Drugs, knives and a rogue trader: Eight hours with Corby police
"We know what they're doing, we know who they're doing it with."
PC Vince Bangs grew up on the Lincoln Estate. He has been a police officer in the town for two decades and knows every con, every car they drive, every friend they associate with and every house or flat they use for their criminal activity. He's all about the intel, which is committed to his encyclopaedic memory and used whenever he sees a suspicious vehicle or a dodgy-looking hooded youth.
Joel Gilmore, who grew up in Leicestershire is fresh out of his 17-week police training course and it's his first ever day on the beat. The only time he's ever previously been to Corby is to watch the racing at Rockingham Speedway.
We were invited to spend an eight-hour shift with the two PCs to find out what really happens among the criminal fraternities of Corby.
Our day starts with a 2pm briefing at the Northants Police Northern Accommodation Bureau - the NAB - in Cherry Hall Road. There are groans as officers are told that a prolific Corby criminal is out of prison early after a few short months, despite being sentenced to three years behind bars. Another former drug dealer is also back in the town, we're told, and advised to look out for him.
When PC Bangs started out in the special constabulary in 1993 his kit was a notebook and a baton. The notebook's been replaced with a phone app called Pronto which has a range of features including note-taking as well as recording incident logs, crimes and road traffic accidents . Officers can also click on an incident they're being sent to and google will map it for them. They also have hi-vis jackets, waterproof trousers, knife-tubes, breathalysers, body-worn cameras, tasers, and radios connected to earpieces that crucially can't be heard by passers-by.
"I like Pronto," he says, admitting "I wasn't the best at using my notebook and it was difficult having to flick back 50 pages to find anything. Pronto records wherever we are automatically and it's really easy to look back at incidents to jog your memory."
PC Gilmore, conversely, says he likes to write everything down so he can see it.
The Kettering and Corby response team can patrol in their vehicles anywhere across the two boroughs until they're deployed to an emergency job, but PC Bangs says those it's often the case that those who used to be based in Corby habitually turn right out of the NAB and those who were based in Kettering turn left.
As soon as we get into the car, there's a 999 call. The daughter of an 85-year-old woman on the Hazel Leys estate has called to say there are rogue traders at her mum's house. It takes about five minutes to get there on blue-lights up the A6003.
The rickety-looking ladders are still up against the wall and it appears that the elderly woman has agreed a £500 price for two pieces of 10 metre guttering to be replaced. The old asbestos guttering is chucked on the front lawn and a young boy, who tells us he's 16, is in the garden.
"I'm not normally taken in," says the elderly woman. "But I don't know how much it should cost to get new guttering so I said yes to him."
"It's really rare that we come out to rogue traders and find them still here," says PC Bangs. "We normally don't find out until afterwards and unfortunately it's often difficult to investigate afterwards."
The residents round here look out for one another and the woman's next-door neighbour of 60 years is in her kitchen.
PC Bangs speaks to the young lad who appears to be doing the job alone. He says his mate has gone to get materials. PC Bangs phones Corby Council to come and take a look at the asbestos pipe which, it's decided, needs to be correctly disposed-of by someone with a licence to do so. But the resident may have to fork out for this.
No crime has been committed so the lad is sent on his way with the job half done and the elderly woman is given advice on what to do if he returns for payment.
Several curious people stroll over to talk to us and PC Gilmore - who hails from Leicester - looks a bit confused as he gets his first taste of the unique Corby accent. An ageing Aberdonian who's still as broad as the day he left the Scottish port town fifty years ago talks to us about how he's already sent one set of rogue roofers on their way this week.
There's another message over the radio. A man that police know has been involved in serious crime in Corby for years has been at it again. He's now wanted for a vicious assault. We head straight for his house. He's not there but PC Bangs knows the cars he drives and the people he associates with so we spend some time driving to his known hideouts trying to spot his car or those vehicles owned by friends.
Other officers are also keen to get him and most of the response team is on the look-out for him around the town.
