On a usual Grand Slam weekend, South Wales Police would largely be dealing with revellers spilling out of pubs and bars in towns and cities across the country.

This year is different – but no less busy. Packed streets are replaced by Covid breaches, neighbourhood concerns and a worrying increase in domestic calls.

We joined a South Wales Police response team in Merthyr to see the trials and challenges involved with policing a Grand Slam Saturday night.

We meet PC Cook and PC Cole in Merthyr Tydfil Police station at around 7pm as they prepare to begin that evening’s patrols as part of the response team.

There are already two specific covid response teams already out on duty dealing with rule breaches so this teams job is to respond to any other incidents that occur in their area.

Police find drugs in an abandoned car in Abercynon which leads to an arrest in Margaret Street, pictured.
(Image: Richard Swingler)

These can range from domestic violence incidents, antisocial behaviour calls, mental health calls, road traffic incidents – everything you would expect to find before covid was on the scene.

Their patch covers the entire Merthyr Valley – from Rhigos to Abercynon – and so officers are usually in for a busy shift.

The officers explain that a huge number of resources have been spent on policing Covid regulations and they say it would be almost impossible to police without these additional resources.

Wales’s Grand Slam clash with France kicks off at 8pm and it’s expected that the shift will get off to a quiet start while the game is being played. PC Cook explains that during quieter periods officers patrol neighbourhoods to ensure that there is a police presence on the streets but also use this time to follow up any ongoing intelligence officers are working on.

This could mean following up on any outstanding warrants, keeping an ear on the radio to see if there are any calls for assistance nearby, catch up with those who had been on the day shift for any handover and go through the briefing documents for ongoing incidents. They explain that every officer has their own intelligence so it depends who is on shift what will be followed up that day.

Considering Cardiff and Swansea have also faced each other in football today, the streets surrounding Merthyr and Aberdare are surprisingly quiet.

While patrolling Aberdare officers explain that on a usual weekend such as this then the main streets in Aberdare such as Commercial Street and Market street would be packed – with up to 200 people out in the street, not including all those in the pubs.

Officers also say that the bus stop would usually attract youths gathering, this is sometimes up to a couple of hundred people and there are often instances of underage drinking, drug use.

However people are now ordered to stay at home and so there are less calls of this nature and instead officers face domestic issues.

PC Cook explains: “Sadly, during this time I’d say domestic calls have probably doubled. With people spending time at home then arguments are now happening in households rather than in the night time economy.

Officers attend an antisocial behavior call in Aberdare
(Image: Richard Swingler)

“Unfortunately on international days such as today we do get a lot of domestic violence calls and sadly this goes up again when alcohol is involved.”

While this evening’s officers are not specifically tasked with dealing with Covid breaches, they have had their fair share of dealing with them over the last year.

PC Cook explains how the previous evening he was called to reports of a gathering of around 200 youths on a nearby field. When he arrived many had already dispersed.

He also explains that much of this policing is around engagement rather than enforcement, and youths cannot be issued Fixed Penalty Notices.

“I sympathise with them in a way, and I’m sure a lot are frustrated with the on going restrictions but I think it’s about getting across that we are there for a purpose to make sure these rules are being followed,” he said.

“Most are compliant and respectful and I think that comes down to how such things are dealt with and the rapport you build up within the community”

PC Cole says that these days officers get a lot of mental health calls but unfortunately this has gone up during Covid. He said that because people have not been able to rely on people in the same way they usually would it’s had a big impact on their metal heath. He says that mental health calls have had a huge affect on modern day policing.

After a quiet start to the shift, the officers decided to follow up on an antisocial behavior call in which an elderly couple believe they are being targeted by youths throwing rocks at their windows.

PC Cole and PC Cook are called to Ray and Pauline Osbourne’s house in Aberdare
(Image: Richard Swingler)

The call had happened around an hour earlier and this was around the seventh time the couple have recorded similar instances over the years. The couple said that they had purchased CCTV to try and deter the youths but this had yet to have an affect.

Officers visited the couple to take accounts of what had happened as well as offer support and guidance.

Ray Osbourne who lives in the property told us: “It does affect us, my wife more than me, but we shouldn’t have to put up with it in our home.

“We know exactly who it is, it’s been going on for years. We are reporting it every time as we feel as though we are being targeted.”

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After taking accounts from the pair the officers say that the incident will be followed up later that week and urge the couple to continue reporting it if it continues.

Once back in the van I ask how important it is to respond to issues such as antisocial behaviour in the community and how these are policed.

