Tackling Problems Caused by Street Drinkers in East Cambridge


Sunday, August 5th, 2012. 3:20pm


Policing East Cambridge August 2012

I observed Cambridge’s East Area Committee on Thursday the 2nd of August 2012. One of the key things raised, as usual for East Area Committee meetings, was crime, and other problems related to street drinkers in the area. The committee heard from two members of the public one of whom was Joanna Dean of Norfolk Street, who described intimidating and aggressive behaviour from the current population of street drinkers. She and another member of the public said current street drinkers are less considerate than those who had been in the area in the past. They also related reports of shopkeepers having to clean up vomit from outside their shops before they opened in the mornings.

East Area Committee Chair, Labour’s Cllr Kevin Blencowe said that the committee had set related police priorities over the last two years, but the problems were still occurring, so he wanted to try something else. He sought the committee’s support for two proposals:

  1. A meeting between the police, himself and the opposition spokesperson to develop plans for a localised “street drinking order”, a “Designated Public Places Order (DPPO)”.
  2. For the committee to ask the police to formally propose a “dispersal zone”, under S30 of the Antisocial Behaviour Act 2003, for East Cambridge covering Mill Road, the Mill road Cemetery, Norfolk Street, and perhaps Burleigh Street and Fitzroy Street (outside the East Area) too.

Both of Cllr Blencowe’s proposals were surprisingly unanimously approved by the entire committee, including Liberal Democrat members. Some concern was expressed by Liberal Democrat members about a DPPO, but they did not vote against investigating the option.

Inspector Poppet appeared keen on looking into the highly localised DPPO idea, but expressed concern about dispersal saying there was a need to focus on helping individuals holistically and not just moving them on.

My Suggestion – Capitalise on the Relaunch of Jimmy’s

Liberal Democrat Councillor Smart noted that Jimmy’s Night Shelter is due to re-open as a 24 hour a day assessment centre. According to a FOI request I made in October 2011 was due to have been opened in May 2012, but it appears to yet again have been delayed. I would suggest councillors ought try and ensure the relaunch results in as greater improvement possible for residents of East Cambridge, and could hold a special meeting of the East Area Committee bringing together, in public:

  • Elected representatives; local members and those with relevant cabinet / executive, and committee chairing, responsibilities.
  • Management of Jimmy’s Assessment Centre
  • Magistrates
  • Probation Service
  • The contractors, providing addiction, and alcohol services, and those from the County Council responsible for monitoring their performance.
  • Police
  • NHS

I don’t think the public in Cambridge, or the East Area Committee specifically have been clearly told exactly what can be expected from the relaunched service. In my experience single issue public area committee meetings can be very effective. I would like to see councillors and the public better informed about the services being provided so they can ensure the vast sums of taxpayers money being poured into tackling the problems associated with the related problems of homelessness and drug and alcohol addiction among those spending a lot of time on the streets is being effectively spent.

In addition to learning about the new services to be provided by Jimmy’s and making clear to those running the service what local residents would like to see; I’d like to see councillors locally scrutinising the performance of the County Council’s contract with South Staffordshire and Shropshire NHS Foundation Trust for Drug Treatment Services and with Addaction for the provision of the Cambridgeshire Alcohol Treatment Service. When the latter service is up for tender again, next year, in 2013 I expect, given the contract was for three years from July 2010 local councillors should be ensuring the future provision works in the public interest. One interesting point is which contractor is responsible for an individual depends on if their primary addiction is alcohol or other drugs; I would like to know more about how this works in practice.

Both services are responsible for delivering court ordered treatments and courses. I think there is a lack of openness surrounding such court orders; even magistrates handing them down are often unclear about what exactly they will amount to, when they will start, and how much contact time there will be. A six month order handed down in court might result in no action being taken for a couple of months, followed by a handful of appointments with a practitioner. I think there needs to be much greater transparency so elected representatives can ensure public funded interventions are co-ordinated, and even to ensure sentencing is carried out from a better informed position.

The services have a wider role too, in dealing post-sentence, with those being monitored by the police and probation service. I think magistrates in particular would benefit from hearing from councillors and the public about the impact those committing offences relating to street drinking are having on those who live, work in, and visit, East Cambridge.

