Gwent Police community officers mark 15 years on beat

Image source, Gwent Police
Image caption,
On patrol - Lisa Gibbs, nearest, is joined by new recruit Becky Llewellyn Ennis

Lisa Gibbs' first day out on the streets as a police community support officer was met with chants of "plastic policemen" from a mob of youths.

But today she insists that she and her colleagues are now respected on their beats - and have proved their worth.

She was one of the first 15 out on patrol when Gwent Police introduced the support teams exactly 15 years ago.

Celebrating the anniversary, Gwent Police said they have made "a huge difference to communities".

Ms Gibbs said the job has matured into a key tool for neighbourhood policing.

"I started work in Tredegar and at that point, the communities didn't really know much about our role which was brand new, so it was a challenge to convince them we were there to help," she recalled.

After a month of training, she was sent out into the town centre and faced her first challenge.

"There was an amusement arcade with about 15 youths there, drinking, smoking - being quite rowdy," she recalled.

"I knew I had to walk through them and talk to them. One of the boys started chanting - calling us plastic policemen.

"I turned it into a joke and asked one of the others to get a soap-box for him to stand on."

But she admitted that it was still a number of years before she and her colleagues finally won respect for the job they were doing - being the eyes and ears of the community.

Image source, Gwent Police
Image caption,
There are currently 151 community support officers in Gwent Police

Across Wales, there are now nearly 900 police and community support officers - assisting 6,700 police officers.

But unlike full-time police, Ms Gibbs and her other support officers do not have the powers of arrest or carry handcuffs.

Community officers can now find themselves helping combat low-level crime, assisting with local inquiries, dealing with anti-social behaviour issues, and providing a channel for their neighbourhoods to express crime concerns.

Gwent Police's Deputy Chief Constable Pam Kelly said: "Community support officers have made a huge difference to communities across Wales.

"Every day they provide a visible presence in our communities, they gather information that helps us deal with local and serious organised crime matters."

The Welsh Government's public services secretary Alun Davies congratulated the support teams on their anniversary, adding they have made "a really important contribution to society".