On the Beach Beat
PUBLISHED: 17:18 20 August 2008 | UPDATED: 15:23 20 February 2013
On the Beach Beat<br/>Matt Thomas is a Beach Beat Officer. Essentially, his work is the same as that of any other Police Community Support Officer but his role is slanted towards meeting the needs of the thousands of visitors that pour onto Perranport...
On the Beach Beat
Bernard Cole talks to Beach Beat Police Community Support Officer (PCSO) Matt Thomas about his work among the sand, surf and holiday crowds of Perranporth Beach
"It's all about making our beaches safer," says 37-year-old Matt Thomas, the dedicated Perranporth Beach PCSO, who must have one of the most interesting and rewarding community-driven jobs in Cornwall. Now in his second season as a Beach Beat Officer, Matt, a Perranporth native and a one-time beach lifeguard, is well suited to the role. "I loved lifeguarding," he says, "but had to give it up some years ago as the seasonal nature of the job didn't provide enough income to support my young family."
Matt then ran his own business for a while but soon realised that not only did he need to be around people, he also needed to find a job that kept him in touch with the great outdoors. That was in 2006 when the introduction of PCSOs around the country was in its infancy. The position was just what he was looking for - a lot of time spent outdoors, working in the community, and the prospect of a different challenge every day. In October 2006 he applied to the Devon & Cornwall Constabulary.
Following a selection process of interviews, fitness evaluations and problem-solving tests, Matt was accepted for training. This involved nine weeks of intensive activity at the Middlemoor force headquarters near Exeter. Here, Matt was guided through the administrative side of the job, as well as being schooled in the Police Computer System, radio procedures, the issuing of Fixed Penalty Notices, yet more problem-solving techniques and how to check vehicles and other data on the Police National Database. With a head crammed full of information, he returned to Perranporth for three months' probation under the guidance of a Police Officer.
But like all plans, real life got in the way. On the day Beach Beat was launched at Perranporth, Matt split his Achilles tendon and turned up at the ceremony on crutches and with his leg in plaster from toe to thigh. He was then office-bound for four weeks before being issued with a quad bike for getting around the beach.
So what precisely does a Beach Beat Officer do? Well, in Matt's case, Beach Beat work is confined to the summer only. For the rest of the year, his duties take him wherever he's needed. Essentially, his work is the same as that of any other PCSO but his role is slanted towards meeting the needs of the thousands of visitors that pour onto Perranporth's beach every summer. Matt and Paul Price, the Beach Beat PCSO at Fistral Beach, Newquay, piloted the Beach Beat scheme last year and their seasons were so successful that the scheme was rolled out this year to other popular beaches in Cornwall, Devon, Dorset and Wales.
Working from the RNLI beach lifeguard station, where the sand dunes meet the beach, Matt's working day is certainly interesting and varied. He has a regular circuit among the deckchairs, between the windbreaks, under the cliffs and along the water's edge, and if anything happens at the other end of the beach while patrolling his beat he has a radio to keep him in touch with developments and to respond to emergencies. Lost and found children, lost property, first aid, minor crime reporting, weaver fish 'stings' - they all come up on a regular basis. "But it's talking to beach users that takes most of my time," says Matt. "So many people want to chat. It takes just 15 minutes to walk the circuit but when the beach is packed it can take me more than two hours to get all the way around."
Operating on the beach also fits in perfectly with Matt's other interests. He's still a qualified lifeguard and can often be found piloting a jet ski through the surf to a swimmer in trouble or crewing the inshore rescue boat on an emergency call-out. For the past seven years he's also served as a retained firefighter. When not on PCSO duty, Matt commits totally to this emergency service and is on instant call, 24 hours a day, seven days a week. He's also recently completed a beach survey for the local Parish Council. The survey identified dog fouling and illegal vehicle parking on the beach as burning issues with the local community. As a result, offenders now run the risk of receiving a Fixed Penalty Notice and the number of offences has dropped.
Because of his experience and skills, Matt was recently called upon to share his knowledge at a meeting of the Parish Council over concerns about the number of new surf schools springing up. As a result, a new licensing system is to be adopted. Matt is also heavily involved with the 'Lost Children's' wristband scheme, which was pioneered by the Coastguard Service. Parents are given a wristband for each of their children as they step onto the beach in the morning; on it they write the child's name and a telephone number to call should the child be separated from the parents.
Some of Matt's days are relatively quiet and his shift can pass by without anyone asking for help. On other days it seems as if he's offering non-stop assistance. Either way, Matt is certain that he's made the right choice of job. "Making the beach a safe place is crucial for the amount of activity that takes place on it, and the Beach Beat PCSO plays a major part in this."