Tackling the street drinkers of Spalding

Cans discarded by street drinkers in Spalding
Cans discarded by street drinkers in Spalding

I love Spalding. I’ve lived here for 25 years and my family grew up in this town.

I want Spalding to be a thriving market town with independent shops and cafes that encourage people to come and visit. It should be a safe place to live in, work in and shop in.

Littering and street urination will be easier to combat with the introduction of the council’s new CCTV system and I look forward to the system going live.

ON THE BEAT: By Inspector Jim Tyner

The main issues affecting Spalding town centre are street drinking and the associated anti-social behaviour, urination and littering. Prior to my starting, this paper had started a ‘We’ve Had Enough’ campaign.

Operation Trunk had been put in place by my predecessor, drawing officers from across South Holland to tackle street drinking in Spalding town centre. (What I refer to as the town centre is the area covered by the Designated Public Places Order (DPPO), not just Market Place, Hall Place, etc). Operation Trunk was the right thing to do, but it had an impact on our ability to police other towns and villages across the district. Last year, although calls from the public had significantly reduced, we continued to tackle street drinkers but just used officers from our town centre team.

There have been calls for the current DPPO to be replaced with a ‘total drinking ban’. Under the DPPO, while it is not an offence to consume alcohol within the “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 require them to stop and 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. Readers may recall that I wrote to Parliament for a change in the law, so that we could issue tickets to those found drinking. I wasn’t successful.

Many towns, including nearby Boston, have replaced their DPPO with a Public Places Protection Order (PSPO). Despite how the media may describe it, this is not a total drinking ban: it is a restriction in the same way as the DDPO is. In last week’s story in this paper (‘Spalding Booze Ban: It’s Your Call’), the Policing Minister celebrated Boston’s PSPO results showing 53 people spoken to had ‘complied’ to cease drinking. He said: “No one has refused so far so no fixed penalty notices have been issued so far – this seems to be doing the trick for us.”

So, in this respect, the new PSPO is hardly different from the DPPO: if a street drinker complies with the request to surrender their alcohol, no further action is taken.

However, there is one significant difference with the new power. Under the DPPO there had to be a link between the street drinking and anti-social behaviour. Under the PSPO legislation police officers and authorised officers do not have to have the ‘causing or likely to cause anti-social behaviour’. They can request alcohol from persons if they have, or believe they will, consume alcohol in prohibition of the order.

In some ways, it doesn’t matter whether we have a DPPO or a PSPO. What’s important is that we have the officers to enforce it. There are no extra officers, so any increased patrols to tackle street drinkers would be at the expense of other parts of the district. This is difficult to justify. Instead, my town centre team will continue their patrols and use their powers. But they can’t be everywhere so we do rely heavily on members of the public reporting street drinkers, so that I can target our patrols to be in the right place at the right time.

Street drinkers are often, rather disgustingly, also street-urinators or worse. Of course, they don’t do this when my officers are present, so the police very rarely witness this. However, we have had some success when members of the public have phoned in, then provided statements confirming the street drinker we speak to is the one they saw urinating or defecating.

Littering is the same. I can go on patrol and see evidence of littering, particularly the ubiquitous blue carrier bags, everywhere but I hardly ever see someone littering. Only once in the last year have I personally witnessed someone littering. It was a UK born man and he was reported for summons to court.

Littering and street urination will be easier to combat with the introduction of the council’s new CCTV system and I look forward to the system going live.

I have said before that the majority of our street drinkers are from central and 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’. We continue to do this but this should not distract from the fact that the small hard-core of persistent unpleasant street drinkers are UK born.

I do feel that the easy access to alcohol due to the proliferation of off-licences in Spalding has added to the street drinking issue. I agree with our local MP, John Hayes, that there are too many off-licences in Spalding and I would welcome a review of the current licensing legislation.

In the meantime, as I prepare for my departure to Skegness, my successor, Inspector Jo Reeves, will ensure that tackling street drinkers remains a priority.