Cuts make PM’s plan to tackle drunks impossible, say police leaders

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Government plans to tackle anti-social and drunken behaviour will fail as cuts to policing mean there are simply not enough officers to provide the police presence the Prime Minister is calling for, according to the leader of Derbyshire Police Federation.

In a speech on Wednesday, David Cameron promised to tackle the “scandal” of drunkenness and alcohol abuse and suggested the use of American style “drunk tanks” – cells where people sober up overnight.

He also said there should be more police on patrol in hospitals to help deal with drunken and anti-social behaviour in accident and emergency departments.

“While supportive of efforts to try to tackle this problem, yet again, as happened during the recent public service strikes, police officers are expected to fill the gaps and deal with a society-wide issue caused by years of failing to deal with binge drinking,” says Mark Pickard, who leads Derbyshire Police Federation which represents the county force’s constables, sergeants and inspecting ranks.

“The Prime Minister throws these ideas into the melting pot but yet again he fails to consider who picks up the pieces when the wheel comes off as undoubtedly it will with this crazy idea.

“This is yet another soundbite from a Government that will not listen to the people who deal with these issues on a daily basis.

“Throughout the country, the police, particularly in large towns and cities at weekends, struggle to keep a lid on the problems caused by excessive drinking and Derbyshire is no exception.

“The longer licensing hours mean that officers now cannot accurately predict when and where trouble is likely. The old licensing hours meant we knew that most people would be out on the streets at 2.15am and thus we catered for that. There is now a longer period in which trouble could flare.

“There are regularly queues in custody areas while people wait to be booked into their ‘en suite’ room for the night.”

Mark is also critical of the Government for looking to America for solutions and is opposed to ‘drunk tanks’ where a number of people are detained in one cell.

“In this country, we do not do this for sound reasons. These people are often prone to violence or illness. People entering custody are subject of a ‘safer detention’ policy and ‘drunk tanks’ would fly in the face of our well tried procedures.

“Imagine having 10 people in a ‘drunk tank’ and they all become violent, as undoubtedly they will, how would that be dealt with?

“As per current procedures, when these 10 fall asleep they have to be woken regularly to check on them. This is staff intensive – staff we cannot afford to lose due to the cuts to the policing budget.”

The Derbyshire inspector has his own ideas for how the Government should tackle the problems caused by people who are drunk.

“When trying to control excessive drinking, they should look at the law of the land, which is quite simple - bar staff should not serve people who are drunk,” Mark explains.

“If Mr Cameron wants to do anything to sort the problem he should invest in police or local government licensing teams to robustly ensure that landlords and licensees abide by the law.

“It has been shown that where the laws are robustly upheld licensees take more responsibility.

“Mr Cameron’s suggestion is as daft an idea as that of the previous Prime Minister who wanted police to take a drunk to a cash point so they could pay an on the spot fine. Where is that idea now?”

The Government is due to publish its alcohol strategy for England later this year but in the meantime its current proposals have also been criticised by the national chairman of the Police Federation.

Paul McKeever says: “The Prime Minister’s suggestion of ‘putting more police on patrol in hospitals’ to help deal with problems of drunken and anti-social behaviour would be a laudable solution if the police service wasn’t struggling to meet the current workload.

“We are already trying to cope with 20 per cent cuts to our budgets imposed on us from the Prime Minister and his Government. We simply do not, and will not, have the police officers or the resources to assist the health service with protecting properties such as hospitals.

“Over the next two years we will see 34,000 police officers and staff cut from the service so it will be nigh on impossible to provide the level of service that the Prime Minister speaks of.

“Unfortunately, this announcement demonstrates that the Government has addressed a very serious issue such as alcoholism in a very isolated way. Tackling binge drinking from the point of view of the Department of Health without considering the implications for other public services is unhelpful and is likely to fail.

“To recommend locking people up in so-called ‘drunk tanks’ to resolve the issue of binge drinking is dangerous. People who are very drunk can be vulnerable and often require medical attention so locking them in a confined space is not an effective solution. Police stations are not the right places for people with alcohol problems. We should be looking closer at finding treatment for the problem rather than sticking a part-time solution over the issue.”