On the evening of the 12th of April 2012 I observed councillors on Cambridge’s East Area Committee set the areas’s policing priorities for the upcoming four months. Problems caused by street drinkers were by far the top issue raised by councillors.
Sergeant Jamie Stenton for Cambridgeshire Police initially reported:
“Street life people [his words] are often doing nothing wrong, just sitting around socialising.”
Councillors’ contributions which followed however painted a very different picture.
Labour councillor for Coleridge George Owers told the committee about disorder he could see out of the window of his flat, which overlooks the Co-Op on Mill Road, Romsey. Liberal Democrat Kilian Bourke also identified that area as being a problem, he said that a bench in that area had been taken over by street drinkers. Cllr Bourke said that there had been an influx of new street drinkers in the “broadway” area of Mill Road where the Co-Op is located and these people were aggressive and not, as previous street drinkers had been, part of the community who shop keepers and others could communicate with.
Cllr Marchant-Daisley (Labour) reported that in her Petersfield ward street drinkers were harassing people and causing alarm and distress, making clear their behaviour was criminal. She identified the Dicthburn Place bus stop on Mill Road as a particular focal point and described how street drinkers were behaving in an aggressive and loud manner, sometimes fighting, which made people feel unsafe. Others also talked about the impact on bus users getting on and off buses on Mill Road.
Cllr Owers repeated calls he, and his party colleagues, have made previously, for a “wet centre”, so street drinkers can be cleared from the streets and put somewhere else (at previous meetings Cllr Owers has suggested this could be a garden, or part of a park, if not a “room” or “centre”).
Police Sergeant Jamie Stenton expressed support for the Labour “Wet Room” proposal. He said a wet room would be “very good”. While places for street drinkers to go and drink are not mentioned in Labour’s 2012 Local Election Manifesto for Cambridge, Labour councillors made clear they would like to see them during the April 2012 East Area Committee, as they have done at previous meetings of the committee and during recent full council debates. As we are in an election period I thought this clear support for a specific party’s policies by the police was unusual and surprisingly political.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Saunders made a request for the “council’s psychiatric nurse” to be involved. I read after the meeting that the council employs a community psychiatric nurse in its street outreach team, I wasn’t previously aware of this.
A council document from 2008 lists a bid for this post, saying:
Provision of a specialist alcohol Community Psychiatric Nurse (CPN) to move street drinkers away from a street-life culture and to contribute to the assessment for allocation of new clients to existing
supported hostels and shared houses where appropriate
The cost of the nurse was £60K per year in 2008.
A more recent document from March 2012 reveals that the post holder works from the council’s “Cambridge Access Surgery” which is a dedicated GP service specially for homeless people based at 125 Newmarket Road.
The meeting’s chair Cllr Blencowe asked Inspector Poppet, the city’s neighbourhood policing chief, to comment (he had been lurking in the public seating). Inspector Poppet told the committee the police had started better sharing of information on particular street drinking individuals with the city council to aiming to ensure individuals “had a range of services around them”.
Liberal Democrat Cllr Sarah Brown asked that any priority set did not specifically mention or target street drinkers, but instead ought refer more generically to “anti-social behaviour” so to avoid unfair targeting of a particular group. Her suggestion was not taken up by the committee.
It was notable that dispersal zones were not mentioned by the police or councillors, despite proposals for a zone in the city centre which could have the effect of displacing more street drinkers to East Cambridge. The central zone proposed includes Mortimer Road in East Cambridge, and East Road which is on the boundary of the area, so the area committee really ought to have been informed about it. The East Area Committee’s chair, Cllr Blencowe, is personally pushing for a dispersal zone for East Cambridge, so an update on that might have been expected too.
Councillors congratulated the police on their work addressing their previous priority which was to: “Address alcohol and drug related ASB in Norfolk Street, East Road and Newmarket Road areas”. All councillors who spoke were uncritically positive about the police’s success in doing exactly what they’d been asked to do in that area.
There was some discussion of licensing. Mr Gawthrope, the only member of the public to contribute to the policing item, urged councillors to set licence enforcement, and controlling alcohol sales as a priority, but no councillors took up his suggestion. The police did however agree, at councillors’ request to consider pushing for licence reviews on those they were aware were selling alcohol to people who were drunk. While agreeing Sgt Stenton didn’t appear too keen saying “what counts as drunk might be different for different shopkeepers”.
The meeting was told that Sgt Stenton was being moved to another role, and Sgt Colin Warden would be taking over policing East Cambridge. Sgt Warden was present but sat silently in the public seating.
The committee set a priority of street life drink related antisocial behaviour, including related class A drug dealing.