I would like to see councillors receive information on how cases had been dealt with by the police and courts, and how effective sentencing had been at preventing re-offending. Councillors could start opening up the process of getting to grips with where our response as society to these problems is currently failing.

My View on The DPPO and Dispersal Order Suggestion

Committee members’ logic in calling for the DPPO and dispersal orders appeared to be along the lines of: “we must do something; these are some things; we must do them”.

No argument was made that either a DPPO or extra dispersal powers, would actually solve a problem being experienced by the police. Had such an argument actually been made, I would have listened to it with an open mind and considered the need for extra powers, but it wasn’t.

While Labour Cllr Gail Marchant Daisley didn’t tell the meeting why she wanted to see a dispersal zone order, she did tweet while the meeting was in progress to say:

A major advantage is that it can apply to any form of anti-social behaviour, don’t need to show alcohol related crime & disorder.

However the discussion was on the subject of street drinking, and I don’t know what other “anti-social behaviour” she hopes to see tackled, but whatever that is, it wasn’t the main substance of the concerns raised by the public, or matters debated by councillors.

The attitude of a number of members of the public at the meeting, and the Labour councillors, appeared to me to be one of calling for these people to be swept up, removed from the streets.

If someone is behaving in an aggressive manner on the streets, or urinating/defecating/vomiting on the streets whoever they are, the police have various options for dealing with them. Those whose criminal behaviour is causing a serious problem should end up in court, and their sentences should aim to reform them, and address their health and addiction problems so that they do not continue to offend and cause a problem. As well as people committing offences being pushed into reforming their lives through the courts, I think its important that people have direct access to help with their addictions and other problems. Committing crime shouldn’t be the easiest or even only route to getting help. My view is dealing with people committing offences robustly through the courts is far preferable to merely dispersing them, moving them from one part of the city to another.

In terms of DPPOs, as well as following the long ongoing debate in Cambridge around them; I have personally been stopped for carrying an open container of alcohol in a DPPO and ordered to pour it away (being totally unaware I was in such an area), and I’ve also recently observed Cambridgeshire Police discuss their enforcement of the DPPO surrounding Ely Cathedral. What’s interesting in the latter case is that the police don’t enforce it in a blanket manner, last month they told Ely councillors:

Quite often we found the regular group of street drinkers and associates in the vicinity of the Cathedral but unless we had reports of ASB or we witnessed any offences, no further action was taken. This is in the spirit of the DPPO and is a proportionate response.

If this approach is taken in East Cambridge I think many residents will feel as I did when I heard the police explain their approach in Ely – they’re simply not enforcing the order. However perhaps, if the police are able to exercise discretion, some of the objections to the DPPO could be overcome.

What I wouldn’t want to see is police officers lurking outside the CB2 Cafe catching people walking with alcoholic drinks from inside to the terrace using the pavement. In my experience the police prefer targeting harmless, nice, people than those causing problems, and unless officers are clearly directed we will see no effect on those making the lives of residents a misery, and many more people coming into contact with the police who shouldn’t have to.

We need to be very careful in terms of what we ask the police to do though; and ensure everyone is treated equally by the police and the wider state. We can’t for example have scruffy people being stopped from drinking or buying alcohol, but those who are clean shaven and with a freshly washed T-shirt on being allowed to. Such an approach would breach the basic principles of everyone being treated equally under the law, as Cambridge Liberal Democrats have come close to doing previously via their unwritten dispersal powers protocols.

One of the key roles of the police is to “keep the peace”, if the police are directed for example to only use their powers under the DPPO where there is a “breach of the peace”, which could be quite broadly drawn in my view, I think that could be acceptable. I would rather the police limited their interventions to cases where an offence is involved (one of my and others’ objections to dispersal and DPPO powers is they can criminalise, and restrict the freedoms of, those who have not otherwise committed offences).

I think its reasonable and right for councillors to ask that the options be investigated, and I look forward to reading the outcomes of the meeting to discuss the DPPO, and the consideration of a dispersal zone.

