Reporter experiences a typical Friday night with the police in Dereham, Swaffham and Watton

Some may think that patrolling Norfolk's traditional market towns would be a quiet affair. Reporter Sophie Wyllie joins the public order team in Swaffham, Watton and Dereham on a typical Friday night to see what challenges they face.

'Alcohol is nearly always a factor in disorderly behaviour and alcohol is a lot easier to get hold of now by people of all ages,' said PC Paula Gilluley, beat manager at Swaffham police station.

As we sat down at 9pm at the start of a night shift on the public order van, she warned me: 'Normally when we have someone shadow us for the night, nothing much ever happens.'

She added that if there have been no crimes during a shift that meant the team has done a good job.

But at 10.15pm she got a call on her radio - the so-called 'riot van' was on its way to pick us up and take us to a grade B incident in Watton.

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Five minutes later the large vehicle, with its metal grid at the front, arrived and we were on our way.

In the van was Sgt Graeme Bentley and two other officers and while we took the 15-minute journey to Watton on windy back roads the radio continued to blast out alerts of possible offences around the county.

As we drove into the town the team was unsure about what crime they would have to deal with but when the officers found the house they were confronted with a disturbance.

The public order team was joined by another group of officers who were on patrol that night in Dereham, Swaffham and Watton, as well as the surrounding villages.

Sgt Mark Goodbody, from Dereham's Safer Neighbourhood Team, was part of that group and said even though policing has changed a lot over the years it has mostly changed for the better and he is still pleased to be doing front-line work.

'I don't think I could ever work in an office,' he added.

But he said that Dereham and other market towns used to have half the problems currently experienced since the 24-hour drinking law was passed by Labour in 2003.

Two men were arrested and put into the back of the van to be taken to the Wymondham Police Investigation Centre (PIC) - another journey along rural roads. Another man was also arrested but was not put in the van.

It was clear the men had been drinking and even though the atmosphere started out quite calm, towards the end of the journey they were starting to get agitated, which could have easily turned into aggression.

Sgt Bentley said: 'It is quite amazing how many resources one job will take up but we are all about preventing an incident.'

He added it was scary for police officers to deal with a violent person for the first time, but they get used to it.

The new model of policing for Norfolk police introduced on January 9, which includes more patrols and better access to the public order vans for all areas of Norfolk, had been very effective, he explained.

When the public order vans are in use on a Friday and Saturday night, as well as the Breckland van, there are three available in Great Yarmouth, three in King's Lynn, four in Norwich city centre and one in Thetford.

Each policing area also has a smaller vehicle which is used to transport people who are arrested.

As soon as we arrived at the Wymondham PIC to put the two men into custody an urgent call came through about a teenage fight in Dereham which had got out of control.

This was a grade A emergency and instead of travelling on the rural roads, in order to save time, we travelled to the disorder with the blue light flashing on the A11 and A47 where we could get up to speeds of about 130mph.

A party at a rented flat had gone out of control and a crowd of about 20 teenagers had spilled onto the street.

Some of the teenagers had been drinking alcohol and among the confusion a girl, who was part of the group, had been hit by a car after she accidentally stepped onto the road.

An ambulance was already there when we arrived just after 11.30pm but she had not been seriously injured and could speak.

The situation became heated, with some officers having to be very direct with the teenagers, and there were times when it could have erupted.

PC Gilluley said: 'We are not just about locking people up. If we can prevent someone being hurt we will - we can nip things in the bud. We will stop and have a chat with people and give them advice but if they don't take the advice on board we will come back and they will be dealt with appropriately.

'Our best equipment is our eyes, ears and mouths. You need to listen to people and get their point of view and communicate with them effectively - whether that is being sympathetic or more direct.'

But she added that violence was dealt with robustly and anti-social behaviour was a 'big hot potato' in market towns.

By 12.15am there were about seven officers trying to separate the group and make them go home.

The teenagers split off into different directions and after patrolling the town in the van, which is used as a 'physical deterrent' for potential criminals, we had learned that they had gathered in another part of town.

While I was taken back to my car at just after 1am the situation had kicked off again, which I was told would take a few hours to sort out. At this point I was glad to be going back home: it's not easy going on the beat in a small town.

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