Written and Photographed by John Ferguson
Pulling up outside a house where he suspects a wanted man may be hiding, Sergeant Ali Livingstone isn’t hopeful.
“We’re on a bit of a wing and a prayer to be honest,” he says as he puts on the handbrake of his Ford Focus. “But you never know.”
He’s only trying this address because he’s bored after a quiet night of “just” two arrests.
For most cops that would be a busy shift, but 27-year-old Sgt Livingstone is not most cops.
Last week, it was revealed he’s the country’s most prolific bobby, notching up more arrests in a week than the average officer does in a year. Known as Supercop, in the past 18 months alone he’s apprehended more than 1,000 people. On a busy night, nearly half the cells at his station will be taken up by people he’s collared on the beat in Ipswich with the Suffolk force.
I joined him on patrol in the early hours of the morning. It’s 12.15am as he knocks on the door. No one answers. He continues knocking – he knows someone’s there – and his perseverance pays off.
A man in his 40s, wearing a T-shirt and boxers, opens the door a crack, and shouts: “What the f*** do you want?”. Through a tirade of foul-mouthed abuse Sgt Livingstone calmly explains he’s looking for a suspected thief who’s dodged court.
He’s been on the run for six weeks and impossible to find. That is, until Sgt Livingstone joins the hunt.
The man at the door furiously insists he doesn’t know the missing man. But the sarge has seen enough to know something’s amiss, including a twitch at the kitchen curtains after the homeowner claimed to be upstairs with his girlfriend.
And after a 10-minute stand-off the angry man realises Sgt Livingstone isn’t leaving.
The door closes and seconds later out walks the fugitive, head down and defeated.
“Result,” says the sergeant, known to colleagues as the “arrest machine”. It’s obvious why. Within an hour of starting his shift, he’d made his first arrest and by the end of the night he’d made three – the same an average officer would manage in three months.
His secret is simple: He spends as little time as possible behind a desk.
“I try not to spend too much time at the station,” he says, explaining that as a sergeant he could easily keep tabs on his 10-strong team from his office. “This way, I get to see what they see and hear what they hear.”
And if it all kicks off, he can be on the scene within minutes. Members of an eight-strong gang awaiting sentence for burglaries know this only too well, after a car they’d stolen was tracked down by Sgt Livingstone.
He went to flats near the car, overheard them laughing about their hauls, and nicked them.
On the nightshift, Sgt Livingstone has come in to work early at 5pm. His colleagues say this isn’t unusual.
One adds: “He’ll come in two, three hours early to catch up on paperwork.” The shift always begins with a drive through Ipswich town centre.
There are a few people he’s after. One woman is wanted on deception charges. A man has breached a court order. Within an hour, he is in the cells.
Sgt Livingstone is well-known in the town. Names of offenders reel off his tongue as he spots them. He does a name check on one suspect to see if he has any warrants against him. He doesn’t, but within minutes Sgt Livingstone is back after the man is overheard talking about killing himself.
He is detained under the Mental Health Act. “When I was training my tutor said if something seems wrong, it usually is,” says the officer.
Nobody is safe from the Ipswich-born cop. He’s arrested people he was at school with and even fellow officers. He says: “I pulled one over for drink-driving once. It can be a bit uncomfortable at times but I think it’s probably more embarrassing for them.”
Workaholic Sgt Livingstone joined the police at 18, has never had a day off sick and has only taken four days’ holiday this year.
But does he have weaknesses? A couple – he’s scared of dogs and can’t reverse park to save his life.
Nicks of the best
Best arrest: Two burglars stole a high-value car. I located their address and heard them talking about the crime. I arrested two. We found thousands of pounds’ of stolen goods.
Scariest: A man was wanted for an assault. At his home he chased some officers with a samurai sword and a colleague and I were trapped at the back. After a few firm words he put the sword down and we arrested him.
Funniest: A fight at a fancy dress party. One of the Three Musketeers was attacking Robin Hood. Sadly, Friar Tuck got away.
Saddest: A heroin addict in his 20s picked up for theft. He’s a nice guy. It’s sad because I know he wants to be clean.