If the council leader, and/or other councillors, are asked to assess the case put forward, my suggestions of areas for them to consider would be similar to those I put forward in March when a zone was being proposed for central Cambridge, the important think is to disambiguate the general call for action, with the reasons the specific powers sought are being requested, there are also other matters I would like to see debated if councillors were considering approving an order these include: signage, operation in practice (forms / notices issued), any protocol limiting the uses of new powers approved (eg. perhaps limiting them to criminal behaviour)

I think a big impact on the area could be obtained from having it patrolled primarily by police constables, with a full range of powers rather than PCSOs who are very limited in terms of what powers they have to take action. I think Labour councillors on the committee are unwilling to criticise the policy of having people dressed up as police officers, rather than constables, as it was their party which introduced the idea. I think the main extra powers of a dispersal zone could be obtained by patrols by already empowered constables. One of the problems raised by the public at the meeting was PCSOs observing problematic behaviour, but just saying hello to those involved, and walking on.

Licensing

Licensing appears to me to be a key area of opportunity to address some of the problems being experienced in the area. While addressing the committee Joanna Dean called for an extension of the Mill Road “Cumulative Impact Zone” to Norfolk Street, no explanation was given as to how that might help. Ex Cllr Gawthrop said he had observed street drinkers being sold alcohol in the newsagents on Norfolk Street after he had a conversation with staff suggesting they probably shouldn’t be served. He suggested the council should act to remove licences from premises selling to those who are drunk.

Cllr Owers also criticised some of the area’s off licences, he said it was clear those with large piles of 9% lagers or cheap ciders stacked up by the doors or tills, being sold in single bottles/cans, were targeting the street drinking market, and should be stopped.

Licensing Committee member Cllr Benstead said there had only ever been two or three reviews of existing licenses carried out by the council. He said he would like to see the council do more of them, and he noted there were many options open to the licensing committee such as adding licensing conditions which could be the outcome of such a review.

Cllr Benstead and others noted that as a result of the current government’s localism policies they now had much greater powers to review licences (As a Labour councillor he didn’t put it quite like that). He noted anyone could provide evidence to the council and request a licence be reviewed.

It emerged that even some councillors, and many members of the public, were unaware of what they had to do to trigger a review.

I would suggest that the council needs to make the process of requesting a licence review much simpler and clearer.

The council does provide guidance, but it is currently hidden on the council’s website, near the bottom of the page admittedly appropriately titled “Have your say about a licence”. I am not sure if this is up to date guidance, the website gives me no assurance and it appears to contradict Cllr Benstead’s statement that anyone can request a review – he specifically said councillors could do so. The form for requesting a licence review is available as a Microsoft Word document.

Inspector Poppet said he was the police’s licensing officer; he said he would request a review of a premises licence if he thought there was a need for one. [As he apparently hasn't yet made such a request in relation to shops selling alcohol in the East Area, presumably he was implying he doesn't think any reviews are currently justified].

Mothers

Joanna Dean made a point of saying she was a mother, she made two related points, one that she and her child had been subject to intimidating behaviour from street drinkers when going to and from school on Norfolk Street, and that the school sometimes finds needles in their boundary fence; though currently does not routinely check their premises for needles.

Labour’s Cllr Moghadas commented just to say she was a mother too; and said needle finds were one reason she didn’t send her children to school on Norfolk Street.

Police Report

The police report to the East Area committee contains a section reporting progress against a previously set priority of:

Alcohol and drug-related street ASB in the East, targeting known hot spots and focussing on education and enforcement to address licensed premises selling alcohol to the intoxicated

The police had been relying on merely “having words” with licence holders; a number of councillors were critical of this approach and again urged tougher action.

At the meeting Inspector Poppet said the street drinking problems were unrelated to homelessness; and commented that street drinkers in the Mill Road area came from all areas of the city. This was apparantly contradicted by his report which states:

The monthly ASB Team-led ‘Problem Solving Group’ looks at how to address these issues but notes that due to the reduction in hostel bed-spaces in Cambridge, and therefore the lack of move-on potential from Jimmy’s Night Shelter, there is an impact on those numbers sleeping rough. The ASB Team is taking enforcement action against those tenants who are identified as causing street-based ASB, whilst engaging with support services to try and encourage these tenants into more “meaningful activity”.

The discussion when the previous priority was set focused more on class A drug use and dealing. Councillors decided to continue their previous priority unamended, however the discussion at the August meeting did not focus as much on class A drug supply, but on the behaviour of street drinkers.