“If you look at each incident in isolation then it looks minor but it’s clearly having an affect on their lives and its their home at the end of the day,” said Pc Cook.

“They’ve had to buy CCTV so it’s clearly having an affect. With something like that the sooner you get there the better but it’s also about offering reassurance and listening to concerns.

(Image: Richard Swingler)

“A case like that is actually difficult to police because there’s no criminal damage procedure currently involved. What will happen now is that they will get a follow up visit this week and PCSOs will speak to the youths in question.”

Not long after leaving the couple in Aberdare, officers receive a radio call that a possible domestic violence incident has been reported in the vicinity.

This warrants a blue light response as a neighbour reported a female “screaming her head off” in a nearby property.

As officers rush to the scene, call handlers in South Wales Police’s headquarters in Bridgend have access to several police databases in which they can then provide response officers any additional information about the history of either the complainant or alleged victim before they reach the scene.

In this case, officers are told that there have been a series of malicious calls relating to this complainant against her neighbour. Officers bear this in mind but continue their response in relation to the domestic violence claim.

PC Cole speaks to the occupants of an address in Aberdare.
(Image: Richard Swingler)

On arrival at the address officers conduct enquiries at the property where the domestic incident was thought to be taking place and quickly establish it as a false call. The couple at the address insist there is nothing untoward and that they were in fact shouting at the rugby.

The neighbour who made the call is informed of the situation and that officers believe there is no danger. Back in the van officers explain how they deal with malicious or mistake calls.

Police explain that colleagues in the headquarters are able to access various police systems and databases and are able to pull up any warning markers – hence the suspicion of the malicious call.

They say that as everyone is at home at the moment there are a lot more neighbour issues as well as an increased amount of domestic violence calls.

“Obviously some calls end up being malicious calls but there is no way of knowing so in the first instance you have to deal with the calls as they are and come to you.

“In this case we had prior knowledge to suspect that this might not be as it was reported however you still have to treat them as they are in the first instance.”

(Image: Richard Swingler)

With the rugby still being played, the team were still far quieter than they anticipated. However they said that there is sometimes a trend in that they will receive more calls after full time.

They say that through the radio the Covid response team appears to be very busy in dealing with breaches of regulations throughout the day and into the evening.

On returning to patrols, officers soon come across a male that PC Cole has been searching for to serve him a Postal Charge Requisition, or a PCR.

These are documents which are posted to an individual who has been released under investigation for an offence informing them of when to attend court.

However, if an individual is unable to give a fixed address for such a form to be posted to them, officers have a seven day period in which these forms can be physically handed to the individual rather than posted. However, obviously, due to having no fixed abode it can sometimes be difficult to trace these people and so it was “pot luck” that the officers drove past him this evening.

PC Cole and PC Cook serve a PCR to a man in Aberdare.
(Image: Richard Swingler)

After much persuading, the gentleman agreed willingly to get into the van and travel to the police station where the officers could serve him his PCR. The officers then took him to the address where he would be staying the night.

Officers explained what a huge coincidence this was. Usually this seven day period would be used to trace the individual through known associates, word of mouth and for the most part, enquiring with people in the community.

In a force division such as Merthyr, community policing has never been more important. This division is made up of dozens of small communities where the officers themselves have grown up and so both officers on duty this evening agree that building a rapport and a relationship with the people in this community is vital to the job.

“I think it’s all about building a rapport with people, the way you speak to people goes a long way and can save you a lot of bother further down the road if things are dealt with in the right way straight away,” said PC Cook.

“You’re always going to get people who are anti police and things like that but I think as long as you treat people as they should be treated then that goes a long way. Even people who are in and out of the criminal justice system I think as long as they’re treated fairly then they can appreciate that and it makes both our job and their experience much easier.

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PC Cole agreed saying: “The reality is of working with these communities is that you spend 99% of your time dealing with 1% of the population.

“It’s often the same people you see coming in and out, it’s usually just the victim that changes so by that point you’re usually able to build some sort of a relationship with them based on previous offences and experiences and from generally having engaged with them on a regular basis.”

Just as we were beginning to head back to the station, there is a call through on the radio of a road traffic collision where the driver has abandoned their vehicle in Abercynon.

The blue lights are on and off we go to investigate.

Police find drugs in an abandoned car in Abercynon which leads to an arrest.
(Image: Richard Swingler)

Much of the contents of the vehicle was bagged up as evidence
(Image: Richard Swingler)

The officers say that dog handlers had also been made aware of the incident and could be on their way should the tracing of a scent of the driver be needed.

