The intractability of the issues surrounding street drinking, drug dealing and begging in the town centre was thrown into sharp relief at the Central Ward Panel last Thursday, at which PCC Katy Bourne was present.
Worthing is always likely to be affected by this problem because street drinkers gravitate towards coastal areas, but police budget cuts and the ineffectiveness of the criminal justice system have made it the less easy to control and it has spread beyond the town centre. Inspector Allan Lowe of the Neighbourhood Policing Team said that he had 50 per cent fewer staff than 18 months before, and sentences tended to be non-custodial because of prison overcrowding. Hence, courts could often only issue fines, which offenders were unlikely to be able to pay.
Councillor Roger Oakley, a former police officer, said there had to be a realistic expectation as to what police can do – they are not social workers.
A multi-agency team is currently involved in dealing with the problem, including the Crime Reduction Initiative – a charity providing drug support, alcohol support, street outreach services and recovery programmes – and the Emergency Response Team is out at all hours.
Because of the transient nature of the street drinking community, Inspector Lowe said it was very difficult to build evidence against offenders, so the police relied heavily on information provided by the community.
However, the non-emergency 101 telephone number was severely criticised both by Chris Spratt, chairman of Worthing Business Improvement District, and Terry Rickards, chairman of Worthing Neighbourhood Watch, as being unfit for purpose, and this will be investigated by the PCC, who will also take up the matter of sentencing with the magistrates’ courts.
The Tarring Community Forum will meet at 7pm on Tuesday (July 12) at West Worthing Baptist Church Centre, South Street, Tarring.
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