We are rapidly approaching the start of the new Football Season and all of our clubs are in the midst of their Pre Season ‘friendly’ build up. These games are managed by the West Midlands Football Unit in exactly the same way as every league fixture. The dedicted Football Intelligence officer will link in with their ‘home’ counterpart in advance of the game and then on the day the Football Intelligence Officer and at least one club ‘spotter’ attend the fixture (not including internationals).
The ‘out of season’ period is also a time when Police Forces nationally review their local ‘data’ and the UKFPU (United Kingdom Football Policing Unit) report on the national developments / trends. We are still awaiting the end of season report to be published by UKFPU but the mid way report suggested arrests at fixtures are continuing to drop, but instances of reported disorder are increasing. Certainly West Midlands experience would be that disorder and use of pyrotechnics increased throughout last season. Of note was that in the West Midlands more arrests were for Affray and Public Order offences and not the traditional Drunk Entry or Drunk in View offences that you may expect to see contributing to the arrest figures.
It is therefore disapointing to note that from the 2013 – 2014 pre season friendlies, we have already recorded behaviour that not only impacts on those fans nearby but could lead to arrest. This includes the use of smoke grenades (although one male was arrested and found to be in possession of more), particularly aggresive and anti social behaviour towards stewards, pitch encroachment and by away fans coming to us, significant damage to a club bar area. In addition British Transport Police in our area have advised that they are investigating a number of incidents including the emergency stopping of a busy passenger service when the Emergency Chord was pulled by football fans.
At the start of last season West Midlands Police gave an explicit direction that officers were to put engagement before public order as the match day policing priority. As a football unit we were and are passionate about getting to know and conversing with as many of our clubs supporters as possible. There is however only a certain amount of time in the day and increasingly our activity is being directed towards the unnacceptable behaviour of the few. We know this involves the minority and to be fair its our job. I want to assure anyone reading this that where there is the evidence and its right to do so, I will ensure that either we or the local officers go back and make that arrest or take appropriate action following a vountary attendance if its not done at the time.
As a unit we do not have a performance criteria around arrests, but what we do have is a strong sense of whats acceptable football banter and what has crossed the line into offending behaviour. We understand what the law requires and allows us to do and as we start the new season I want to remind and reassure fans that we may be friendly, but we will do our job.