Drinking in the street isn’t illegal. If it was, my job would be a lot easier. But it isn’t, so we have to be creative about how we deal with it. Street drinking remains an area of concern for many people who visit or work in Spalding town centre. Just before I started as Community Policing Inspector, this paper launched their ‘We’ve Had Enough’ campaign. This reflected the strength of local feeling about drinkers and associated anti-social behaviour in the town centre. Together with South Holland District Council and other agencies and charities we have been working hard to reduce the amount of street drinking. But this is a national problem, and not restricted to South Holland.
Most of the feedback I get is positive and people tell me they have noticed a difference in the town centre. Only last week two town centre traders have told me that they have seen a significant reduction in street drinkers and they regularly see officers on patrol in the town centre.
Last week I carried out a rather unsophisticated snapshot survey on Twitter to gauge people’s experiences. The results to the survey are below, but I should add a word of caution. Because it was a free survey, it was limited to 100 responses. Analysts will tell you that such a small number is not ‘statistically significant’. Also, the voting wasn’t regulated, so there was no limit to how often an individual could vote. For example, there may be 100 people voting once each, 50 people voting twice each, or ten people voting ten times each.
The first question was whether people should be allowed to drink in a public place. The overwhelming response was negative. This is interesting. Despite what you may read in other papers, the law does not allow for a complete ban of alcohol. I’m not certain that people really do want a total ban. What about a family picnic on the riverbank? Or workers celebrating with an end of the week drink? Maybe people are so fed up with seeing street drinkers that they are willing to surrender these important freedoms.
Responses to the second question showed that 60% of people felt affected by street drinking. This reinforces my assessment that street drinking hasn’t gone away.
I am frustrated that 35% of those that voted wouldn’t call the police if they saw ASB linked to street-drinking. Every call is logged on our computer system and I need that statistical evidence to plan ahead and to get extra resources.
I was disappointed that 66% of those that voted did not think that street drinking had reduced since last year. I have to take note of this, but it is at odds with what I hear when I talk to traders in town. We have fewer calls from members of the public compared to last year and our patrols are finding fewer drinkers. For example in May 2012 we dealt with 85 street drinkers, in May 2013 we dealt with 31 and in May 2014 we dealt with 26. I don’t think for one minute that we have eradicated street drinking, but I had hoped that people had noticed an improvement.
Most disappointing of all is the fact that 65% of those that voted do not have confidence that we are dealing with anti-social behaviour linked to street drinking. This is an unfair reflection on the hard work by my officers and many other agencies and charities who are tackling street drinkers on a daily basis. Every officer at Spalding knows my expectations and patrols are carried out every day.
You will sometimes see headlines proclaiming ‘extra patrols’. There are no extra officers, so to increase patrols in one area is always at the expense of other areas. This is why it’s so important that people report crime and anti-social behaviour to us: so I can make informed decisions on where my officers should patrol.
I have always said that it is not me, but our community, who will decide whether we are successful in reducing street drinking. Based on this survey, those that voted felt strongly that street drinking remains an issue. I want readers to have confidence that I am listening and my officers will continue to tackle street drinking.
At the moment, Spalding town centre is under a Designated Public Places Order (DPPO). I think I need to clarify exactly what our powers are under the DPPO.
While it is not an offence to consume alcohol within a “designated” area, the police have powers to control the consumption of alcohol within that place. If we believe someone is consuming alcohol or intends to consume alcohol we can:
n require them to stop; and
n confiscate the alcohol from them
If someone fails to comply with the officer’s request they are committing an offence which can result in a penalty notice or a fine up to £500.
Unfortunately, the police cannot fine street drinkers unless they go on to commit anti-social behaviour or refuse to surrender their alcohol.
Frustratingly for some, drinking within the DPPO area is not enough – all we can do is remind drinkers that they are in a no-drinking zone and confiscate the alcohol.
This may seem strange to some people. Many of us do not like to see people drinking in the street and may call it unpleasant or anti-social, however the police have to work within the strict legal definition of anti-social behaviour rather than the more generally used interpretation of the term.
In the financial year 2012/2013 there were 337 occasions when people were dealt with for breaches of the DPPO. In the 2013/2014 year we dealt with 360 street drinkers.
We continue to deal with this because the public tell us this is an issue that gives them concern.
Although calls from the public about street drinking have significantly reduced, we are still targeting this.
Given that, as I said earlier, drinking in the street isn’t a crime, why do we deal with it? We are responding to community concerns.
We are not targeting any particular part of our community based on race or ethnicity.
It’s true that the majority of those that we deal with are originally from Central or Eastern Europe.
It is also true that most drinkers only have to be dealt with once; they accept our warning and do not drink in the DPPO again.
However, repeat offenders more often than not tend to be people born in the UK.
WHAT WE DO
... to tackle street drinkers:
Pro-active patrols in hot-spot areas. I have officers on foot and cycle patrol every day looking for street drinkers.
Priority response to every call. This means the next available officer deals with the report.
Enforcement by pouring alcohol away.
Use of ‘Section 27 notices’, which is a way of giving a person a formal direction to leave the area for a maximum of 48 hours. If they return they can be arrested.
Arrest if there is disorder or violence.
It’s not just my officers that are tackling street drinkers. Other agencies and charities play their part as well.
Our action with others involves:
n Adoption of single-can policy. As our enforcement started to have an impact street drinkers responded by only buying one can of beer at a time to minimise their loss when we made seizures. We put in place a local off-licence agreement not to sell single cans of beer.
n Licensing enforcement. The police licensing team work with Lincolnshire Trading Standards and SHDC Licensing to ensure traders’ licensing conditions are adhered to and take joint enforcement action.
n Litter removal. An undertaking from SHDC to remove all litter, including discarded cans & bottles, within the DPPO every 24 hours.
n Rough sleepers. It became apparent that many of our street drinkers were also rough sleepers. Joint patrols with the Framework Street Outreach Team took place to break the cycle of homelessness
n Addaction and NHS support: We can refer individuals to agencies that can give support for alcohol dependency. Every person that is dealt with for street drinking is given a referral card.
n Foreign nationals. It was apparent that the majority of our street drinkers were from Central & Eastern European backgrounds. Joint working with HM Immigration and Enforcement has removed some of the most prolific street drinkers from the UK as we could evidence that they were not exercising their ‘treaty rights’.
n Street Pastors. Our Street Pastors deal with the effects of street drinking, providing welfare and support on their patrols.
New legislation will be coming in from October, which will allow for the introduction of a Public Spaces Protection Order (PSPO) to replace the current DPPO.
I am working with the Community Safety Partnership (which includes representatives from South Holland District Council, Boston Borough Council, East Lindsey District Council and my Inspector colleagues from those areas) so that we can plan together how the new law may address our communities’ concerns.
Contrary to media speculation, the new legislation does not allow for a total drinking ban, but it does introduce new powers for PCSOs and Council Officers for tackling public nuisance.
There will be more information about the new law in the near future.