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George, George, I want to talk to you... now even children can tell a local constable their concerns


Constable George Kirk chats with a little girl while on the beat in north Belfas

Constable George Kirk chats with a little girl while on the beat in north Belfas

Brian Thompson

Constable George Kirk chats with a little girl while on the beat in north Belfas

“George, George, I want to talk to you,” she says.

Constable Kirk bends down and she whispers in his ear.

“She was telling me that she saw a few bad boys down there,” Constable Kirk reveals.

He has been on the beat as a neighbourhood officer in north Belfast for just one year, but it seems like everyone in the area knows him.

Cars stop and people come out of their homes to greet him. Some just want to say hello, others want to speak to him privately about concerns they have in the area.

It is hard to believe that less than a mile up the road more than 50 police officers were injured this week during violent sectarian rioting.

While Constable Kirk and other neighbourhood officers who feature in our exclusive series this week on community policing — PSNI: A New Face — represent the new way of policing in Northern Ireland, the violence in north Belfast has inflamed historical community tensions.

Every household in Tigers Bay has Constable Kirk’s mobile phone number and email address. He keeps his phone switched on 24 hours a day.

“You get back what you put into this job. When I arrived there were a lot of disgruntled people in Tigers Bay. They were unhappy with their perception of policing. Now they are happy to come to the community centre and meet with me. They talk to me about everything under the sun,” says Constable Kirk.

“My work BlackBerry is constantly ringing. You have to answer the calls. How do you expect people to do things for you if you aren’t there for them? You have to take ownership of your area if you are part of a neighbourhood policing team.”

Trouble can still erupt at flashpoints in the area most weekends. Constable Kirk would patrol these trouble areas to try and deter the younger people from getting involved in trouble and also to detect any culprits.

He has also involved himself in a large number of cross-community projects in a bid to eradicate sectarian tensions. “I took a nationalist group from the area and Tigers Bay kids away on a residential for three days. There were no problems at all. Afterwards the kids were contacting each other and you would see them out together,” he says.

He stops to talk to two young boys and tells them he saw them at one of the flashpoint areas after he had warned them to stay away.

“There will be no more bus trips if I see you again,” he tells them.

The boys apologise and promise they will not go there again.

Every day Constable Kirk calls into the community centre in the heart of Tigers Bay to meet with residents and community workers. He also holds a police surgery there every week.

He joins Alison Clarke for a cup of tea and to discuss some forthcoming youth initiatives.

Alison set up the Dean Clarke Foundation when her 16-year-old son Dean committed suicide after taking drugs. The foundation organises day trips, residentials, drug awareness talks and different community programmes for the young people in an effort to take them off the streets.

“George is the only one who has ever really helped us here. He is doing very good things for the community,” Alison says.

Later in the afternoon Constable Kirk and a number of other officers launch a planned drugs bust in a north Belfast estate.

“We do have a big drugs problem,” he says. “There is a culture of growing cannabis in houses. The kids are also taking Es (ecstasy) and prescription drugs. We would have three or four searches a month in Tigers Bay looking for drugs. We have been quite successful.”

As he walks back to Antrim Road police station an elderly woman shouts hello to him from the grounds of a nursing home situated across the road.

“I am surprised at how much I enjoy working here,” he says.

“But it is what you put into it. We are making a big difference. Things are really changing here.

“Of course, you have to watch your back some places you go. It would be great to be able to leave the flak jacket behind. Some day we will be able to. It is heading in that direction.”

Belfast Telegraph