A common complaint is there are no bobbies on the beat anymore, but it’s just not true, say Leigh officers. PAUL NIZINSKYJ joined them on a night shift to see how policing has changed with tighter budgets and new gadgets.

“IF you do get into a hairy situation, make sure you don’t do anything to put yourself in danger,” says Inspector Brad Dickel.

The Leigh chief officer was briefing me on some of the possible pitfalls of joining two officers in a squad car for the evening, as they made their way around Leigh, keeping an eye out for the criminal element and hopefully catching some of them in the act.

He told his officers he wanted to see the use of stop and search that evening, so I prepared myself for some action.

As it happened, we ended up seeing more foxes than crooks, although it was a revealing look at how the force is dealing with burglary in Southend.

While officers do patrol certain areas on foot, much of the work is now done in cars, and plain clothes officers were also sent out on bicycles to keep an eye on the area.

So, even when you might not feel you see officers, it doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

PC Dave Lindsey said: “Part of what we do is look out for obvious things that might make a house a target.

“We see things other people don’t and we get a feel for what looks like an unoccupied house, which is what burglars look for.

“We also look for people and cars that look misplaced, perhaps they’re in an unusual place or are there at an unusual time.

Seeing the same person a couple of times while you’re out also arouses suspicion.”

As Leigh is perhaps one of the most diverse areas of Southend borough, we drive through areas of obvious wealth with large detached houses and some of the poorer areas of the district. The area we were driving through had been identified, by a computer programme, as being at-risk of burglary.

The system was introduced in October and has been used by the force to more efficiently deploy its beat officers. And, since burglars do not distinguish between rich and poor, neither does the software.

Dave said: “Within Leigh, you do get burglaries in the affluent areas, but also in the less affluent areas.

“Their choices are made on the vulnerability of the house, more than anything, meaning the targets are quite varied.

“It comes down to finding some way of deploying officers where there’s a good chance of success.”

As Inspector Dickel adds, however, there is only so much the police can do – especially with the force’s budget being cut again next year. A large part of their daily battle against crime is getting ordinary people to do their bit to protect themselves.

He said: “We’re really looking for the public to help us drive down crime.

“We’re finding a lot of properties have been prised open using things from an unsecured garden, which is easily avoidable, and a lot of house alarms are ignored as they’re seen as a nuisance.

“We’ve had burglaries where the alarm has sounded and no one has bothered checking.

“We would say don’t dismiss them.”