While the response team makes their way to the incident, checks are done on the vehicle to see if it is insured and by whom and whether it has been reported stolen recently. Currently, the only witness description officers have of the suspect is that he was wearing a hoodie.

On arrival another crew are already at the scene. A minimal amount of officers initially approach the car not to disturb the scent too much should dog handlers be used.

Police find drugs in an abandoned car in Abercynon which leads to an arrest in Margaret Street.
(Image: Richard Swingler)

Inside the car officers found several tin foil wrappers and needles often linked to heroin use, a small deal book or notebook and several phones and sim cards which they say could be linked to a potential intent to supply.

Quite crucially, there were also a number of receipts from a nearby takeaway which led officers to believe that the driver could possibly be a delivery driver.

Items that could be used for evidence were bagged up and officers began making their way back to the station.

The route back would take us past the takeaway and in a brilliant spot by the police, inside was a man wearing a hoodie and a key matching the description of the vehicle on the counter.

After a quick interrogation and search it became apparent that this was the rogue driver that the police were searching for. He had with him several blue pills, thought to be valium, and keys to the vehicle

A man is arrested after drugs are found in an abandoned crashed car
(Image: Richard Swingler)

(Image: Richard Swingler)

Pc Cole explained why a driver might abandon a vehicle after a crash.

“There’s several reasons why somebody would abandon their vehicle after a collision. In an instance like this it appears to be drug related but sometimes it could be because the vehicle is stolen, because the driver is not insured, because the driver knows they are under the influence.

“In this case it’s fortunate that only another vehicle was damaged but it could be far worse.”

After cuffing the man the police then explain to him why he is being arrested and place him in the van.

The male is clearly under the influence of drink or drugs and officers explain he will be kept overnight at the station until he is deemed fit to be interviewed tomorrow. He is then placed into the cage at the back of the van to be taken to the police station where he will be formally arrested and processed into custody.

The officers inform us that he has been arrested with possession with the intent to supply, failed to stop at a road traffic accident and unfit to drive under the influence of drink and drugs.

Officers say there could be a S18 order at a later date with could authorise the search of any property linked to the defendant.

Pictured is the arrested man arriving at Merthyr Tydfill Police Station.
(Image: Richard Swingler)

Back at the station, with the officers nearing the end of their shift, we catch up with superintendent Marc Attwell who gives us a rundown of how the evening has gone for the force and an overview of policing in today’s climate.

He says that throughout Saturday, the force have dealt with around 1,500 Covid related incidents. These are not individual calls but this is how many were converted into incidents where officers made enquiries.

A lot of these turned out to be false where it appeared as though people were breaking the rules but in fact they were not.

“The vast majority of residents of south Wales are complying,” said superintendent Attwell.

“These calls that we are going to are a very small minority of the overall population and our officers are taking a proportional approach in dealing with these.

When asked how an international day this year has compared with previous years the superintendent highlighted the different type of calls officers now received.

“It’s difficult to compare the two. Without the nighttime economy you’re getting less calls for drunk and disorderly and policing the town but with everyone being at home burglaries have also reduced. There has also been a decrease in the violence that sometimes happen in our night time economy.

(Image: Richard Swingler)

(Image: Richard Swingler)

“South Wales Police is really unique in the sense that the officers that work here actually grew up in these communities, they live in these communities now, so they know these communities really well. They’ve got a really good idea of what really happens and matters in the community and we’re really proud of that.

“How they engage with every person they deal with is great and even though a lot of the time they don’t know what they’re going to face the way they can adapt to that situation is excellent.”

He said that it helps to be a first responder if you have a connection to the area and understand the local community.

“Ultimately, we are here to keep people safe and to help people in crisis,” he said.

“First responders have to be jack of all trades. They never know what is going to confront them when they go out on a call.”

The superintendent said that policing during the Covid crisis had been tough and that people needed to remember that officers were affected by the ongoing pandemic too.

He said that the average person experiences between three and five traumatic experiences in their lives, but he average police officer will experience around 800 in the span of their career.

“These are the people who we ask to respond to and police the community as well as respond to the biggest emergencies. You deal with a range of shifts on this job but the way they are apple to apply themselves to these situations is incredible.

“At the end of the day they are jut ordinary people who are asked to respond to very extraordinary situations. They never know what they are going to ve dealing with and are an absolute credit to the force.

“People in these communities really trust these officers and it’s a real privilege to lead them.”

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