It’s nine o’clock on Saturday, Bank Holiday weekend. It’s the end of the month; wallets and purses are full. Invited by our Chief Constable to experience policing at first hand I turn up at Andover police station for a night shift, hopefully to give me an insight into “the night-time economy.” That’s bars, clubs and pubs to you and me.

I am met by the shift sergeant who, in her early thirties, has swapped banking for policing. She looks young, until I am ushered into the crew room to meet the PCs under her charge. They are impossibly young, some just twenty-one. Many are ”student” coppers, still learning the ropes. In this crew room at least, there is a refreshingly equal split between men and women so there is less likely to be much room for the sexist “banter” and misogyny that still hits the headlines in the tabloids.

I am told not much is likely to happen before about eleven-thirty. This is good as officers have to write up cases from last night’s shift. The paperwork is streamlined by computers but there is much repetition still in the form filling. It might help too if, among the myriad of courses young officers are offered, touch typing was seen as a basic requirement. Perhaps advanced Artificial Intelligence would make dictated reports more viable.

Before the paperwork the crew gather in the conference room with coffee and sarge-supplied cookies and, yes, doughnuts. I recall Tony Soprano’s characterisation of New Jersey’s finest as “the donut squad,” but keep the thought to myself. They discuss yesterday’s cases. Not much evil, just sadness borne of poverty and deprivation, which Andover has in spades. I am struck by the compassion the young officers apply to resolving situations. Neighbours had reported a three-year-old apparently home alone, half-dressed, who’s appeared on their doorstep. There’s obvious neglect, The mother’s partner, but not necessarily the child’s father, is found smoking weed in his garden shed. Mother’s nowhere to be seen. Putting the needs of the child first, the officers, guided and supported by their sergeant, seek resolution not prosecution; a far cry from the trumpeting “lock ‘em up” headlines of the Daily Mail.

It’s time to go on patrol. I get the obligatory Health and Safety briefing which includes an unnecessary warning to give any police dogs that might be called in a wide berth. “They are trained to bite hard!”. It’s still early. I am driven in a patrol car by two young female officers on a tour of Andover’s low spots. They know where all the “usual suspects” live. Back in the crew room there are photos of known miscreants under headings such as Drug Dealers, Drug Users, Shoplifters. Sadly, there also a heading, “Recently Deceased.” Criminality shortens your life expectancy.

Time to get out of the car and head for the clubs, conveniently concentrated a few yards apart on London Road. So far revellers are behaving themselves. Officers are on relaxed and familiar terms with club doorkeepers who seem themselves, compared to my youth. to have come a long way in terms of training levels. Then they were just “bouncers”.

Midnight. I am under the wing of the two youngest male officers. Despite their youth, they are impressive. A middle-aged man has allegedly lamped a doorkeeper and has been pinned down by his colleagues. The police gently but firmly take over. “If I let you up, you’re not going to kick off.” The suspect complies and is held securely in handcuffs by one officer while his colleague, already on the radio to the control room, finds out who they are dealing with. The man lives a few hundred yards away. They opt to take him home and sort it out when he is sober. Situation defused. He can count himself lucky he is policed in Hampshire, not Minnesota.