From Hercule Poirot to Luther, Colombo and Sherlock Holmes; fighting crime is often portrayed with a kind of unapproachable mystique. Community Sergeant Neil Todd appears, however, anything but aloof. He is quite casually dressed in a short-sleeved black shirt, combat trousers and regulation boots. Even joking about role reversal as I retrieve my dictaphone, he relaxes calmly in his chair.
I am immediately struck by Mr Todd’s clear contentment with, and enthusiasm for, his work in the police department in St Andrews. “It always interested me,” he explains. “In fact, at the stage when I joined the police, my wife was already working for them as a clerical assistant.”
I was aware of what the police did – not just seeing them going about in their big flash vehicles and things like that, I had a wee bit of insight into what the work actually involved.”
Despite the challenging nature of his career, he remains upbeat: “There’s ups and downs, just like every job. But I’ve got to say, I’ve now been in the police for nearly 19 years and it’s a fascinating job. Not one day is the same as any other and I wouldn’t change my choice – not for anything.”
Though he has no previous family history of policing, Mr Todd’s connection to St Andrews itself is long-standing and personal. “I was actually born and brought up in St Andrews and I’ve done most of my service in east Fife and the St Andrews area. So I’ve got a vested interest in the area as well.”
Here, his attachment to the town clearly shines through. Much of his family still live nearby and he maintains good links with local residents.
“Oh yes, dramatically,” he says firmly when I ask if St Andrews has changed much during his lifetime. For the better? “Well, I wouldn’t say it’s for the worse. I mean, the local connection has gone, to a certain extent. But that’s due to a few things: housing, for example.”
Does the town’s development alter the nature of his role as a police officer? “I’ve done a few roles in the police. I’ve only actually been the community sergeant here since September 2013, although I was previously a response sergeant in the area. But I am interacting more with the community and the University side more now, because we have a University liaison officer, too.”
Policing in the St Andrews area has undergone a similar transformation over the last 18 months. It now forms part of the Fife Division of Police Scotland, while the previous Fife Constabulary no longer exists. “It’s been quite an easy transition. I can’t say it’s really affected us much, although the police station has moved from North Street to the site here [on Pipeland Road].”
Response policing teams continue to serve more serious matters “all over North East Fife”. However, there are increasing numbers of “dedicated community officers addressing the needs of the local community.”
In terms of the St Andrews student body, Mr Todd is “directly responsible for the University liaison officer. She is a full-time police officer who works Monday to Friday and is basically a go-between for Police Scotland and the University of St Andrews.”
Graduations, balls, fashion shows: university life in St Andrews is saturated with occasions that the police safeguard. Nevertheless, Mr Todd tells me that these events tend not to require much maintenance, saying that he finds the student body “co-operative”. Police protection, here, is merely precautionary.
Even during St Andrews’ rowdier moments, the police seem most concerned with making their presence felt in a friendly manner. “On a Friday and Saturday night, for instance, the town centre is a very busy place. Yet it is quite a low-crime area. There are a lot of locals, visitors to the town and students out on the streets in the early hours of Saturday or Sunday morning… with the number of people, you’d think there’d be a few more incidents, but there’s not.” In part, Mr Todd attributes this to such visible police presence.
The British public has a long, ambivalent history with its police force. In light of the relatively recent tuition fee protests, and the dramatic 2011 London riots, I ask whether he feels that the police in St Andrews are respected. “Yes,” he says definitively. “There’s one or two who don’t, but you’ll get that anyway.”
Regarding St Andrews’ notorious Raisin Weekend, Mr Todd says that there are dedicated patrols and services in place. Up to four or five officers are deployed to police the Monday foam fight, for instance. This period is not without its problems: “There’s more alcohol-related incidences. Most of them are classed as minor incidents and are dealt with by fixed penalty tickets. These could be disturbing the peace on the street, or it could be anti-social behaviour, like drinking in public.”
“But that’s basically it,” he adds, encouragingly. “This year, through the liaison officer, there has been education done.”
Performed largely in conjunction with the University, much of this education regards the varied and sometimes even eccentric raisin receipts. Official police advice is to refuse any item possibly belonging to somebody else: “It is theft and it will get dealt with accordingly.”
Nevertheless, believing it to be a manageable University tradition, Mr Todd does not advocate the banning of Raisin Weekend: “I disagree with that totally. This year we didn’t have many calls; again, our presence on the street must have helped.”
Everyday protection of students is, of course, another priority. He explains that much crime committed against the student body is alcohol-related, though thankfully these are usually minor offences. Preventing theft is another key target: “Property left lying around, not security marked.”
“We don’t have as many problems as we used to have. We’ve focussed our attentions on bike thefts, in particular.”
Not all police activity is student-related. He tells me about outreach programmes for young people, as a measure against youth crime. “They have football on a Saturday night for the youngsters.”
Moreover, the police have been involved in “an action plan in relation to cycle offences, primarily focussing on the lack of lights in the town centre and leading out, particularly out to Hepburn Gardens.” The scheme does not merely apprehend cyclists without sufficient lighting, but gives them the opportunity to buy bicycle lights. Mr Todd says that this is for the safety of both cyclist and driver. “Education and prevention,” he summarises.
As for future priorities, St Andrews police will wait to hear concerns of local residents and students alike. What about the community sergeant himself?
“After 20 years, I still enjoy coming to my work and I’m sure that will last until I retire. Most police officers are the same, because we don’t know what we’ll be dealing with from day to day.”