There is a problem
The behaviour of some homeless people, or those living in hostels, drinking on the streets, of Cambridge are a serious problem because they make the city unsafe, and make it feel unsafe. The problems reported by the East Cambridge councillors are repeated in many parts of the city. Harassment, aggressive begging, loud arguments and these people fighting amongst themselves and who sometimes lunging at and directly intimidate the public have a real impact on how safe the city feels. Illegal drug use, crime to fund drug and alcohol use, robbery and random violence are also committed by the same people.
Focus on criminality
I think we need to focus on the criminality, rather than anti-social behaviour which is not otherwise criminal. Focusing on the criminality rather than other aspects such as merely street drinking or merely congregating means we can target those causing serious problems without having to ask the police to treat one group of people differently from others.
Sentence people to medical help
When people are sentenced by courts for criminal offences and their offending is related to their alcoholism or other addictions then I think their sentences need to both punish and focus on medical treatment, in the interests both of the individual and the wider community. Currently what happens is the courts hand down a “supervision order” with a treatment element. What this will actually amount to isn’t usually known to the court, it is determined by the probation service and drug treatment service later in secret. I’d like to see more transparency and clearer sentences which, for example, both punish by removing someone’s freedom and requiring them to do something. Having to attend for treatment, at a certain place, for a certain period is a restriction of liberty and ought be seen as such by the courts. We need to stop people getting lighter sentences, sometimes involving no punishment, for offences because they are addicted to drugs or alcohol. We need to both punish and seek to address the underlying problem, and I think that can be done together. Magistrates ought set the number of hours of treatment sessions to be attended in the same way as they set numbers of hours of community service to be carried out. Often I think it would be appropriate for sentences to contain both community service and treatment elements.
Sentences need to be long enough for treatment to be effective. Just as Magistrates sometimes allow a driving ban length to be reduced by attending a course, a sentence for a treatment order could perhaps be reduced if certain goals are met, this approach would allow longer sentences for those not changing their behaviour.
A court sentence shouldn’t be the easiest or quickest way for someone to obtain or be able to continue treatment. All GPs in the city need to be aware of the range of services which are available, what they offer. Currently I think this basic knowledge is lacking. People also need to be able to continue treatment even after their treatment orders have expired.
City wide priorities
There are two city wide police and crime priorities which are potentially directly related to the problems associated with street drinkers:
- alcohol-related violent crime
- antisocial behaviour
Progress against these priorities is monitored by the “Community Safety Partnership” on which Cambridge residents are represented by the city’s Executive Councillor for policing, Liberal Democrat Tim Bick. The latest reports to the partnership’s meeting in February 2012 show that street drinking by the homeless / those living in hostels isn’t being considered under these priorities.
I think that where area committees are interested in matters which are city wide priorities they ought receive the reports on city wide progress. This is something I’ve been suggesting for years in the North of the city but the Liberal Democrats have inexplicably opposed it. I’d have liked to see one of the outcomes of the East Area Committee meeting being feedback to Cllr Bick and the Community Safety Partnership.
- To reduce ‘assault with less serious injury’ by 3 percent by March 2014 from the baseline of 2010-11 (8355).
- To record less than 1,100 presentations to the Emergency Department at Addenbrooke’s Hospital by March 2012, where the cause of injury is coded ‘assault’.
- Establish a baseline in 2011-12 for the number of ambulance call outs for ‘assault’ with a view to using this to set targets in future years.
I think this kind of thing is excellent.
I’d like to see councillors on area committees setting priorities with measurable priorities along these lines for their local areas, they should be receiving statistics on crime related injuries.
Influence magistrates and probation
The community safety partnership is also an opportunity for influencing the magistrates and probation service. I’d like to see councillors using it to make clear to these groups what impact the behaviour of street drinkers is having on the city so that sentencing and sentences can take that into account.
I’d also like to see councillors making more use of Cllr Al Bandar who, according to his declarations of interest was appointed to the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Probation Trust board for three years from 2010. The Trust’s own page on it’s board doesn’t list him, but the organisation isn’t very good at transparency.
The Community Psychiatric Nurse
I’d also like to hear from the Community Psychiatric Nurse who we’re paying for. I think they should appear before councillors either at a scrutiny committee or an area committee to explain what they do and hear councillor’s views in public. I had not heard of this post until two days ago, but my initial concern is this may be another area where the council is getting into something it ought leave to the experts. I think a lot of effort is mis-directed by the city council meddling round the edges, for example with its anti-social behaviour team getting into a bit of policing, or in this case employing a health professional. I think the councillors could be more effective if they focused on influencing the core services provided by the NHS and the police.
