Anti-social behaviour and fear of crime are society s modern scourge. In Huntingdon and around Cambridgeshire, the police are fighting back. Natalie Bowyer joins the fight and steps out on patrol with a police community support officer. FREQUENT visitors

Helping out

Anti-social behaviour and fear of crime are society's modern scourge. In Huntingdon and around Cambridgeshire, the police are fighting back. Natalie Bowyer joins the fight and steps out on patrol with a police community support officer.

FREQUENT visitors to Huntingdon High Street could not have failed to notice the bright fluorescent jackets of the town's police community support officers (PCSO).

The wearer of this jacket patrols the central streets, acting as a deterrent to anyone tempted to flout the law, cause a nuisance or act in an anti-social manner.

Since beginning the job three years ago, Angie Wilson has become a familiar face in Huntingdon.

"I'm just a modern day bobbie on the beat," she explained. "I act as a visible presence in the town. I'm not saying I stop crime but my presence definitely works as a deterrent to people who are tempted to commit offences. The biggest part of my job is preventing crime and building up intelligence for the police force."

On a day-to-day basis Angie could deal with anything from purse snatches and shoplifting to helping locate missing children. She is aided in her work by her impressive local knowledge, an ability to remember a face and a radio network between police, CCTV operators in the town and shop assistants.

"In this job it is always important to remember a face. I can spot some of my regular offenders just by catching a glimpse of the back of their head and that is a real talent.

"I think criminals hide behind anonymity so when I see someone I don't know who I think may cause me a problem I make a point of noticing them and saying hello to them. That way I am letting them know I have seen them and I'm watching them."

She added: "My local knowledge has proved invaluable in my job. There was one occasion when a woman had her purse snatched from a supermarket in the town centre. I knew I was too far away too reach the scene so I decided to make my way to a site where I knew purse snatchers often dumped empty purses. When I arrived there two people matching the descriptions I had been given were there so I called for back up and they were arrested."

Modern technology has also proved invaluable to Angie. She uses a Blackberry mobile phone to receive e-mails from police headquarters about criminal activity in Huntingdon.

On this particular day, Angie's first job was to check that a group of fundraisers in Chequers Court had a licence to collect for charity.

When they produced the relevant documents Angie said: "Well you can never be too sure. We have had some cases where criminals have managed to get hold of bona fide charity boxes and collected money which they have kept for themselves."

As lunch time drew near the number of children in the town centre increased.

"I know a lot of kids have exams at the moment and are on study leave but it's impossible to tell which ones are allowed out of school at lunch time and which ones aren't."

Just then her radio beeped and without warning Angie went running off down the high street. A school boy had been caught stealing from a stationery shop in the town.

The shop alleged he had stolen two pens worth a little more than £3 in total.

Angie took the boy's name, phoned his school and then called his parents and asked them to come and collect him.

While Angie was giving the boy a good telling off, a shop assistant turned to me and said: "I think Angie does a wonderful job - whenever something happens in the town she is on the scene within minutes and just her presence is enough to reassure shop staff and make naughty children behave.

"I wouldn't want to get on the wrong side of her.