELL reports.

VISIBLE, out there on the streets, and reassuring the public.

That's where Inspector Andy Bushell wants his officers to be.

And he has already taken action to increase the contact with the public by adding another officer to the town centre and seafront beat, and this month will see the start of a "community mobile police station" project.

"I want my officers to be visible, up front, out there and reassuring people – not sat in cars any more than is necessary," said Insp Bushell.

"High visibility policing, a greater presence on the streets, is what people want.

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"Obviously, patrol officers will still have to use vehicles to respond to urgent calls, but they need to be on foot more, talking to the public, available to listen, and spend a bit of time talking to people about their problems and concerns."

The debate over whether police officers should be in their cars or on foot has raged for years.

Some will say they are more effective and responsive if they are behind the wheel of a panda, but those on the ground will collect more intelligence.

Insp Bushell has already made a start on getting the officers onto foot patrol by adding Pc Chris Dearing to the town centre beat, to join Pc Richard Durrant.

"The town centre is an enormous beat and it needs two of them to make sure there is contact there all the time with the public, to speak to shopkeepers and keep abreast of everything which is going on," he said.

The Felixstowe sector though is not just Felixstowe and the Trimleys. It encompasses the whole of the peninsula, and stretches to Warren Heath on the outskirts of Ipswich.

In the rural areas it means the beat bobbies – Pc Peter Stewart and Pc Pauline Taylor – have to use their cars more to get from place to place, but there are already moves to bring them closer to the people. One of the problems is that there are often not many people about in the villages during the day.

A new project is now under way – setting up a mobile police station and telling residents well in advance when it will be visiting, so they know they can see the police.

"The idea is that people then know the station will be there and they can pop in to have a chat and a cup of tea with the officers and talk about the problems in the area or get advice on crime prevention," said Insp Bushell.

People will be able to discuss matters of concern, report crimes, get crime prevention advice and buy items such as cycle coding kits and shed alarms, hand in found property, report lost property, or join Neighbourhood Watch.

The station has already made its first visits to the area and is due again in mid-February and early March.

Insp Bushell has many years of experience in the police in Suffolk, having began as a cadet nearly 30 years ago at the age of 19.

He was village bobby for Stratford St Mary for three years and then took on a wider patch for a further five years before moving to Ipswich to join the pro-active team, focusing on car crime and burglaries.

He then did a stint training people at force headquarters at Martlesham, before getting promoted to Sergeant at Ipswich for eight years. He then worked on a computer project, setting up a system to link custody areas and other records at all police stations.

Next it was Woodbridge as Sergeant for three years, dealing with crime, before a further promotion – and back to Ipswich – as the community inspector, looking after a range of issues including the Super Blues' games and identity parades.

At Felixstowe, he is in charge of the entire sector – with all the crime and problems of the whole area, including the overspill from Ipswich.

But he stresses that Felixstowe is one of the safest places to live in one of the safest counties in the country.

Like most small towns, it has its share of problems, but no more than expected.

Over the past year there has been a 28 per cent reduction in burglaries of homes,

and a reduction in road accidents.

Violent crime is also slightly down, and officers stress that less than four per cent of all incidents involved serious injury, more than half the victims knew their attackers, one-third was domestic, and one-third involved no injury at all. Nearly 86 per cent of the offenders were caught.

The crime rate in Felixstowe is lower than Bury St Edmunds, Lowestoft, Newmarket, Mildenhall, Haverhill and Sudbury. There were 5.2 crimes per 1,000 people last year – Ipswich had 37 – and Insp Bushell said Felixstowe's success could be attributed to pro-active policing.

One of the most nagging problems still is the theft of cycles with far more stolen than in other towns in the county. Around three bikes are taken every week – and have been for several years – and it seems peculiar to Felixstowe.

Most burglaries – indeed most of the crime – are usually committed by just a few people, usually known to the police. The recent arrest of a young man and an older man with a drug habit has eased the problem.

The nightclubs provide a regular weekend early hours hot-spot, with some disorder fuelled by drink. And officers are now well-used to dealing with these problems and control the situations expertly.

But this is only part of police work in the modern age, with people calling the police for many incidents which are not really crime, when they do not often know who to turn to for help.

"A lot of the problems we have in the area are small, persistent nuisance, but they are important to the people they affect," said Insp Bushell.

"But a concern I have is the things people contact us about which are not police work – I cannot solve a lot of these things on my own, and there has got to be co-operation with the community."

Such a problem is the teenagers gathering in Faulkeners Way, Trimley, drinking, occasionally committing minor vandalism, but mainly just their presence worrying residents.

"Improved lighting, facilities for young people, help from a youth worker, are among the ideas which might help in this situation – an inter-action between different groups, and the police will be part of it. But we cannot solve it alone," he said.

"It has to be a partnership and we must all work together – Neighbourhood Watches, residents' groups, parish and town councils. We need to re-educate people a bit on this."

Felixstowe police intend to be at the centre of the partnership, working alongside the people of the town, to make it an even safer place to live.