I would also be interested in learning why the city council has a separate GP surgery for homeless people and those living in hostels, and what the arrangements are – are people required to attend the specialist provision or can they register with other GPs for example.
Councillors at the East Area Committee appeared reasonably good at identifying the key issues of concern to their constituents and specific geographical problem areas. They appeared less keen, or perhaps less able, to show leadership and seek out and prioritise solutions.
Unlike the police I oppose the Labour councillor’s calls for places where street drinkers can go to drink, be it a dedicated part of a park or a designated building. The key problem I have with this is it’s focused on clearing the streets, tidying away the problem, and not addressing the underlying problems those involved have with their health and lives. I am also concerned that we would be concentrating the violent and other unpleasant behaviour into a specific area, and wherever in the city we put that it’s going to cause a problem.
Hostels and services
Jimmy’s Night Shelter is being refurbished and will provide some services 24 hours a day (though currently the proposal is not to provide a place for people to go and drink). Current changes to the provision for homeless people throughout the city is in the direction of providing more intensive assistance, I think this is the right direction to go; although he capacity to provide accommodation needs to be able to meet demand.
Role of an elected commissioner
An elected police commissioner may well be able to empower and assist councillors:
- Ensuring councillors get high quality statistics and other evidence to combine with what they’re hearing from their consituants and experiencing themselves so that they’re as well placed as possible to set priorities.
- Encourage the setting of priorities with measurable outcomes; and encouraging councillors to hold the police to account for any areas where their performance has not been acceptable, finding our what the problems are and helping get them addressed.
- Pointing and helping councillors use the routes councillors have available to them for influencing organisations such as the courts, probation, drug treatment services, the community safety partnership, hostels, housing providers etc and helping them ensure their views are heard there. A commissioner will have the opportunity to bring all organisations involved in policing and crime related matters together more effectively than has happened to-date.
As there are local elections coming in in May I thought I would look at what the manifestos of those standing in East Cambridge have to say in relation to this area:
- “We will continue to : Fund a community psychiatric nurse in the street outreach team who organises a specialised evidence suggests they are needed” [That's a direct quote, it is garbled in the manifesto].
- “We will : Expand the detox programme for street drinkers administered by the community psychiatric nurse by funding an extra project worker”.
- “We will continue to : Address homelessness as a causal factor In some types of anti-social behaviour”
- “We will continue to : Encourage greater transparency, public debate and scrutiny on policing prioritiesr”
- “We will continue to : Bring together Police and other relevant parties to address recurrent anti-social behaviour in particular locations”
A Labour City Council will:
- environment where they can get help and treatment. [sic]
- Work with police to introduce targeted alcohol-free zones via Designated Public Places Orders where there is evidence of a problem and where local communities want it
- Commission a report that outlines effective new policies to ensure that street-drinkers and drug-takers get the rehabilitation and wider support they need.
- Work with local hostels to improve management
- Work with the police to implement Section 30 dispersal orders in areas where persistent anti-social behaviour is a real problem.
- Re-examine recent Lib Dem cuts to city centre CCTV.
- Ensure that the Cambridge Community Safety Partnership engages with community organisations and residents more openly and effectively.
- Create a single Antisocial Behaviour Hotline.
- new City Centre enforcement officer to take tough action against anti-social behaviour.
- Work with local off-licences and supermarkets to crack down on the sale of alcohol to those already drunk or under-aged.
- Look for further opportunities with the police to extend Cumulative Impact Zones where necessary.
We oppose a city-wide drinking ban and find unacceptable the suggestion that ‘middle-class drinking’ will be allowed whilst ‘scruffy drinking’ will be outlawed. Criminalising drinkers and drug users will not solve the problem, nor will simply shifting it elsewhere. If drinkers are actually causing an actual problem, for example unacceptable levels of harassment, aggressive behaviour or theft, then there are laws to deal with these problems.
More resources are needed to address the root cause of alcoholism and anti-social behaviour through preventative measures. These include better provision within the public health service, adequate staffing, and provision of care in groups small enough to allow for individual attention.
While the Cambridge Socialists have nothing to say on street drinking and related crimes directly, they do promise: “No more home repossessions” and to “Create 1 million climate jobs”, policies which may impact on the underlying causes of homelessness and associated street drinking.
The Conservatives locally appear to have no relevant policies. (When Conservative Chris Howell was on the council though he was one of the most effective at setting police priorities other than those the police themselves were proposing).
- Contract for Provision of Adult Drug Treatment Services in Cambridgeshire – INCLUSION – obtained via FOI request in public using WhatDoTheyKnow.com
- LibDems to Consider Regime To Limit Freedom of Movement in Cambridge – my latest article on dispersal zones
- Article about the 222 Victoria Road hostel