Sarah Ford talks to PC Gemma Kirby, a Bath policewoman about Operation Elf

PUBLISHED: 13:02 26 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:41 20 February 2013

PC Gemma Kirby in Bath

PC Gemma Kirby in Bath

Sarah Ford talks to a Bath policewoman about Operation Elf, the successful city centre campaign she set up to confront nuisance behaviour and underage drinking. <br/>Photo by Mike Alsford.

Sarah Ford talks to a Bath policewoman about Operation Elf, the successful city centre campaign she set up to confront nuisance behaviour and underage drinking. Photo by Mike Alsford.

A policewoman who launched a campaign against underage drinking in Bath has been honoured for her work at a prestigious awards ceremony. PC Gemma Kirby was nominated in the Jane's Police Review Gala Awards, which recognises the unsung heroes of UK community policing. Now in its 16th year, the event was attended by some of the most senior figures in policing and government, and nominees came from every force across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Home Secretary Jackie Smith presented the Somerset police constable with her award for third place in the Student Officer of the Year Award.

PC Kirby set up Operation Elf, a campaign against nuisance behaviour, and thanks to her work as part of the city's neighbourhood policing team, numbers of underage drinkers fell by 78% year on year, with crime falling by 74% compared to the previous half term period. Seven gallons of alcohol, including beer, wine, spirits, cider and alcopops, were seized from 22 youngsters in the city during the 10-day campaign.

Speaking to me the day after the awards ceremony, the 29-year-old said she had found the evening, which was hosted by news broadcaster Huw Edwards, very inspiring. "It was good to hear about people who had been in the force for many years who were still enjoying it and being recognised for their work."

Gemma explained how 5,000 from the Home Office had enabled police in the Bath and North East Somerset District to run the campaign and how she took on the role of organising resources, managing the budget and running the briefings.

"We also publicised it within local shops and schools and contacted other agencies. It was a multi-agency approach to the problem because it's something everyone has to tackle together to make it work." One of the bodies the police worked with was Project 28, a young people's drug and alcohol treatment service based in central Bath, which works with young people up to the age of 19.

"Bath is no different from any other town or city in that there are underage drinkers. Generally it is not a problem and I would say it is not increasing noticeably," says Gemma. "But when children are off school they have more opportunity to hang around the streets so that's why we targeted the specific time of half term.

"We put on extra officers in plain clothes (as well as high visibility) on early evening shifts until 10pm, and seized alcohol off youths. Some were arrested for offences relating to their behaviour and some were arrested on suspicion of possessing cannabis."

Operation Elf has now been recognised as 'best practice' by the force. And PC Kirby has impressed her colleagues with her work ethic. Her supervisor, Insp John Richards, says: "Gemma is focused on providing the optimum policing service to the citizens of Bath. She is also one of the first officers in the constabulary to complete her NVQ Level Three and Four in policing, which she achieved three months ahead of schedule."

Gemma, who has been with the Avon and Somerset Police Force for 21/2 years, was born in Swindon.

"My father was in the RAF so I moved around a lot until I went to boarding school. Then I came to Bath University to do a biology degree and I've remained in the area since." She started working for the forensic science service, which led to an interest in police work, and Gemma later joined the Special Constabulary. Discovering that she enjoyed this more than working in the lab, Gemma decided to join the police force.

"I like the variety of the job. You never know what you are going to be doing when you turn up for work, and I like the fact I'm not tied to an office and I can get out and meet other people. The opportunities are good too because there are so many different departments you can work for. It's early days but at some point I think I would like to become a Tutor Constable, and the CID has always interested me."

It can be a stressful job, however, and Gemma finds the solution is to keep fit. "I've always been into sports and going to the gym and I have been running seriously for about five years. Running gives you a sense of freedom and time to think. The job can impact on your social life and can be stressful, but I think if you look after yourself, eat regularly, get enough sleep and are organised at work, then you can keep on top of it. It's about taking a whole lifestyle approach to what you do."

And when it comes to the skills for the job, Gemma is clear on what is most important. "You need patience in the job and everything we do comes down to how we communicate with people. You have to be a good listener."

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