BLACK Cats fans are to have their own dedicated football policing team.
Twenty-four officers will work with supporters and clubs in Northumbria Police’s football neighbourhood policing team (NPT).
Members of the team were due to join SAFC fans travelling to The Hawtorns today for the Black Cats’ clash with West Bromwich Albion.
The NPT will also support other teams in the force area, including Newcastle United, Gateshead FC and Berwick Rangers.
Officers will gather intelligence and information to prevent disorder at matches and will be heavily involved in high-profile fixtures, including derby games.
Chief Superintendent Steve Neill, who has the overall responsibility for football with Northumbria Police, said: “We think it’s a very positive step, and we’ve had a lot of support from fan groups.
“We trialled this when Sunderland went to Wembley for the cup final in March. We called in at services on the way down and back, having a cup of coffee with fans.
“It’s about building greater trust and confidence, which we have done for a number of years.
“Football often gets a bad reputation, unfortunately, but the majority of fans are there for the right reasons.
“We want people to start recognising the individual officers, so they know who they are, and hopefully provide a point of contact they can go to in case of any problems.”
Steve Dean, secretary of the Sunderland AFC Liaison Council, is looking forward to meeting the officers at today’s fixture. “We’ve been pushing for this for a couple of years now,” he said. “Contrary to what a lot of people think, police are not there just to catch offenders, but they are there for welfare and support and to provide a friendly face for fans to communicate with.”
Paul Weir, SAFC head of safety, said: “We welcome the return to policing our supporters as if they are a community within a community. At the Stadium of Light we try where possible to have the same stewards in the same locations on match day, and I’m sure the majority of our supporters like to see familiar faces in the same places.
“I’m sure it will be the same if the police deal with our games as they do with the rest of the wider community.”