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Thursday, 19 September, 2002, 10:16 GMT 11:16 UK
The modern village bobby
Peter Taylor maintains the thin blue line
Fighting crime in remote villages is one of the issues highlighted by countryside campaigners, marching in London this weekend. In Derbyshire, retired inspector Peter Taylor runs a mobile police station, being trialled in out-of-the-way parts of the county.

Each day I go to one village in the morning and one in the afternoon. The larger villages I visit weekly, while the smallest - or quieter - places I visit once a month.

Peter Taylor: Hedge-trimming is optional
I'm based out of a Mercedes van that's been kitted out with a small reception area so people can come aboard and talk to me about any problems in the village.

Sometimes it's speeding, sometimes it's providing information on how to keep themselves or their property safe, sometimes it's tourists asking directions.

I visit 29 villages in all, so it's a lot of driving. Since January, this van has done more than 9,500 miles. Half of that is getting to and from the villages, half is what we call high-visibility patrol.


People know when I'm meant to be here, and God forbid if I'm running late

I might, for instance, drive up to the car parks where walkers leave their vehicles to let any troublemakers know that the police are about, or head for one of the hamlets that I don't visit and chat to people. As well as preventing crime, it also provides reassurance. Giving people a sense of tranquillity is a part of the job.

Village bobbies long gone

I took this on not long after I retired from the force. So after 30 years as a policeman, during which I spent time with the CID and as a hostage negotiator, I'm now one of the support staff.

To schedule round the villages
Because I no longer have any police powers, I can no longer investigate crimes myself, but I can speed up the process. If it's something serious I phone it through to the patrol officers, otherwise I take notes and refer it on to the relevant units.

While many seem happy that the van has been introduced, not everyone is impressed. One man in Castleton told me that many years ago, they used to have a village police station. Then they progressed to a bobby based at another station who'd call in from time to time, and now they've got an officer on wheels. He didn't class that as progression.

But it's not cost effective to have a village bobby any more. As well as my visit, we've now got beat managers, uniformed officers who are responsible for several villages each.

Neighbourly dispute

Many of my tasks help free up the officers on patrol to deal with more serious jobs, for they really are stretched up here.

Who to ask when there's not a policeman around?
I've got a list of stolen vehicles and suspicious vehicles with me in the van, and I radio in when I spot one. And in one instance, I had to sort out a feud over a boundary fence - the sort of thing that wastes a lot of police time. These two neighbours couldn't agree whose responsibility it was to cut a hedge, so I said 'I'll cut the darn thing while you sort it out.' As soon as I picked up the clippers, they agreed to finish the job together and now they're friends.

That's a typical example of the kind of thing I do, tasks that just improve the quality of people's lives.

Van in Wirksworth
Villagers know when to expect their new bobby
Although the van can be used if there's a major crime, the chief is adamant that it's not there for that purpose, it's on a regular slot for the people of Derbyshire. It's like a bus route - people know when I'm meant to be here, and God forbid if I'm late.

They do joke that the schedule means the burglars know when not to hit the village, but I'm not here to stop crime - I'm here to be the link between the community and the police service, to pass on information to help catch criminals, and to provide support.

When my contract's up early next year, I'd like to stay on. After 30 years in the force, I never thought I'd be as lucky as to have a job like this: beautiful scenery, very little paperwork, and the time to stop and talk to people.



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