Portsmouth city centre sergeant on how he fought to keep officers on the streets

Sgt Richard Holland outside Portsmouth Central station.''Picture: Neil Marshall (171146-6)
Sgt Richard Holland outside Portsmouth Central station.''Picture: Neil Marshall (171146-6)
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An ‘outstanding’ police officer who battled to keep police on the streets has been handed an award.

Sergeant Richard Holland has been leading a neighbourhood police team for Charles Dickens ward in the city since April 2015.

Sergeant Richard Holland receives his commendation from Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney. Picture: Jan Brayley

Sergeant Richard Holland receives his commendation from Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney. Picture: Jan Brayley

He traded the leafy village patch of Bishop’s Waltham for Portsmouth, going from dealing with poachers to trying to crack entrenched anti-social behaviour, drug-related violence and hate crime.

But when he took over he was determined to make sure his PCs and PCSOs would be out in the communities they’re serving.

Sgt Holland, 38, says: ‘Bishop’s Waltham is low crime, high expectations and the type of crime you’re dealing with is massively different, non-dwelling burglaries, dwelling burglaries, wildlife crime-related incidents, poaching.

‘The one big difference here is just the volume, in Charles Dickens beat alone there’s about 20,000 people.

‘In most of that part of rural Winchester area the biggest areas are Bishop’s Waltham, Wickham and Denmead.

‘Here you’ve just got the mass of people, it’s just massively different, and I’ve got a bigger team.

‘When I was at Bishop’s Waltham it was me and six or seven officers, at the point of now there’s 17 on the team.

‘It was a culture shock.’

Recognised as one of the most ‘challenging’ wards in Hampshire, Charles Dickens takes in Commercial Road, Buckland, Portsea and Landport.

Sgt Holland says a few high-profile arrests of people causing nuisance had helped maintain confidence between the community and police.

But crucially he was keen to make sure his team of PCs and PCSOs could make a difference to people living in the area.

That meant freeing up his team to stay out on the streets and build up relationships with people.

As part of this, he asked bosses for permission to bring in police staff investigators (PSIs) into the team – the first time this has been done in Hampshire Constabulary.

It meant, for the eight months the scheme ran, that major in-roads were made – including in the ‘perennial problem’ of bike thefts.

Sgt Holland says: ‘The big thing here is, in beat policing most of it should be visible policing, trying to be out and about dealing with anti-social behaviour and also just deterring crime, whether it’s out at Commercial Road, The Hard, down at the dockyard.

‘The difficulty with a beat like this is there will also be crime. And there will also be high levels of reporting.

‘It is a very small area, lots of people, lots of shops and businesses and we were struggling as a team to make in-roads into our investigations and keep that level of visible policing.

‘It was a constant juggling.

‘Our level of investigations were then being dictated by volume rather than the other way around.

‘One way round it was to have dedicated investigators on the beat team: that bucks the trend generally across the force.

‘What we’ve got then is the ability for the PCs and PCSOs to go out and gather the evidence, then that to be given to someone who has got the time just to solely investigate.

‘Where we got gains on that is cycle crime: it’s a perennial problem in Portsmouth. There’s so much of it, but we could just not make in-roads on it.

‘We could pick off the occasional one person, but this was not just the one-off, they were being taken somewhere, being sold on.

‘What we were able to do with the PSIs was to build cases, we could swear out warrants, knock doors in the morning, bring people in, gather the evidence and that would be then for the investigators to build the case.’

Since then five people have been arrested and are on bail for conspiracy to steal bikes in Portsmouth.

Last Friday Sgt Holland was among several other officers from other patches to be given a commendation by Chief Constable Olivia Pinkney.

That award recognised his work on bringing in staff investigators, but also for tackling hate crime, and changing his beat team’s boundaries to match the demand of his patch.

Although his award was an individual one, he is keen to point out the hard work of his team.

‘This team has really had to graft for two-and-a-half years because of various problems, tensions, crime types and so on,’ he says. ‘They’ve done it with real good humour. Everybody has come in with a smile on their face and not shirked from the task.’

Sgt Holland is coming to an end of his time in Charles Dickens and is set to take on a custody sergeant role in Southampton.

John Apter, Hampshire Police Federation chairman, said: ‘This award is really well-deserved because neighbourhood policing is the bedrock of everything we do in policing and it’s so important that we have people like Richard Holland leading teams who are making such a positive difference.

‘In particular Richard has been innovative in what is an extremely challenging area.

‘But he’s demonstrated time and time again he’s able to think outside the box. His commitment to the community that he works with demonstrates he has them at the heart of everything he does.’