From the outside there is little to distinguish Justin Burda from the 1,500 or so other Metropolitan Police PCSOs patrolling the streets of London.
But Barnet’s home-grown crime fighter has a hidden talent that has led to him being recognised as the capital’s best community support officer.
His photographic memory has helped him catch at least 26 criminals in the past ten months simply by recognising them from wanted posters – and he has an equally impressive talent for memorising suspicious number plates as well.
The married 33-year-old is nicknamed ‘The Oracle’ among his colleagues for his extraordinary knack of spotting individuals on the wrong side of the law – but he insists he is simply doing his job.
He said: “I’d never really thought about it too much really. I just familiarise myself with the pictures and keep an eye out for them.”
Justin’s modesty hides a natural talent for crime fighting that was recognised by Met Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe when he handed him the award for the force’s best PCSO at a glitzy ceremony last month.
And the former East Barnet Secondary School pupil, who has worked on the Brunswick Park ward for seven years, admits he’s had his fair share of experiences on the front line, including foot chases and catching robbers and burglars in the act.
In one such incident, he spotted a wanted man who had not been seen in Barnet for several months, before following him to an address where he was detained.
Asked if the man had been convicted, Justin said: “I don’t concern myself with what happens to them afterwards. From my point of view I’m doing my bit by securing their arrest.”
Although he now lives in Harrow with his wife, Justin says he enjoys giving something back to the area he spent his childhood, and where his family still lives.
He said: “I like to think I’m hopefully making the area a bit safer. It is good to feel that in some small way you’re helping the community. I like getting to know people and after six years I’m familiar with the community.”
Even while we conduct our interview in a café in Friern Barnet Road, Justin still remains focused on the job and spots one gang member and another petty criminal whom he mentions afterwards he’d been keeping his eye on as we spoke.
He said: “I tend to study face and number plates quite a lot and then it just sticks in my mind. If we’re looking for a particular number plate I can usually remember it and then keep an eye out while I’m on patrol. I often spot them.”
Justin’s impressive accolade last month has made his wife and family proud, and he says it was nice to be recognised by the Met’s top brass.
He said: “I’m lucky I work with such great colleagues and a great sergeant who is very supportive. I was surprised that I won but it was nice to be recognised – they were obviously keeping an eye on me.”