On Mad Friday and New Year’s Eve, Inspector Phil Spurgeon will again be on the streets, looking after more than 100,000 people celebrating in Manchester. Inspector Spurgeon helped the Manchester Street Angels to launch and has supported the work of Bolton Street Angels when he was posted in Bolton.
What do you do and when will you be at work over the holidays?
I’m one of four police inspectors in Manchester’s city centre neighbourhood policing team. As I still have a young family – my youngest is five – Christmas is important to me and I’ll be at home with my family on Christmas Day and Boxing Day. We do try and look after each other on our team; we try to create Christmas off for those with kids.
I’ll be working on Mad Friday, 19 December, the busiest Friday night of the year in the city centre, and on New Year’s Eve. I’m not the only inspector in the city centre, but working on New Year’s Eve comes with the territory. I’ll be clocking on at 7pm and will work through to 6am. It’s flat out, so there’s no formal break - there isn’t time. But I get a break over Christmas; I don’t need anyone to get a hanky out for me.
What’s Mad Friday all about?
Mad Friday is the last Friday before Christmas. People have finished work and the city is awash with people on works dos and a lot of people get paid early for Christmas, so put all that in the mix and you get Mad Friday. We’ve got more than 500 licensed premises in 2.2 sq miles, and it’s always more than 100,000 people, so it’s hard. The Manchester Evening News came out with us last year and got some gruesome pics.
Who do you work with?
I work with our neighbourhood policing team; this weekend and on New Year’s Eve we’ll have a team of at least 100 officers on the street, most of them on foot, in yellow jackets, in areas where we know we’ll be busy. We also have specialist resources, including our mounted officers and tactical aid unit (don’t call them the riot police).
We deal with absolutely everything, other than the most serious crime. But this isn’t just about a police operation. Bar staff and door supervisors do a really good job of preventing a lot of the trouble. It’s a huge partnership. We’ve got the council CCTV room and the council provides taxi marshals, and there are a number of street angels – volunteers who go out in teams and look after vulnerable people – including the Village Angels, provided by the Lesbian and Gay Foundation and the Manchester Street Angels. They go out in teams. If someone’s lost a heel off a shoe, they provide flip-flops, or a mobile phone battery, or if someone’s got separated from their friends, they’ll get them a taxi.
What are the busiest times of the New Year’s Eve shift?
There’s that incredibly busy period from 11:30pm to 1am when people are moving to or from bars or the public display in Piccadilly Gardens. Other than that we typically see a shift at 2 or 3am from what I call happy drunk to nasty drunk and that becomes very challenging because we will have lost resources as we’ve been making arrests and dealing with victims, and we’re managing people who have become more vulnerable and more aggressive. We’ll still be on foot in the city centre at six in the morning.
How busy will the Christmas period be for those on duty?
We will have a limited number of staff on duty on Christmas Day and we’ll bring in extra on Boxing Day. We’re not expecting a rerun of the nonsense we saw here on Black Friday, when we made eight arrests. We’re not expecting Boxing Day to generate that kind of frenzy. But Boxing Day is a little unusual this year because it’s on a Friday. We would normally have a limited number of staff out on a bank holiday, but we’ve got Boxing Day sales, Manchester United versus Newcastle at 3pm and then a lot of people, especially young people, who will want to come out rather than playing charades with their families! So we’re running a full night-time economy operation on Boxing Day night.
What’s the worst thing about working over the holidays?
The hardest thing is not to become jaundiced by seeing people at their worst. It’s about vulnerability, victims and villains and I have to remind the staff that 99.9% of people who come out are decent. Our job is to look after them and get them home safely and stop that 0.1% spoiling things. One New Year’s Eve, as on all weekends, 99.9% of people will come out and have a great time and get home safely.
And the best thing?
Because we are out on the streets we will talk to people, especially on New Year’s Eve, and have positive interactions. Manchester is a fantastic place to live and work. I’ve been here 20 years now and I’m incredibly fortunate. We’re based in the town hall now as part of our integrated neighbourhood work, with council staff working in our offices. So if we have a nuisance with licensing or noise, we can have that conversation with colleagues across the desk. And I’m literally looking out at our Christmas market.
What’s your biggest worry this Christmas time?
Everybody is struggling with shrinking resources, us and our partners. Demand is going up, but resources are shrinking. The reality is that our force is going from 8,000 officers to 6,000 officers, and we send our community officers out with a radio and a stab vest and not a lot else. We’re here to look after the public and ourselves and sometimes that’s a struggle.
And your favourite time of the year?
Summer. I like summer because Manchester is a great city and it’s even more alive in the summer. Piccadilly Gardens, which I manage, is a challenge for many reasons, but on a warm summer’s day with thousands of people having lunch and enjoying being out – that’s good.