WHEN police in Darlington offered our reporters the chance to spend 24 hours with them to see what life was like on the front line, we jumped at the chance.

At first, one or two officers were uneasy about having journalists so close at hand, but when they realised we had no agenda to push, other than wanting to give an accurate portrayal of the challenges of modern policing in a North-East town, they opened up remarkably.

The resulting series of articles, the first half of which we publish today, highlights a number of issues.

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Firstly, it is clear how much more support is needed for people in mental health crisis so the burden of helping them does not fall to police so often.

Public drunkenness is clearly another strain on resources, especially at this time of year, and the issue of beggars in the town also proved prominent. The comments which followed our stint with the police about giving money to beggars, made by senior officers and charities, are particularly strong, and will no doubt provoke many differing opinions.

Because we were given special access by the police do we just blindly accept these statements?

Of course not. As with all stories, we strive to give both sides a voice, and Graeme Thompson, a man begging in the town centre on Thursday, gave a wholly different viewpoint.

Who’s right? We don’t have the definitive answer, but in presenting all the arguments, we give our readers the chance to make up their own minds, using the best information we can provide.