Jason Gray’s Ban From Mill Road

Inspector Poppet referred to an ASBO issued by Cambridge Magistrates banning Jason Gray from Mill Road. Inspector Poppet said he was able to mention the individual case in public because the Cambridge News had reported it. I think police officers need to be more confident about naming offenders, and should not be contributing to the highly secretive justice system we have in Cambridge by unnecessarily refraining from doing so.

Joanna Dean said Mr Gray was banned from Mill Road but not Norfolk Street, and urged future orders should include Norfolk Street. With the magistrates not attending area committees, or eve the city’s Community Safety Partnership meetings, there doesn’t appear to be a functioning mechanism for this kind of message to get through to the magistrates.

Absent

Petersfield County Councillor Nicola Harrison was absent without apologies or explanation from the East Area Committee. Cllrs Brown, Herbert and Hart apologised for their absence.

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11 comments/updates on “Tackling Problems Caused by Street Drinkers in East Cambridge

  1. David

    Reviews of existing alcohol licences? This is something of a revelation.

    Did this happen in these cases from the Cambridge News archive?

    Balv’s on Mill Road caught selling alcohol to a 15 year old child:
    http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Cambridge/Under-age-booze-seller-fined-250.htm

    Lallys News accused of selling alcohol to drunks:
    http://www.cambridge-news.co.uk/Cambridge/Under-cover-officers-target-city-off-licences.htm

    Now we have the ridiculous situation under the Cumulative Impact Zone where new businesses are barred from selling alcohol while long established off licences can seemingly operate with impunity – just because they’ve been around for a long time.

  2. Cllr Steve Tierney

    Wouldn’t it be smart if, before implementing new policies, they talked to authorities which have already experimented with those policies to see if they worked?

    I was pleased to see @David’s comment, above, RE: Cumulative Impact Zones. Since we’re currently in the process of doing the same thing in Fenland and one of the objections I’ve raised is the danger of freezing out new licensees while protecting existing ones based on the silly idea of a “total number” which bears no reflection on the licensees individually.

    But this is where we are. The Powers That Be, albeit police or council officers, propose some draconian new solution and everybody claps and cheers. Unintended consequences follow as sure as night follows day.

  3. cobweb

    The ‘draconian’ solution is usually the S30 order though. It does irritate me that the police keep coming back to that as a useful tool (mostly, as far as I can tell, because PSCO’s can use it) but it does nothing to address the problem of addiction. And of course the person with the addiction could be someone with a freshly laundered t-shirt as much as the scruff on the corner.

    Interesting ideas, Richard. A city wide meeting might be even more helpful actually.

  4. Leigh Robinson

    Joanna Dean’s comment about the street drinkers being less considerate than those who had been in the area in the past highlights the influx of homeless to Cambridge. The homeless are very much a community unto themselves and I rarely see the same faces out on the streets. For whatever reason, Cambridge is attractive to them.

    DPPO’s just push street drinking out onto another road. I would be concerned if I lived near Mill Road and knew a dispersal order was going to come into place.

    The street drinking on Mill Road is caused by it being the route between Jimmy’s and Brookfield’s Hospital where many of the homeless go for their court ordered drug/alcohol treatments.

    As an assessment centre, Jimmy’s will largely focus on returning those without a local connection to Cambridge back to their place of normal residence.

    I have heard that the opening has been delayed as there are issues between the Council, Developers and Jimmy’s that are not resolved. To hazard a guess it could be the number of beds the council want in there and the number the developers will allow? Either way, by the Council funding the project I am aware that they now have a lot more control over how Jimmy’s operates.

    If Jimmy’s does not meet Council requirements problems like this happen. My understanding is that before the funding was given Jimmy’s was largely church funded and free to operate as it saw fit.

    Sentences aimed at reforming Homeless people causing anti-social behavior do not work as they are always enforced. If you are told or forced to do something how does that motivate you?

    They need to feel part of society, not excluded from it. They need to be motivated to want to change and this can be done by offering a better future. It needs to be peer led. This sounds expensive but what are the costs of a repeat offender going through courts, prison and drug orders their entire life?

