DRUNKEN teenagers, verbal abuse and stolen mopeds — police are kicking off their summer campaign to fight anti-social behaviour. The Bolton News joined the patrol to find out what they are facing. HELENA VESTY reports

SCHOOLS are out for summer and some children have been left to entertain themselves.

But kids being released on to the streets can pave the way for anti-social behaviour and police are out in force to stop crime in its tracks across the borough.

Police have this week launched their Safe 4 Summer campaign and in just two days, they have been busy rounding up stolen mopeds and clearing fields full of underage drinkers in Bolton.

PC Matthew Blakeley, 37, and community support officer Katherine Morris, 25, are leading the charge this week, hitting hotspots for anti-social behaviour.

PC Blakeley, who first joined the police 16 years ago, said: “Anti-social behaviour changes with where you are in Bolton.

“I have been in Great Lever breaking up parties of 200 to 300 kids. In Over Hulton, we have had reports of six kids playing music in the park.

“In Westhoughton, we’ve had complaints of teenagers sitting in McDonald’s all night just to steal the wifi.

“It definitely depends on where you are.”

Anti-social behaviour has changed over the years in Bolton and the police are fighting to adapt as quickly as the youngsters do.

PC Blakeley said: “Nitrous oxide gas is now a bigger problem than it used to be. You find places covered with gas cannisters now, it used to be cans.”

But whatever the behaviour might be, the police still try to talk to the kids on their level.

He said: “We go to hotspots and try to engage with kids if they stand around long enough to talk to us.

“If you try and reach out to the kids when they are really young, 10 and below, you find that they do engage more than when they are in their teens.

“If not, it’s a cycle. The lads that drink in the streets become your moped gangs and your car thieves.”

Out on one of their first patrols of the Safe 4 Summer campaign on Tuesday night, the pair were investigating reports of a youngster joyriding a stolen moped.

Only an hour into their evening patrol, the unmistakable sounds of a moped being driven furiously could be heard around the narrow streets in Rumworth.

But the officers struggled to get on the tail of the driver as he weaved in and out of parks, inaccessible to the police van.

PC Blakeley said: “The kids know what they are doing. No matter where you park the van, the kids can see you coming and can run off.”

Despite best efforts, attempts to stop children getting into trouble can often turn into a frustrating game of cat and mouse for the police.

An operation which was once equipped with vanloads of officers is now finding itself with dwindling numbers on the case of anti-social behaviour.

PC Blakeley said: “We would ideally use two vans to block off entrances because the kids can just run off in the other direction.”

The pair of officers found themselves with that problem as they stumbled upon a gang of teenagers on St James’ High School fields in Farnworth.

A dramatic chase ensued as around 100 teenagers scarpered from the field, leaving bottles of alcohol and cigarettes, while hurling verbal abuse at the officers.

In the face of cuts, officers have changed their tactics.

Officers are rising to the task, using new ways to try and reach the youth — and their parents.

Police are now reporting areas they have cleared of youths and are putting a question to parents on social media, asking ‘Do you know where your kids are?’

The hope is that parents will track down their unruly youngsters and keep an eye on them before the get into a tangle with police.

But parent involvement can have mixed results, according to PC Blakeley.

He said: “Some parents are absolutely distraught to find out that their child has been spoken to by police.

“With other parents, the kids are back out in the streets within 10 minutes.”

Ahead of the summer holidays, police were preparing for the rush of kids to the streets and the weeks leading up to the final Friday in school were filled with attempts to prevent crime.

Police fought to get a three month-long closure order on a house in Cleveland Gardens, after it became a hotbed for teenagers drinking and taking crack cocaine.

PC Blakeley said the police got the order just last week in time to stop any more youngsters using the house over the holidays.

He said: “Behaviour at the house just became worse and worse and we got reports from the neighbours. An elderly lady had to move out of a neighbouring property at her own expense and was living in a hotel in Wigan. We wanted to nip that in the bud before the summer holidays.”

As soon as the summer holidays are over, however, PC Blakeley and PCSO Morris will be gearing up for their busiest night of the year — Bonfire Night.