Saturday, 7 November 2009

Targetting under age drinking

Last night I was out on the streets of Darlington, in a police van most of the time, looking for underage drinkers. Three teams were out around town last night: one covering the town centre area, one covering the east and one the north and west. I went out with two constables and six pcso's, including our North Road team.

After what can only be described as a heart attack inducing fuel stop for pizzas, chips, kebabs and pitta breads we piled into the van at Gladstone Street and headed for the anti-social behaviour hot spots, from Mowden shops, back up through Northgate, North Road and Harrowgate Hill.

At the 5pm briefing the teams had been specifically tasked with finding under-age drinkers and bringing them back in the vans to Gladstone Street. The strategy is to keep them safe and off the streets, but also to put them and their parents in touch with youth workers and anti-social behaviour officers.

After a quiet start, when we just cruised the streets and back alleys stopping the occasional small group of teens clutching tell-tale white plastic carrier bags, the radio messages started coming in and we dashed off to deal with reports of anti-social behaviour in Albert Hill, North Road and Cockerton. Whenever we came across groups of kids who looked as if they might be carrying booze we would stop and carry out quick searches of bags and clothes. Whenever the officers found any alcohol, as long as at least one person in the group was under 18, it was all tipped away down the nearest drain. Then after a bit of friendly banter with the kids and warnings that we'd be around all evening, both them and us went on our respective ways.

One group of young Polish kids aged about 15 or 16 were drinking outside one house. They claimed the adult living there was supplying them with booze. What the police found was confiscated, but nothing was found in that gentleman's house to link him with the kids' drinking.

A number of youngsters, boys and girls, were brought back in the van to Gladstone Street. Their parents were called in and they were all interviewed by a youth worker and a member of the Council's anti-social behaviour. All the kids will be called in again in a week or two for a fuller interview aimed at finding appropriate means by which the team might try to alter their drinking behaviour.

Two lads, aged 16 and 17, were well gone after 6 to 8 cans of lager each. But for one of them, when interviewed, it was apparent that the whole process was actually reinforcing his street credibility. It proved his toughness to his peers on the street that he'd been brought in by the police. And for a couple of young girls, caught drinking on the streets of North Road ward, the whole thing was just a joke. Maybe the further work with some of these kids will be effective, but it was clear that they felt they had to drink, either to prove their toughness, or because they didn't believe they could be having a good time unless they got drunk.

I'm not sure that lectures on liver damage and warning about future job prospects if they keep getting involved with the police, were having much effect. But they can't just be left out there on the streets, where they are exposed to potential danger and where they can prove an annoyance to local residents. The police and youth workers are battling against a sub-culture of drinking for which this country, fuelled by a drinks industry which glamourises alcohol and targets drinkers with its cheap lager, wine and alcopops, has a sad reputation.

The team work between the various agencies, and the humour and understanding shown by the police, was impressive. It was a good operation, but I don't know whether it will prove enough to actually alter the behaviour of the young drinkers we found last night. The agencies are battling against a culture and an industry with far more muscle than we have.

1 comment:

james said...

A great post, Mike. Sounds like a hard job for the police to tackle this problem. What to do about the huge power of the drinks industry, though?

So long as these companies are geared towards maximising profits, there's n incentive for them to genuinely encourage responsible drinking.

Minimum pricing is one option being considered in Scotland, but I can't see there being much support for that here in England, where despite the failure of the financial industry to behave responsibly, the dogma of the "free" market remains - and whilst there's power to tackle under-age drinkers, there's no power to tackle the industry that profits from them.