    It takes imaginative thinking and commitment to achieve these changes and it seems we as a society have no stomach for them.

  5. Richard Taylor Article author

    On Licence Reviews

    I think there was agreement among the committee, and from a number of members of the public, an expanded cumulative impact zone as Joanna Dean was calling for was not the best course of action. The discussion turned to licensing reviews as both members of the public, and councilors, noted there were problems with existing off licenses. I agree, and that’s why I’ve suggested the council needs to do much better at making clear what the arrangements are for triggering a review of a licence. The meeting heard from Cllr Benstead that licencing committee members had been on a course which covered the new arrangements just a few days before the meeting. It appear’s the council’s website needs updating.
    The council have been talking about encouraging more licensing reviews for well over a year now, it was something Cllr Smith talked about in full council after being made chair of licencing. The current chair is Cllr Rosenstiel, to-date he has been almost silent on alcohol licencing policy matters.

    David appears to questioning why licence reviews are not triggered by council enforcement action. Something Cllr Benstead suggested had become possible is for certain arms of councils, perhaps including trading standards or environmental health, to request reviews. The council appears not to have yet put policies in place to make the most of the new more flexible arrangements.

    Experiments

    County Councillor Tierney suggests we look at experiments.

    We had a S30 dispersal zone covering various parts of Mill Road between 2004 and 2009. In the last three months of its operation it wasn’t used. The big change was the introduction of the dispersal powers under S27 of the violent crime reduction act.

    However there are many factors which change with time, along with the order being applied or not to particular areas.

    I wrote an article on the meeting, held in January 2012, at which the discontinuation of the previous order was discussed:

    http://www.rtaylor.co.uk/dispersal-zone-renewed.html

    Unfortunately policing interventions are very rarely designed as robust experiments. I have recently been lobbying, without success, to ask the council to make its current restorative justice neighborhood panels into a well designed experiment so the results can be used to inform future decisions, but the Liberal Democrats have rejected this.

    There are flaws with all sorts of potential experimental designs. Having the police use the powers on random days through a period and analyzing reported crime might be one possibility, but if the impact accrues from sustained use of the powers this might not be appropriate. Having an order on one part of a street, or in one part of a city, and not another won’t work due to the potential for displacement of problems.

    We could look to other cities, but dispersal powers, and DPPOs are used in a very broad range of contexts. Even in Cambridge we’ve seen dispersal deployed for both street drinking, and to disrupt drug use and dealing in public toilets. Elsewhere such orders are used in very different, and incomparable circumstances, for example as I have mentioned around the Cathedral in Ely. A common use of DPPOs is to prevent people walking between licenced premsises in town centres while drinking; it may be possible to compare similar centres with and without an order, but I think it would be hard to find an area to compare Mill Road in Cambridge with.

    Sentencing

    As for sentencing being a way of forcing people to get treatment; to an extent it is, but really what we’re doing with treatment orders giving people a chance to reform, and help themselves, if they don’t want to return to court and face a longer more serious penalty. Prison currently often fails people, but it shouldn’t and we need a wider range of options, for example smaller local specialist centres where people can be detained while they receive help. I think that if we’ve got people involved in serious criminality, causing havoc, then depriving them of their freedom if they won’t take part in a treatment order would be appropriate. We need to be having these debated in public, preferably with the magistrates, people who’ve been criminal street drinkers but who’ve turned their lives around, the ministry of justice and others informing the debate.

    See also my article: Consequences of Punching A Random Stranger on Fitzroy Street in Cambridge; we need to ensure treatment is only one part of any sentence, and that having a drug or alcohol problem doesn’t see someone get a lesser sentence for crimes. All of the sentencing purposes must be effectively addressed.

  6. Cambridgebob

    @leigh – As far as I’m aware Jimmys has nothing to do with the church apart from them being the landlords. What I do know is that the church charges market rents over 60k per year for the property Jimmys in in.

