A council report has suggested police are taking a “softly, softly” approach to the policing of anti-social behaviour on the capital’s streets at night.
The investigation by councillors into the city’s night-time economy has called for ‘zero-tolerance operations’ to be introduced to stop Cardiff’s image being blighted.
The report states: “Crime, anti-social behaviour and fear of crime are significant issues for Cardiff’s night time economy affecting the city’s image, putting pressures on services and limiting participation of the night time economy.
“There is a perception that there is a softly softly approach to the policing of some anti-social behaviour at night such as street urination with police deploying their limited resources to more serious offences.”
Figures show crime in the city centre at night, particularly violent crime, has been falling but a stubborn perception of being a victim of crime remains – with 6 in 10 people scared of anti-social behaviour and binge drinking on the city’s streets at night.
Crime stats released show in 2010/11 anti-social behaviour fell to 715 incidents from 1,014 the previous year. St Mary Street, Queen Street and Greyfriars Road remained the hotspots for anti-social activity.
Chief Inspector of South Wales Police Alun Morgan dismissed any suggestion there was a ‘softly, softly’ approach to anti-social behaviour.
He said: “In my eyes there is definitely no softly, softly approach. What we have is our highly successful Cardiff After Dark initiative which sees us making early intervention with those people who we spot as having the potential to get into trouble later in the night. I stand by the fact a quiet word from an experienced police officer in someone’s ear can have a positive effect.
“If they choose to ignore this they will be arrested and dealt with. We have officers on the streets on the weekends from 4pm until 6am and are committed to having a strong police presence in the city centre.”
Chief Insp Morgan said crime was down overall in South Wales and the public should not be afraid of the city centre.
“We have over 100,000 people coming through the city centre some nights,” he said, “and the vast majority of those people have a brilliant time, and unfortunately it is a very small minority who we have to deal with.
“I can assure the public we are taking a firm stand against anti-social behaviour, including things like street urination. To those people who think they can flout the law, they will not be tolerated.”
The amount of alcohol people were drinking before coming into the city centre for a night out was an issue the police were dealing with.
Chief Insp Morgan said: “There are people arriving in the centre who have drunk maybe three or four times the legal driving limit, and that’s before they’ve even got near a club.
“We’re working with all our partners to ensure people are kept safe and educated about their drinking. We’re doing a lot of work with youngsters of the city, with Operation Bella Donna, to get into the parks where young people are drinking and educate them about their alcohol intake.”
The report praises initiatives from the council, police and voluntary groups to bring crime down, including:
– employing a council night time economy officer to improve partnerships between the police and the council
– Cardiff After Dark initiative, with co-ordinated and targeted policing of the main city centre areas
– a new CCTV control room at County Hall
– business to business radios and good communication between door staff and police officers
A survey of 3,000 residents by Cardiff council showed 44% of people thought the best way to improve the city centre at night was for an increased police presence on the streets.
A further question showed over 50% of people felt very or fairly safe when visiting the city centre.
Councillor Mohammed Islam, chairman of the council’s economy and culture scrutiny committee, who authored the report, said: “A thriving night time economy also has a down side, with the possibility of violent crime, public disorder, unsightly mess and health issues which can then potentially damage the city’s reputation.
“We have scrutinised this issue in depth and have made a series of recommendations for improvement which if accepted by the executive will help improve the quality and diversity of the city centre at night.”
Excessive drinking culture blamed for anti-social behaviour
A process known as ‘pre loading’ has been highlighted by councillors as a major cause for concern affecting the city’s nightlife.
Also known as ‘front-loading’ or ‘pre-fuelling’, the trend sees groups of friends drinking large quantities of alcohol at home or at parties before heading to the city’s clubs and bars.
Research by the Wilson Drinks Report last year shows over 50% of 18-to-24-year-olds have two or more drinks before going out, with 26% having three drinks or more.
The main reason given by those surveyed was the cheap booze available in supermarkets, and the high price of drinks in pubs and bars.
The council report says the issues with pre loading for Cardiff are it can sometimes lead to anti-social behaviour in the city and more bottles and cans being discarded on streets like Greyfriars where taxis drop-off large groups of revellers.
Pressure group Alcohol Concern Cymru has said the council and police ‘seem to be getting things right’, and praised the work of the street pastors – a group of volunteers who help distressed revellers to get home and keep them safe when suffering the consequences of a heavy night out.
Councillors have suggested an initiative run in Liverpool to introduce a Safer Alcohol Retailing Officer. The role would act as an ‘honest broker’ between the city’s agencies and all the licensed operators in the city centre.
Taking the emphasis off alcohol
Cardiff residents have called for a more rounded city centre at night, by offering more cultural and non-alcohol events.
The survey of nearly 3,000 residents showed 44% of people think there needs to be a more diverse mix within the night time economy.
Comments in the survey blamed the people the city centre attracted for keeping them away:
One resident wrote: “The problem is the people who are using the city centre. Too many people drinking too much. It is the culture. I am not sure if you can change it. When I go to foreign cities like Antwerp, Lisbon etc you get families, older people out and about etc. You don’t get that in Britain.”
Another respondent blamed the bars and clubs for not providing enough diversity.
They wrote: “Bars and clubs need to take a more active role in preventing binge drinking and anti-social behaviour, they too have a responsibility for their customers and future customers.”
Another wrote: “More independent bars and clubs offering a better choice of music/djs with a focus on individuality, creativity and catering for all ages, particularly the over 30s.”
The report suggests the council should develop a programme of non alcohol lead events – such as opening public buildings in the evening, more carnivals and celebrations and to improve the promotion of more cultural events.
Key crime stats
Yearly comparisons of anti-social behaviour in city centre
2007/08: 997 incidents
Top five locations in city centre for anti-social behaviour incidents over the last four years
St Mary Street: 1,461 incidents
Queen Street: 547
Greyfriars Road: 451
Caroline Street: 414
Wood Street: 250
Most likely time for violence against the person offences, between 1st April & 30th September 2010
Times with 11 incidents or more:
Friday: no times
Saturday: 12midnight to 5am and then 8pm to 9pm
Sunday: 12midnight to 6am
Source: Cardiff Community Safety Partnership