Back in the car, we drive to the Lincoln estate. There are a few repeat offenders here and PC Bangs likes to keep an eye on what they're up to. Then it's back to the address of the wanted man to see if he's returned home for the evening. He hasn't.
We drive to Oakley Road there's an abandoned car that's broken down. It has no insurance and the owner can't be contacted so we have to wait while the recovery truck arrives. While we do so, PC Bangs tells me about how useful ANPR is to the force. A while ago, he noticed a pattern of high-value cars going missing and decided to keep a note of suspicious registrations. He was then able to liaise with detectives and between them, using ANPR cameras on county borders, they uncovered a crime gang stealing fancy cars from Northants and neighbouring counties and taking them to Gloucestershire where they were being sold.
We hear that two woman are scrapping on the Danesholme estate. Other officers are dispatched there and we're called to the Kingswood estate. These streets are designed so that cars are kept off the 'walks' which can make if hard for officer to catch criminals who run and hide down the maze of alleyways. This time the police have a warrant to search the property of a man who is wanted for an attempted GBH during a drug deal gone wrong. He has a history of youth offending but now he's an adult and a known knife-carrier.
Five other officers join us and we walk quietly down the street to the house. One officer knocks on the door while others go around the back. The wanted man sticks his head out of the upstairs window, partly-clothed, and seemingly confused as to why there are several officers outside his house.
He lets us in and tells us immediately that he hasn't done anything wrong and hasn't left his house for days.
While he's getting some clothes on officers go upstairs to check he's not disposing of any evidence.
I speak to his aunt. She says they're used to this.
"If you carry knives, this is what happens," she says, telling me her brother was killed many years ago after being stabbed.
The suspect is arrested and we take him to the cells in Kettering, leaving several officers searching his home. He says he's been working in one of the town's warehouses and hasn't been in the back of a police car for several months.
He's already cut the cord out of his tracksuit bottoms because he knows the procedure. We don't have to wait long, but despite there being more than enough cells it can get so busy at times that there's a long wait for officers trying to get their defendants booked in because there aren't enough staff to cover the large, modern custody suite that was built just a couple of years ago. Inspectors said last year that the facility was insufficiently-staffed.
PC Gilmore fills in the paperwork and searches the suspect.
The defendant is handed over to a detective who immediately gets a message on his phone. It's a picture of eleven knives that the police search team have found in the suspect's bedroom.
We head back to Corby. We nip into Tesco on the Oakley Vale estate for some food. People stop to say hello and smile. Public opinion on police officers has changed over the past decade - helped largely by officers speaking out about their jobs on social media and programmes like Channel 4's 999: What's Your Emergency, that PC Bangs appeared in along with his Northamptonshire colleagues earlier this year.
PC Gilmore says he's joined the Northamptonshire force as he was keen to work in a different type of area following two years as a PCSO in Leicestershire.
"There are big problems there with what are known as legal highs," he says. "Black Mamba is the big one. People walk around like zombies."
Black Mamba is not a big problem in Corby. Heroin and cocaine, says PC Bangs, are the drugs of choice here.
The pair are both due to carry Tasers soon after Chief Constable Nick Adderley announced all officers should be able to carry one.
PC Bangs thinks it's a necessary shift after seeing assaults on constables rise. He suffered a broken jaw in an incident several years ago. Thankfully, guns are not common in Corby and an armed response is only occasionally needed in the town.
"I've only ever seen one person red-dotted," he says. "And I've never seen anybody be shot."
We spend more time trying to find the wanted man from the beginning of the night who has eluded police all evening. Officers believe he may be holed up with an associate on the Oakley Vale estate so we head there before the end of the shift.
"I understand why people were upset when they closed the police station in Corby," said PC Bangs. "But what hasn't changed is that we do spend pretty much our whole shift in the town. We're not hiding away at the NAB."
It's the end of the shift. Officers are disappointed they haven't caught their man but they're confident he'll reappear eventually, as he always does.
"We know what they're doing. We know who they're doing it with but you can't always be there at exactly the right time," says PC Bangs. "We'll get him eventually though."