AT the beginning of this month, Bury South MP Ivan Lewis spent a night on the beat with police officers from Greater Manchester Police's Bury Division. Here is his account of what he experienced:

As I reported for the night shift at Bury Police station last weekend I didn’t know what to expect. Ten hours later I had secured a rare insight into the challenges facing the highly professional and committed men and women of GMP who make up the thin blue line battling to keep our communities safe.

The night started with a briefing for the team of eight officers charged with policing Bury Division, covering a population of 185000 from Summerseat in the north to Sedgley in the South. This is a typical number, augmented in the daytime by neighbourhood teams of several officers who are frequently forced to vacate their neighbourhoods roles and join the central team to bolster perpetually low numbers. This leaves an average of two Police and community support officers and a sergeant focused exclusively on neighbourhoods. A pale imitation of the neighbourhood policing rebuilt in the early 2000s.

An initial discussion with team members revealed the huge challenges that police officers face on a daily basis: -an unmanageable workload, a relentless administrative burden and a frustration that diminishing numbers of police officers are increasingly filling gaps left through cuts to mental health services. I learned that proactive policing is now rare and shockingly scarce resources mean serious and traumatic crimes such as house burglary are no longer a priority for response or investigation.

I suspect the vast majority of people are unaware that GM officers have to juggle four competing priorities on each of their shifts. Continuing ongoing investigations they had previously started, dealing with an average of fifty to sixty incidents recorded on the system and yet to be investigated, focusing on an ongoing list of missing persons some of whom are vulnerable or dangerous and responding real time to incidents reported during their shift. Officers are required to complete significant amounts of information on each individual crime they are investigating. This relentless administrative burden takes them away from the frontline for hours at a time and outdated IT doesn’t help.

Alongside these challenges officers frequently experience violence and trauma in the course of their duties. An experienced officer told me how her life had been affected on a long term basis by the death of her colleague and best friend. He was killed in a road accident responding to her call for help at a crime scene. She explained how this had understandably made her reluctant to call for help in similar circumstances.

During the course of the shift I experienced a variety of incidents which provides a flavour of the challenges facing officers. We responded to a reported fight involving a stabbing which turned out to be an altercation between ex partners.

There was no evidence a stabbing had taken place and the alleged victim was unwilling to provide any information.

We were unable to identify a cyclist reported to be threatening violence and in possession of a gun. The person reporting this claimed to be familiar with guns due to watching video games, on further questioning he couldn’t be certain he’d actually seen a gun.

We visited a Children’s Home to gain more information about a 16 year old girl who was frequently going missing through the night but returning to the home during daytime. She had been seen in the company of known sex offenders.

At 4.30 in the morning we visited a family who had reported their adult daughter missing after she had failed to return home following a night out. This was untypical behaviour and the family were understandably concerned. Her last contact with anyone was at 1130 the night before when she had told friends she was going to meet up with someone who could supply her with cannabis. Approximately an hour after we arrived the daughter appeared. She was distressed and unable to say where she had been or whether she had been hurt. She suggested her drinks may have been spiked. We left her in the hands of her mother who promised to make contact if the girl disclosed she had been the victim of any criminal behaviour.

I visited the custody suite and witnessed an offender resisting being put in a cell. It transpired that he was a regular who on this occasion had been arrested for causing a disturbance near to his partner’s home. Two officers had struggled over a prolonged period of time to get him into a police van with one suffering scratch marks. The nurse based at the custody suite had decided minor injuries suffered by the offender required hospital treatment. This meant the two officers were out of action for a couple of hours accompanying him to the Hospital Accident and Emergency Department.

I spoke to another adult in a cell who had been arrested for an altercation with a neighbour. He had autism and said that he had received no support for his condition since leaving school. The Bury custody suite was covering several divisions due to poor staffing levels elsewhere that night.

As on every shift the Inspector on Duty was covering two Divisions, Bury and Rochdale. He was particularly focused on a household where police were attending following a call by someone threatening suicide. Such calls were a regular occurrence and due to a paucity of mental health crisis services the police were the first and often only line of response.

I will be presenting the findings of my visit to the Deputy Mayor, Chief Constable and head of the NHS in Greater Manchester. There is undoubtedly a need for better technology, a major reduction in the admin burden placed on officers and a review of the responsibility for responding to the needs of people with mental health issues. This week I will be launching a campaign to improve mental health services in Bury.

However, irrespective of the goodwill and efforts of local leaders, central Government cuts which have led to a more than 20% reduction in GMP staffing levels coupled with underfunded NHS mental health services have left policing in a perilous state. Perversely, Theresa May’s Home Office ‘hostile environment’ policy didn’t apply to criminals. In Greater Manchester, the thin blue line is not a cliche but a sad reality. Our police officers and support staff do an excellent job but they deserve better.

Ivan Lewis MP