I got to spend last Saturday night in the back seat of a patrol car as it drove through the city streets of Lisburn. It was a typically busy night, I was told.
Police carried out an operation targeting ‘alcohol harm’ as part of a UK wide initiative.
Officers involved in the operation at the weekend conducted dedicated anti-social behaviour and underage drinking patrols at locations across the district and implemented licensing and security checks at local pubs and clubs.
Local officers were out on the streets last Friday and Saturday night actively patrolling so called ‘hotspots’ for underage or on street drinking and anti social behaviour.
I shadowed two police officers from Lisburn police station - Sergeant Greg Smyth and Constable Ashleen Curran for just a few hours during their night shift.
When I arrived at the station I was given a briefing of what to expect during the drive along.
I was told that we would be going to some ‘hot spots’ in the city but warned there maybe be times when I may for my own safety have to remain in the car.
It all sounded very Starsky and Hutch!
Our first call, as we left the station, was to a local establishment.
Sergeant Smyth told me that we would be visiting just a few of 23 pubs around the city that night to check they were complying with the licencing laws.
As we drove out of the station towards Market Street around the one way system, Sergeant Smyth got a call from an eagle eyed CCTV camera crew. He had spotted a suspicious looking female coming out of an off licence and asked the police to go and check it out.
I was told that they suspected the woman was buying alcohol drink for a minor.
When we arrived a few people were standing and sitting outside the premises. When the woman came out of the off licence she was greeted by the police. She was asked what she was doing and who was the alcohol for.
Shocked at seeing so many police officers, she explained that she had been to a restaurant and had bought some alcohol to bring home for herself.
When asked did she know of anyone standing outside the premises she laughed and said that she had never seen them before in her life.
That was verified by the number of people standing outside the off licence, one of which claimed that she worked in the place.
It was clear that it was a genuine mistake. It was better to be safe than sorry I was told but the incident reminded me that Big Brother was definitely watching over you.
Sergeant Smyth rang the station to let them know that they had spoken to the woman and that the matter had been cleared up.
We circled around the town again at 8.20pm and drove to Wallace Park - a ‘hot spot’ where a few minors were standing outside the entrance. It was already dark.
Police had a quick word with some of them about what they were doing.
As we stood it was amazing how more minors were arriving at the park either on foot or dropped off in cars.
As it happened like many young ones that we saw in the park that night many were just hanging out with no alcohol to be seen.
We walked into the park and the police began talking to a crowd of young boys sitting on a bench. They explained they were just hanging out.
As we walked past the children’s play park one of the police officers shone a light into the park and spotted young ones who looked to be about 15 or 16 sitting on the swings.
Unceremoniously the police officers climbed over the locked gate and walked towards the crowd checking that they had no alcohol on them.
We also got talking to a teen and two girls who were sitting on a path. He explained that he had left college and trained as a chef but had as yet no job.
Before leaving the park we walked up to the duck pond where youngsters are known to gather but no one else was about.
In the dark you could spot lights racing through the park - I was told police officers were patrolling the area on bicycles while others were on foot.
We caught up with one who had just caught two minors, one who was just 15 walking through Wallace Park carrying a bottle of Southern Comfort and whiskey.
He said that he was going home to drink it unknown to his mother. She was contacted and told that she had to go get her son.
Sgt Smyth gave him a stern warning about his drinking.
He was known to the police and warned about it in the past.
After giving him a dressing down the boy explained that he wanted to study marine biology at University when he left school.
Sgt Smyth reminded him that it would be unlikely that he would get into university with a criminal record nor could he visit the states or get a visa.
Police contacted the boy’s mother and the parents of his accomplice.
Surprisingly, the two were very apologetic and told the offices that it would not happen again and knew the error of their ways.
“How do you think your mother is going is to react when we go to her door?” Sgt Smyth asked.
I have to put my hands up - when I agreed to a drive along I believed that I would be witnessing a lot more back chat from youths but from the few that we spoke to were neither rude or cheeky.
We circled around the city and went twice to Bentrim Road car park where I was told a crowd would often congregate on the steps.
Police had helped to get the trees and hedges trimmed back some time ago so that the area would not be just quite as dark.
We would circle around the car park a few times but not one person could be found.
I was told by Sgt Smyth that Lisburn has a consistent problem with alcohol but not any more or less than anywhere else.
After driving up the Prince William Road near Ballymacoss we planned to go to the subway but after a quick change of mind instead drove back into the city and into yet another bar.
The revellers there seemed quite relaxed - in fact a few sitting at the bar stood up to perform - not quite sure if he wanted a dance or showing us his party piece.
Anyway as the police stood to talk to the owner of the bar he was happy with the way that everything was run and we left.
After leaving the establishment it was back to the station again - and ready for home.