    I went into Jimmys last week to check the progress and it really is a fantastic development. The old Jimmys considered of 6ish bunk beds to a room, while the new Jimmys has individual rooms and several areas to help rehabilitate the people in them. It does need to be noted that not all residents of Jimmys have problems. Many are people that stay for a short period but work and can not afford to pay the stupidly high rents in Cambridge. Cllrs really seem to think that the solution to the problem is the alcohol itself. It isn’t, it is the complex web of problems, in which where the person gets the alcohol is actually a small part of the problem. An alcoholic will get alcohol from any place they need to. Just because the council decides not to grant a licence to Tesco/ any chain, does not mean the alcohol dependent will not get their drink.

    In my opinion the severe lack of affordable housing and opportunities of young males is more of a problem than the alcohol itself.Many young men I meet would not necessarily of ‘mixed’ with people in this circle if they had of had housing available. Becoming alcohol dependent very often become a by product of social surroundings.

    CIA’s are a basic solution to a complex issue. In their basic form they do not work. For a regular Joe in my 20s, I resent the fact that the Council limit the places which I can socialise and have a drink. Pubs in Cambridge City Centre become packed, busy and expensive. The atmosphere becomes hostile because people are packed into pubs like cattle as there are so few pubs for people to choose from. More public houses means people are spread out more, therefore less trouble.

  7. Richard Taylor Article author

    Housing is Underlying Issue

    I agree that the cost of housing in Cambridge is a key underlying issue; and one I don’t think councillors are addressing as the city is expanded. (more)

    Refusing to Serve is Challenging and Risky

    Another point I missed from my article was Ex Cllr Gawthrop was complaining that the shop on Norfolk Street served street drinkers. One thing which needs to be considered is that street drinkers and alcoholics can become very aggressive if refused alcohol. Serving a customer can be the easy way out, to avoid violence and aggression either there and then, or perhaps later. I’ve experienced both people being served alcohol who shouldn’t have, and on a couple of occasions people being refused. It has taken very strong and firm individuals, backed up by their colleagues, to refuse to sell alcohol to street drinkers, and far from all shop staff are capable of refusing a sale.

  8. Richard Taylor Article author

    Considering what a Police and Crime Commissioner ought be able to do:

    * Take local councillors’ and residents’ concerns to the police, magistrates, and all other relevant parts of the public sector ensuring they understand how the wider public are affected.

    * Help the various arms of the police and crime related public sector, and charities working in the field, to work together.

    * Support councillors, and the East Area Committee, for example by helping organise the kind of meeting I proposed; and ensuring their resolutions on police priorities, and the suggested work towards dispersal and alcohol orders are acted upon.

    * Encourage more openness in the courts, and probation service, and in all related bodies so there is greater understanding of what is currently being done, so councillors in particular are lobbying from, and taking decisions based on, an informed position.

    * Help councils make design and use licencing policies and proceedures which support efforts to reduce crime and disorder linked to licenced premises, including off-licences.

  9. Erny

    Outrageously authoritarian to ban drinking on the streets. Drinking itself causes no harm to anyone and it is none of the state’s business to interfere with this right. Even if drinking increases the risk of committing antisocial behaviour in some people it is incredibly illiberal to impose a wholesale ban. It is the antisocial behaviour itself, not the drinking (which may or may not contribute to it), which should be the target. Plenty of legitimate reasons to enjoy a cold beer outdoors.

  10. Richard Taylor Article author

    I have observed a number of licensing applications being considered in cumulative impact zones. There have been applications that have been both approved, and rejected, in Cambridge in the zones.

    The key effect of the zone is that applicants are required to show they intend to show their proposed activity will not add to the “cumulative impact”. Cambridge’s licencing policy does not contain a cap.

    In essence applicants must address the evidence based reasons councillors decided to introduce the zone; and it makes it easy for councillors to reject applications where the specific local issues which led to the introduction of the zone have not been addressed.

    The operation of the zone depends on electing good councillors; and things like the zone we’ve got in Cambridge effectively gives greater power to councillors to require better quality applications. I think this is a good thing, though I would oppose fixed caps on numbers of premises, and not allowing the presumption that a new premises will add to the “cumulative impact” to be rebutted.

    Giving councillors more power has the potential to strengthen local democracy; it makes it more important that we elect competent people who are able to represent the views of those with an interest in the city.

    It might be better if the zones were better described; in Cambridge they are effectively “sensitive” areas where councillors have made clear applicants need to properly consider how they’re going to address the challenges of operating as part of their application.

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