How new police powers could help you feel safer
FOR years, drunks have plagued the parks of Exeter.
Many become rowdy and intimidating, while others congregate and drink to excess.
Dog walkers, families and young people have all in the past been put off by the presence of these habitual drinkers.
And St Thomas Pleasure Ground is no different, with neighbourhood officers patrolling the area every day to ensure these often nuisance drinkers are not causing problems.
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Last year, a police officer was bitten by a dog in the park as he checked on its female owner who was unconscious because of alcohol.
But there do exist powers which would prohibit drinkers from abusing the city's green spaces.
A "no drinking zone" already covers a significant part of the city centre, and police say it could be extended to include the pleasure ground.
PC Julie Chapman, neighbourhood beat manager for St Thomas and Cowick, told the Echo that at present their powers for moving on drinkers in the park were limited.
"The problem we have is that because it's not part of the 'no drinking zone', if they are behaving themselves there is little we can do about them being there," she said.
"If we perceive there will be alcohol-related crime, we can issue a Section 27 order on the spot and ask them to leave the area."
PC Chapman said the "long-term" aim was to remove drinkers permanently from the pleasure ground.
"I would like to see the park as a no drinking zone," she said.
"Nearby Cowick Street is included in the exclusion zone.
"In the meantime, we will keep issuing the Section 27 dispersal notices.
"We patrol the pleasure ground everyday.
"It makes people feel safer and happier being in the park, especially in the summer when there is a paddling pool for the youngsters.
"We want people to use the park, especially young people."
Aside from on-the-spot Section 27 dispersal orders – which can only be used if police "perceive" there to be a risk of alcohol-related disorder – there are also Section 30 dispersal orders available to the city's police.
But these are harder to put in place, with evidence of regular and persistent anti-social behaviour needed along with public consultations.
Sweeping new powers being proposed at present could soon replace the existing orders, and would cover a "much wider range of problem behaviours", a Government White Paper claims.
Those behind the proposals in the document, Putting Victims First – More Effective Responses to Anti-Social Behaviour, claim the new powers would "reduce bureaucracy" for local authorities and make it easier for communities and businesses to "influence restrictions" in their areas.
Anti-social behaviour officer for Exeter, Steve Stewart, believes the new plans could be a "positive move".
"The advantage to police would be that they would have the powers to disperse people anywhere, anytime, if they felt the need to do so," he said.
"It would help hugely. But whether or not the proposals will go through, we don't yet know. The White Paper came out in May and we have heard nothing since. It is a bit of a waiting game.
"I think it would be effective in dealing with anti-social behaviour.
"If it does go through, we will have a whole new set of powers and it will require a lot of training.
"As a partnership, we will have to sit down and work out what it means to us as a city."
In the meantime, Mr Stewart said he would support a police move to extend the "no drinking zone" to include St Thomas Pleasure Ground.
"As an anti-social behaviour officer, I would support a request to extend the 'no drinking zone'," he said.
"I am always in favour of using the powers available."
However, he added that should the proposals outlined in the White Paper be implemented, any additional restrictions put in place in Exeter during the interim would simply be replaced by the new orders anyway.
Despite regular patrols, police rely heavily on people living in the St Thomas area and across the city to report any anti-social behaviour.
"The other problem we have is that the public are not telling us about the drinkers in St Thomas Pleasure Ground," PC Chapman said.
"We would urge them to call the 101 number, so it is flagged up as a priority."