Riding an eight-year-old girl's pink bike with handlebar tassels to apprehend burglars whilst a probationary police officer is one of Inspector Barry Hickman's most memorable moments in his 20 year career as a police officer.

BTB FIM Barry Hickman After initially joining Sussex Police in 1998, Insp Hickman was promoted to sergeant three years later before transferring to Wiltshire in 2003. Initially working in the south of the county both within custody and Neighbourhood Policing Teams (NPTs) as they were then known, Barry was promoted to inspector in 2012 and joined the Crime and Communications Centre (CCC) in 2015 where 101 and 999 calls are received.

It's fair to say that a lot has changed in the world in the past 20 years, and policing is no exception.

His first arrest 'on the job' was for a domestic violence related murder. Barry notes the advancements made within the police when dealing with domestic violence incidents and the complexities that usually accompany them: "There wasn't the confidence in the system that there is now. People are more aware of what domestic abuse is, how it can be reported and the support available to victims.

"Stereotypes have been broken down and it's recognised that domestic abuse isn't gender specific, although the principle victims tend to be female. Investigations now look for greater context and are more focussed on the bigger picture.

"We are now much more focussed on the needs of the victim, gaining their trust and confidence, actively supporting their immediate needs and applying a much more robust investigative approach to cases of domestic violence."

He also highlights how much better the police are at identifying indicators of domestic abuse and working with partners from a very early stage whereas previously we were responding to many more serious incidents after a long history of domestic incidents.

In the control room Insp Hickman's job is to manage the threat, harm and risks associated with incidents as they are reported to the police for both the public and the police. This includes making resourcing decisions, authorising firearms deployment and authorising pursuits.

Insp Hickman said: "Working in the Force control room, we are definitely seeing a different type of demand than there was when I first joined. The biggest change is that police time was mostly spent dealing with crime-related incidents, whereas these are now much less and increasingly our time is spent responding to welfare concerns and missing people.

"Welfare concerns and missing people reports are resource intensive and take a lot of time to investigate. They form a good bulk of what we deal with now."

Recent statistics show that around 25% of police time is now spent responding to mental health related incidents. When asked why he thinks that is Barry added: "It isn't just about crime fighting, it's about our most vulnerable and risk management for all parts of society.

"We are the safety blanket for the public and our partner agencies, and we are the ones that will always answer the phone, even if we're not best placed to provide the most suitable long term solution.

"Street triage is a massive help, because they work out of the control room 24/7 when we do respond to incidents involving persons experiencing a mental health crisis, our interactions and application of powers form part of a much more informed decision making process.  Street Triage provides a great deal of professional guidance on the most appropriate interventions and forms that crucial link between health services and our officers on the ground."

It's clear to see that the emergence of technology has benefited the police greatly and Barry reflects on starting as an officer with a big chunky radios around 4 times the size of those officers carry now, the introduction of GPS mapping and the internet.

"Whilst technological advancements help us do a better job and ensure we're better connected to those we work alongside they also cause us more problems.

"Social media has increased issues with vulnerability, anti-social behaviour (ASB) and created more offences. Any communication medium is going to be abused and when Mark Zuckerberg invented Facebook I'm sure he didn't think that it would become a source of online bullying and harassment."

Recent media reports highlight the increase in crime nationally and question whether fewer police officers has resulted in more crimes being committed, for Barry there's many more complexities that contribute to increasing demand.

"If I could change anything, it would be the make us all more socially accountable. More police officers are an easy answer, but it doesn't matter how many officers you have, the police are still expected to do everything and we can't."

Just to give some further context on the different types of demand the Force faces, as we're talking a deactivated mortar has been handed in to one of the enquiry offices, but the deactivation certification number doesn't match the explosive. It all turns out well in the end but it's the type of curveball the Force deals with on a daily basis.

And the biggest challenge Insp Hickman thinks the police face today?

"Meeting public expectations and our own expectations, in keeping people safe there is a lot more risk based decision making by all officers. As society grows in complexity and technology diversifies our demand will continue to intensify."

Published Thursday 9 August

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