BALANCING TACTICS: Senior officer on aggressive begging
Cllr Steve Matthews, Conservative member for the Western Parishes, Image: LDRS
Balancing tactics would be key to dealing with aggressive beggars if a new clampdown zone is launched in Stockton.
That was the view of Chief Inspector Chris Smiles as debate over a “public space protection order” for the town continues.
Aggressive begging in Stockton High Street has been a repeated topic during a council review on the zone.
PSPOs are designed to allow fines of up to £1,000 to be given out for problems leaders want to stamp out.
But there has been criticism of their use elsewhere from civil liberty campaigners.
Chief Inspector Smiles gave a presentation on the pros and cons of PSPOs at a the latest crime and disorder select committee.
He was asked whether the zone could help stop aggressive begging given the problems perpetrators often faced with drugs and alcohol.
In response, he told the panel the orders shouldn’t be “too broad” – and explained the force would need to “differentiate” its tactics.
Chief Inspector Smiles said: “I suppose the difference between aggressive begging and begging is you probably associate aggressive begging sometimes with crime and anti-social behaviour.
“But maybe they do have those complex needs like homelessness, being economically challenged, and being from a deprived background – those are the areas we need to look at.
“Aggressive begging may have some of those issues but it may be targeting members of the public in a much more criminal way – that’s what we would need to differentiate in some of our tactics.”
Councillors heard how there were 24 police officers and 30 PCSOs covering the borough’s 27 wards at the moment.
Former officer Cllr Steve Matthews shared some doubts about how teams would cope with enforcing a PSPO if one was rolled out.
And the former Cleveland Police Federation chairman also questioned how PCSOs would deal with problems given their limited powers.
The Conservative member added: “When you bring in a protection order, do you honestly feel your team is prepared or able to deal with crime, violence, substance misuse, begging especially, and theft?
“I don’t think, with the way neighbourhood teams are set up, that they’re in a position to deal with this.
“If a protection order is brought in, do you have to bring in more police officers to deal with it? because most of your team is not able to.”
Chief Inspector Smiles disagreed – telling the committee PCSOs did a lot and were important.
The senior officer also said resources would be looked at in any consultation on the zone.
He added: “Wherever the PSPO might be, we would certainly look to resource it as much as we can in conjunction with the council and within the available resources we have.”
“High as kites”
Yarm Lane, Hartington Road, and Rose Street have repeatedly ranked highly for crime and cases of trouble in Stockton.
Cllr Sylvia Walmsley told the committee she’d been using Yarm Lane a lot lately – and had noticed a big increase in people sat in doorways and bus shelters drinking and begging.
“Even on a morning they are as high as kites and it’s not very pleasant walking past them,” she added.
“As you say, people have lots of other problems.
“I’m just wondering how that can be dealt with?”
Chief Inspector Smiles said they’d look to differentiate between people causing anti-social behaviour and those who were vulnerable in any PSPO.
He added: “As a police force, where we do identify people who are vulnerable, we can’t walk away from them and we would look for diversionary tactics.”
He also said the Yarm Lane area did have people with “complex needs” who may be committing crime.
“That’s our job to differentiate and make sure we don’t displace the issue,” added Chief Inspector Smiles.
“That would very much come as part of the planning on PSPOs.”
Another “tool in the bag”
Marc Stephenson, enforcement manager at Stockton Council, said PSPOs were just one tactical tool available among a range of measures.
He added: “PSPOs allow us quick action against a particular issue causing problems at that time – but it’s no means the be all and end all of that action.
“If someone changes their behaviour, and stops aggressive begging, that’s brilliant.
“If not, that breach of the PSPO, subsequent fine and its non-payment would then just move into criminal behaviour order stages and injunctions.
“Likewise, any other measures we introduce in a PSPO don’t negate the need for a premise closure order.
“This is a tool. There will be displacement but, rest assured, this is just one way of approaching it.
“It’s another tool in the bag.”
The review continues.
Words: Alex Metcalfe, Local Democracy Reporter
Watch the channel on TV