News Archive

Alcohol Strategy

by msecadm4921

We featured the Government’s Alcohol Harm Reduction Strategy for England in our May 2004 issue.

Then we reported the Government would ‘take stock’ in 2007. And it has. How – if at all – does it help private security?

The effects of excess drink affect most in private security – whether it’s the security officers at NHS hospitals handling loud and abusive drunks in accident and emergency; university guardforces having to take angry phone calls from residents on Monday morning complaining about noisy student neighbours. Let alone the door staff at pubs and clubs (and hotels) who have the aggro from telling drinkers they have had enough for the night. It affects, even if only indirectly, any security operations in town and city centres – because as the document says, the development of the evening economy, driven by the alcohol leisure industry, has supported a revival of city centres across England and Wales.


In 2004, the strategy said that security staff could be accredited by police to help handle late-night town centres. And you can argue that has happened, given the taxi marshal schemes from Inverness to Poole. But three years ago we noted that there was nothing mandatory; nor is there now. In 2004, the strategy praised Pubwatches; it does now. What’s new in private security since 2004 is that the Security Industry Authority is running, and it has its place in the strategy’s list of who does what. The SIA’s task: “Licensing and training of staff employed in the private security industry, ensuring that public safety and confidence is maximised. (This role may also be shared with local authorities through shared powers.)” In other words, the SIA has indeed taken up its place in crime reduction. The strategy proposes more of the same: more Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) ‘to clamp down on low-level alcohol-related offences’ and more accreditation schemes for non-police staff. The strategy reminds us that the Police Reform Act 2002 lets chief constable-accredited people (whether security guard forces or others) give FPNs for disorder or other offences.


The 2007 document, Safe-Sensible-Social: the next steps in the national alcohol stratgegy does speak of ‘considerable progress’ since 2004. (By the way, it covers only England, though the devolved governments of Wales and Scotland have similar ideas.) As the ministerial foreword says, it’s not a job for Government alone. Vernon Coaker, Home Office minister for policing, security and community safety, says: “Business and industry should reinforce responsible drinking messages at every opportunity.” The document speaks of ‘sharpened criminal justice for drunken behaviour’. More fully: “The criminal justice system will be used to bear down on those committing crime and antisocial behaviour when drunk. Points of intervention will be introduced following arrest, through conditional caution and through disposal. As a last resort, police and local authorities can designate ‘alcohol disorder zones’ to charge some licensed
premises for the cost of extra enforcement activity. Liverpool is praised for city centre work – Pubwatch, taxi marshalling, the Best Bar None scheme, deploying of hand-held metal-detectors (paid for by Citysafe, the community safety partnership) to deter knife-carrying. Also praised: Sheffield, which has similar ideas, such as putting its ‘city centre ambassadors’ on the evening streets as a presence, and a ‘city centre triage and help point’ offers treatment for minor injuries or advice. Incidentally the strategy does praise Best Bar None as a voluntary awards scheme for the on-licence trade, while overlooking the Safer Socialising Award, the night-time economy equivalent of AABC’s Safer Shopping Award.


The strategy does claim that violent crime has fallen, and ‘levels of alcohol consumption are no longer rising’. Although that is according to the British Crime Survey, and according to the survey if anything the perception of people is that drunk or rowdy behaviour in public places is on the rise. And the strategy does speak of a ‘signifi cant minority of drinkers who experience, and are responsible for, most of the crime, health and social harm associated with alcohol misuse’.


Critics could ask, again, where as in 2004 the force is to make change. While new laws have made headlines, it is questionable what difference they make. Under the Criminal Justice Act 2003 police can give ‘conditional cautions’ to steer offenders such as binge drinkers to, for example, alcohol advice – but so far it’s patchy, as the strategy admits. Under the Licensing Act 2003, the authorities can tell pubs and clubs to have plastic not glass glasses, as a condition of their licence, to combat glass-related injuries. Proposed is an ‘expert group’ by the autumn to look at the issue, to make proposals next year. According to the strategy, the Government wants a risk-based not a blanket use of plastic glasses, which will take some risk assessing, given the tens of thousands of licenced premises. The strategy says: “By April 2008, all Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) – comprising the police, local authorities, police authorities, fire and rescue authorities and primary care trusts in England, and civil society organisations – will be required by law to have a strategy to tackle crime, disorder and substance misuse (including alcohol-related disorder and misuse) in their area.” But will that strategy include, to name one niggle raised at the Action Against Business Conference in February, supermarkets selling cheap alcohol – under-cutting pubs and leading to drunkenness? On that score the strategy speaks only of a review of the evidence then a consultation, then considering regulation if necessary.


And what of aggression and assaults against hospital staff? The strategy says: “The police, Crown Prosecution Service and NHS nationally have agreed a consistent approach to the prevention, detection, investigation and application of sanctions in respect of assaults against staff within the NHS.” However, the suspicion remains that the authorities would rather not hear about bad things on the front line. Also, as the strategy does imply, some of the problem does not get recorded … and, you could add, therefore is not officially a problem. The strategy asks hospitals to collect data on violent alcohol-related incidents, including crimes not reported to the police. The dilemma that neither strategy not indeed anyone else has answered is how to get a handle on the disorderly and drunks (or indeed shoplifters), if all the thrust of official policy is to deal with it by on the spot fines, rather than burden the courts even more; yet the point of such on the spot fines is to remove the offenders from the criminal justice system, so that they remain off the official radar. Meanwhile security officers whether at bus depots or A&E departments are the ones cleaning up … sometimes literally.

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