News Archive

When Crush Comes To Shove

by msecadm4921

At the launch of an association to represent the entertainment quarter of a big UK city, all the security-related problems – and possible solutions – had an airing.

Nightmare on Broad Street was the headline in one local paper. It referred to crimes suffered by two of the many thousands of restaurant, film and club-goers who visit the Broad Street part of central Birmingham. If all parties on the street fail to ensure security of premises and staff, and public safety of customers, bad publicity can be costly. It can scare away trade, and possibly scupper the city’s bid to be the 2008 European City of Culture. The security management stakes are high, then, and go beyond the immediate, obvious need to protect your company’s assets. Hence a gathering at the Novotel on Broad Street for the relaunch of the Broad Street Association (BSA). Police speakers were at pains to stress that they did not want to own the BSA and the largely commercial rather than residential sites on the street and nearby had to play their part, in delivering a clean and safe (for safe read ‘secure’) place that people want to keep on spending money in.
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Street scene
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Let’s set the scene first: the street on a Friday and Saturday night, all seasons. What one speaker, Sgt Bryan Davis, called ‘the Broad Mile’ has 60 clubs, 27 restaurants, and visitor attractions of the calibre of the National Indoor Arena and Symphony Hall. Sgt Davis, who is in charge of the Crime Fighting Team devoted to Broad Street, told the audience how as a young copper he patrolled Broad Street in 1976 when it was a very different, far less upmarket, place – once where a bikers’ cafe stood is now the Hyatt Hotel. Sgt Davis’ Home Office-funded team of seven constables is in addition to police already covering the area. But their numbers are dwarfed by the more than 50,000 people on Broad Street on a weekend night. ‘We can’t deal with all situations all the time. You [the audience, mainly managers of businesses] can be the eyes and ears for us.’ Sgt Davis spoke of people sitting on kerbs, and falling into the road. He did not elaborate – presumably because his audience knew well what he was talking about: a lot of people with a lot of alcohol inside them. With so many people milling around – even hotels have door supervisers checking your name against a list of guests – the security management issue is: how to ensure that people coming to Broad Street for a good time have that good time, without coming to harm’
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Some business districts face of paying an extra tax for cleaning and safety initiatives – maybe including patrollers and CCTV. That was the prospect raised by Jenny Inglis, of Birmingham’s City Centre Partnership, at the launch event of the Broad Street Association. The local authority body seeks to provide a clean and safe environment for the city centre. The Government may bring in legislation in spring 2003 to allow the setting up of Business Improvement Districts (BIDs). Following a United States principle, such districts would be able to provide sustained funding. If a majority of businesses voted yes, the BID would be able to set a levy on top of the business rate – of one penny in the pound or less, she added. If it goes ahead, cities such as Birmingham that are interested in going down this route could gain BID status by spring 2004. Jenny Inglis went through some of the CCP’s initiatives – such as seasonal anti-litter clean-ups, chewing gum removal. On the publicsafety side, this summer saw the launch of five pilot emergency help points, including one on Broad Street. If anyone presses a help button – if they feel in danger or have witnessed a crime – they are linked to the city centre police station in Steelhouse Lane, and are covered by CCTV. The CCP hopes to launch more of these help points shortly.
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Talk of ‘pavement pizzas’
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An earlier speaker, Sarah Pomroy, had an answer, and it boils down to getting the right personal safety message across to customers, in language they relate to. In Broad Street terms, that’s 18 to 34-year-olds. Sarah of Chrysalis Radio described ‘Think Safe Drink Safe’, an advertising campaign in Manchester last year. (Greater Manchester Police report the city draws up to 250,000 night-goers. Last year Chief Supt Tony Kane said: ‘In Manchester city centre we have seen the volume of licensed premises rise by 242 per cent over the past four years. The large variety of venues increases visitor footfall and with it the need for additional and innovative policing.’ Hence the radio advertising, talking to students and other 18 to 34s as adults, not in a patronising way, because those people are known to be difficult to reach with advertising. Hence (Sarah Pomroy explained) the voice of a Coronation Street actress told listeners: ‘Manchester – probably the coolest city in England. Let’s keep it that way this Christmas, and think safe, drink safe. Log on to citycentresafe.com’. Commercials, using youth slang (such as ‘pavement pizzas’) told listeners to avoid getting involved in a fight, even as a would-be peacemaker; to pace their drinking, rather than going mad during ‘happy hour’; and to look out for friends, rather than getting so drunk that you leave for home without telling anyone. Manchester police had their own operations such as giving crime prevention advice to new students, and a crackdown on bogus taxi drivers. Police reported a fall in city centre night-time assaults last Christmas and New Year. West Midlands, and the Metropolitan, police forces are looking to run a similar ad campaign, Sarah Pomroy said.
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Crime perception
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What security management problems do Broad Street businesses report? Sgt Davis quoted results of a survey by police. ‘There is a perception that there is a lot more crime around Broad Street than there actually is.’ A solution would be for police to give information to the BSA of what police are doing, and crime trends. Quite simple crime prevention measures, suchas property marking, would achieve much, it seemed. ‘A lot of people allow themselves to be victims of crime. They leave laptops, mobile phones openly in their vehicles. The amount of times I have been in Broad Street and sombody has been in one of the restaurants and clubs and as had their mobile phone and case or handbag stolen. They have just left it unattended under a table.’ Opportunist thieves, he went on, know what laptop carrier cases look like – so disguise yours.
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Rough sleepers
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But overwhelmingly the survey mentioned rough sleepers and beggars. Sgt Davis said police will try to move them on from the street in the small hours. ‘We agree with the alternative giving policy, but not a lot of members of the public are aware of it.’ The ‘Give them a chance, not your change’ campaign [pictured] includes collection boxes that can sit on a retail counter. Money goes to local causes such as the Salvation Army that help the vulnerable. Instead, Sgt Davis recalled once seeing a well-dressed Broad Street-goer giving a beggar a œ10 note. ‘On a Friday and Saturday night a beggar can earn œ150 a night.’ Many beggars do not want help, he added. ‘A lot of them are using this money [from begging] to feed a drug habit. They go to where they can get the money to feed their habit. We have got to educate the public, the people who are giving them that money.’

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