It was “heartbreaking” for the local police officers who drove through Alford early one Saturday morning this month to find the town had been scrawled with graffiti.
Residents were already pulling together to scrub the word ‘CHINK’ off their buildings and those of their neighbours.
For the Neighbourhood Sgt Cherry Kelly and PCSO Barnaby Prince, this attack on their community “was personal” - and it took just hours working closely with residents to track down the person thought to be responsible and arrest him.
The residents had woken up on Saturday, January 5, to find West Street covered in graffiti tags, using the word ‘CHINK’.
Sgt Kelly told me: “The impact on the town was massive. When I drove through the town it was heartbreaking.
“It’s such a lovely town, and it was amazing how the community came together.
You can’t help but feel responsible for the community and will do anything to find a solution -whether its solving a crime or a neighbourhood disputeSgt Cherry Kelly
“Among the people out scrubbing off the graffiti was a grandad and his grandson - but the community also helped with the investigation and gave us the name of who uses the tag.
“It was the perfect example of how we can work with the community and get results - it isn’t always that easy.”
Sgt Kelly joined the police force after a career in the RAF and spent some time as a sergeant on the Met. She moved to Skegness after her husband retured from the RAF and is now Neighbourhood Sergeant for Mablethorpe and Alford - an area of 104 square miles.
“I’ve done a variety of jobs but this is the one that keeps me awake at night,” she said. “You can’t help but feel responsible for the community, and will do anything to find a solution - whether it’s solving a crime or a neighbourhood dispute. It becomes personal.”
To see what it is like for police on the beat in these cash-strapped times for the emergency service, we joined Sgt Kelly and PCSO Prince at the police station in Station Road for a cuppa before going on patrol around the town.
The number of officers for Mablethorpe and Alford has halved in recent years - but statistics don’t always give the true picture of crime in the area.
Sgt Kelly explained Alford is in the top three in the county for ‘fear of crime’ - but remains in the bottom three for ‘likelihood of crime’.
“The graffiti incident was logged as 12 different crimes even though in reality it was ‘one’ - and that will be reflected in statistics when someone does a crime search, say if they are thinking of buying a property. But in reality we are still one of the safest areas in which to live.”
Comparisons show criminal damage up 66.7 per cent last year - from 34 in 2017 to 55 in 2018.
Burglaries are up 16.6 per cent from 54 in 2017 to 63 in 2018.
Offences involving drugs are down though, from four in 2017 to two in 2018.
With the number of officers down, reliance on the help of the public is even more vital. “We don’t have a crystal ball,” said Sgt Kelly. “We rely on the help of the public more than ever.”
In charge of the social media ‘Mabo and Alford Police’, PCSO Prince says Twitter has become a useful tool in appealing for information. “We still come in for criticism though,” he said. “We might post details of an incident and we get back comments like ‘why aren’t you there?’
“But we have a huge area to cover and we can’t be everywhere.”
But, after the graffiti incident, police were praised for their fast action. Residents were certainly pleased to see the officers involved arrest a suspect when we went on walkabout – and the graffiti incident was still on people’s minds.
We were met by owner Julie Webster in the Alzheimers Research shop.
“When it first happened people were doing their nuts about it,” she said. “The community really pulled together though to scrub the graffiti off the walls, and now people are really pleased the police arrested someone so quickly.”
Mark Lawrence of Askews Furniture, which was one of the businesses targeted, said police responded very quickly to his call. “They were a friendly face and gave me as much time as I needed. I can’t fault them,” he said.
Ann Ferris and Sue Boyce also stopped to have a chat with Sgt Kelly.
“We know there are not so many police about, but we are always pleased to see our local officers and they are very approachable.”
There is a yellow phone for the public to use outside the police station, but volunteers make sure it’s open as much as possible when the officers are not in town. If you have anything to report, call police on 101, unless it is an emergency when you should call 999.”
The graffiti suspect comes before Lincoln Magistrates Court on January 22.