New powers to disperse gangs
ANTI-SOCIAL youngsters will be targeted by police as they step up their battle to reclaim the streets from teenage tearaways and troublemakers.An increase in crime committed by groups of youths and older teenagers over the last few months has resulted in Colchester Police introducing a dispersal order to cover most of the town centre from March 1.
By Sharon Asplin
ANTI-SOCIAL youngsters will be targeted by police as they step up their battle to reclaim the streets from teenage tearaways and troublemakers.
An increase in crime committed by groups of youths and older teenagers over the last few months has resulted in Colchester Police introducing a dispersal order to cover most of the town centre from March 1.
During the two-month trial, police will have the power to direct youngsters causing a nuisance away from the town centre between 9pm and 6pm every day.
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But officers are in the unenviable position of being unable to please everyone - youngsters worry the move could be too strictly enforced while frustrated residents fear it will make no difference to their nightly diet of vandalism and drunkenness.
In a letter given to headteachers, Colchester police cited the increase in the number of violent and anti-social behaviour incidents, such as assaults, robberies and damage to property, in High Street, Castle Park and Queen Street as the reason for imposing the order on Colchester town centre and the Dutch Quarter.
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“There is a need to show those responsible that their behaviour directly affects other young people,” the letter said. “This is not a punishment but a way of getting young people to think about their behaviour and actions.”
Inspector John Hayter, of Colchester's central community policing team, said people would be asked to leave a dispersal area if they were acting in an anti-social way, which meant causing or threatening to cause “harassment, alarm or distress” to others.
“They have to be doing something for youngsters to have something to fear,” he said. “We are there to tackle those who are being anti-social towards others - the vast majority do not behave like that.”
He explained if groups of youngsters under the age of 16 were causing a nuisance they could be asked to go home. Although police had no powers to force them to do so this would act as a warning.
“This is a reasonable tool to have because we are not forced to go straight to arrest, we are giving them a chance to head home without getting themselves in trouble.
“This is not a draconian measure, it's purely an extra tool in our kit to deal with people spoiling the town centre for others. We just hope the end result is less crime and a better quality of life for residents.”
But Michael Preston, Young Essex Assembly member for Colchester, said younger people were concerned because a similar type of experiment had been tried in the Cowdray Avenue area to deal with people leaving clubs.
The 16-year-old, a pupil at Thurstable School, Tiptree, said: “Past experience there has seen people in twos or threes just sitting there talking targeted by police although these teething problems have been ironed out now.
“But there are also concerns that this could happen in Culver Square where a lot of young people like to hang out and meet their friends.
“I do think this could affect a lot of innocent people rather than the people causing the trouble. However, in this day and age social groups can look intimidating but most youngsters do not want to upset people, they just have nothing else to do.”
Rob Brown, committee member for the Priory Residents' Association and a former chairman, had to put up with revellers banging on his windows early on Saturday morning and woke up to a pile of vomit outside his door. He does not think the measures go far enough.
Stressing he was speaking on a personal level and not for the association, he said: “There are considerable problems in the town centre and although the worst culprits are a small minority, general bad behaviour seems to have become acceptable.”
He said it was “absurd” that Priory Street, which is used by hundreds of people leaving nightclubs and late-night takeaways, was not included in the dispersal area.
“This order just seems like a gesture which will cost the public money. It will look like something is being done but it is just camouflage. The police should be out on the streets arresting these people.
“I do think it's a good idea to get the under 16s off the streets, they should not be out there in the first place, but I do not think the problem is confined to them. I have seen the over 40s behaving badly - everyone just seems addicted to their own pleasure.”
Insp Hayter said other towns which had introduced it had reported a decrease in the number of people arrested.
The area covered lies within the boundaries of North Hill, St Peter's Street, Maidenburgh Street, Queen Street, St Botolph's Street, St John's Street and Crouch Street East. The order has been made under the Anti Social Behaviour Act 2003.