On patrol with Solihull Street Watch team

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Local Democracy Reporter David Irwin went out on patrol in Elmdon to find out more about the Street Watch scheme:

With the Land Rover factory nearby, high-vis jackets have always been a regular sight in and around Elmdon.

But in the past eight months, residents may have noticed some fluorescent figures travelling in twos and threes, cutting through the park or making their way around the criss-cross of crescents, crofts and roads.

They are members of the suburb’s Street Watch, a community-led crime-fighting initiative, which aims to offer extra eyes and ears in the neighbourhood.

On a warm Wednesday evening I joined three of the volunteers to find out more about the scheme.

It is 6.30 when we meet on the corner of Hatchford Brook Road, and we promptly head off in the direction of Elmdon Park. I’m told the time and route of patrols tends to vary, which helps keep those up to no good on their toes.

Ward councillor Laura McCarthy (Lib Dem) was one of the original members of the group, which she said helped providing reassurance to residents.

She said: “People might see something they don’t think is quite right but it might not be something they think they should bother the police with,” she tells me, as we walk along a shaded path.

“Or for some people actually calling 101 or speaking to an officer can be quite intimidating, so they will talk to us.

“We have had some positive responses and it’s great that residents are seeing results from the work you are putting in.”

Under the trees in the park, we find the frayed remains of a sofa.

Cllr McCarthy snaps a photo on her phone to send over to the council’s fly-tipping team.

There is also a check of the ground for tell-tale signs of drug use, currently one of the main concerns in the neighbourhood, although there’s nothing to be found on this patch this evening.

The Elmdon Street Watch is one of five schemes up-and-running in the borough.

There are nine members of this branch at present, with several more due to join patrols shortly.

Among those out tonight is Mark Johnson, who has lived in the area seven years.

“It’s a close community,” he tells me. “We’re all neighbours at the end of the day and I believe things like this help you get to know people. And then everything gels.”

Cllr McCarthy started pounding the pavements a few months before she was elected to the council. The mum-of-two said that crime is a common concern raised by her constituents.

Many of the problems reported locally will be familiar to residents around the borough: off-road bikes, car thefts and, only this week, sightings of men trying doors late at night.

Back in June, there was an incident with a machete early on a Sunday evening. A crime this serious is rare for the area, although there were widespread fears earlier in the year because of a sharp rise in break-ins in the neighbourhood.

With offences having risen nationwide and the number of West Midlands officers having fallen by almost a quarter since 2010, Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson has often championed the Street Watch scheme.

“The worry I have is that the criminality will start to grow in certain areas as the criminals realise that police have limited ability to deal with some of the crime,” he said this month. “That’s where we need to mobilise communities.”

Cllr McCarthy says that she had come across some residents who were worried about local people “picking up the baton.”

“You do get people who say it’s great to see us out and about, but they disagree with the principle. They don’t think it should be up to the community.

“I see us as complementing what the police do. We are an extra group of people and it’s not about the police being able to take a step back.”

Out of the park and back among the houses, a passing cyclist stops to chat with the team on Rangoon Road. Anthony Harvey, a local builder, welcomes the scheme.

“It’s absolutely brilliant,” he says, telling the volunteers they’re welcome to stop by at his house for a drink one evening.

He reveals he has been a victim of crime himself, with crooks having tried to cut their way into his van some six months ago. And he’d also picked up reports about suspicious activity, posted on Facebook by the volunteers.

For Mark Cottrill, a Street Watch member and life-long resident of Elmdon, these sorts of comments are a big boost.

Arriving back outside the Pup and Duckling pub, he explains why he got involved.

“I had been doing a lot of walking around the area because about two years I had decided to lose weight. I thought if I was doing that anyway, I might as well get involved with this.

“I have lived within the same 300 metre area for my entire life. This is my area at the end of the day. I don’t want to see it go downhill.”

Residents interested in finding out more about Elmdon Street Watch can call Cllr McCarthy on 07867 545125. Locals can also keep up-to-date by joining the Elmdon Community Action Group Facebook page.

Street Watch facts:

* Funding for the Street Watch scheme has been provided through the West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner’s office, with resources allocated for 500 volunteers in the force area.

* Those who join up are given training and patrol their areas in pairs or small groups.

* Members liaise closely with the local police. If they come across a crime in progress they dial 999, with Cllr McCarthy reassuring those interested in getting involved that the scheme isn’t about putting people in danger.

Read more: https://www.birminghammail.co.uk/news/local-news/patrol-solihull-street-watch-team-15090737