It’s one of those bits of legislation that was slipped in under the cover of folk devils causing a moral panic; in this case, it was part of legislation to stop illegal raves. The trouble is, it includes some blanket powers that I don’t think Police officers should ever have. It makes them deciders of the law, and that blurring of the law and the people who enforce it is never a good idea.
In an area where there’s a Section 30 Order, Police officers can order any crowd of two or more people to disperse. Yes, two or more. And you’re not allowed back within 24 hours. And it’s up to the officers who they apply the law to.
There’s also a further section, Subsection 6 if you’re into that kind of thing, which gives the Police to effectively impose a curfew. Anybody who officers believe are under the age of 16 can be returned to their home if they’re out after 9pm. In a seaside town, in the summer, I’d say encouraging children to play outside is a good thing.
So, I wasn’t too keen on this Order being put in place. Particularly as the accompanying press release says it will protect the Jubilee and the Olympics, which suggests a political motive. So I complained, on Twitter.
I have had phone calls today from both Worthing’s District Commander, DCI Ian Pollard, and the neighbourhood policing sergeant Stuart Hatton, to explain in more detail why they’ve applied for the order.
From January to June 2011, there were between 40-70 calls per month which related to problems with street drinking. While there are powers in force which can be used to confiscate alcohol, it’s harder where the alcohol isn’t present. In July, the figures rose to 103 calls, in August 124, in September 120 and in October 100. With around 80 regular street drinkers in Worthing, that’s quite a problem.
It’s even harder from July to September 2012, when Sussex Police officers are being extracted from local duties to support the Met in policing London and the Olympics.
Worthing Town Centre Initiative specifically asked for the order, saying that street drinkers were the biggest problem facing Worthing’s business community.
So the Section 30 is being used specifically to tackle the problem of street drinkers at a time when Sussex Police’s resources are being stretched by the demands of the Olympics. The press release, mentioning the Jubilympic celebrations in Worthing and omitting any mention of street drinking, has confused the issue.
The curfew could be invoked, but Stuart Hatton guarantees it won’t be; it’s minuted in a meeting in March that it won’t be, and that there’s no evidence based on either data or anecdote to suggest it’s needed.
I’m reassured, but still think it’s a bad law and isn’t needed. Who watches the Watchmen? We do, and this summer, in Worthing, we need to be extra vigilant.
Sussex Police have been in touch with this response:
“Following a steady rise in complaints from local people and businesses about anti-social behaviour as a result of street drinking over the past 18 months, Sussex Police and Worthing Borough Council announced a decision to use legislation known as a Section 30 Order.
This allows police officers to disperse a group of two or more people if they are causing disturbance in a public place within the boundaries specified by the order. The powers have only been brought in so that we are able to target acts of aggressive disorder, alcohol fuelled disorder. It is not a blanket ban on meeting up or a curfew.
We are aware of some very negative online responses to this decision and have already spoken to some concerned residents to clarify what it means. The powers of dispersal ONLY extend to those over 18 years of age – dealing with younger people would require use of a Section 30(6) which has NOT been authorised in this case (and there are no plans for us to do so).
Our approach to street drinkers is two-fold. We will uphold the law to prevent them causing alarm or distress to residents, visitors and businesses but we also offer them support and help them gain access to alcohol and drug treatment services. A punitive approach on its own only has very limited success.
We do not act to criminalise young people in Worthing or other areas of Sussex. Worthing has already played host to the first of our county-wide STATUS events. These bring breaking commercial music to an alcohol-free, under 18s audience and additionally offer careers support and a chance to talk to officers and youth workers about issues facing teens in the area. Young people can speak to our Neighbourhood Schools Officers in confidence on Facebook to ask advice and seek reassurance around bullying, drugs and alcohol and staying safe online.
Our officers in Worthing and our District Commander for the borough, Chief Inspector Ian Pollard, are very happy to speak by phone over the weekend to offer any necessary clarification or reassurance around the application of Section 30 in the town. Please contact us @sussex_police on Twitter or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to call you.”