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Russell Webster

Russell Webster

Criminal Justice & substance misuse expert and author of this blog.

Tackling street drinking

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New guidance from Police and Crime Commissioners on tackling street drinking recommends a multi-agency co-ordinated approach.

PCC guidance on best practice

A consortium of Police and Crime Commissioners has just (November 2016) published guidance on best practice in tackling street drinking.

The guidance starts by arguing that although Police and community safety bodies face many competing priorities; strong justifications exist for a focus on street drinking, citing the following factors:

  • It is a widespread and persistent problem.
  • The visibility of such drinking means it is of specific concern to the public and arouses strong emotions.
  • Although street drinkers are relatively few in number, they place huge pressure on services through calls on police time, hospital visits and 999 calls.

Objectives

The aim of the guidance is to reduce the incidents of, and burden from, street drinking and to improve the interventions provided to street drinkers themselves.

The guidance points out that in addition to being dependent on alcohol and requiring the support of treatment services, street drinkers will also have other risks and vulnerabilities. It argues that tackling their needs will provide a gateway into addressing serious problems, ranging from intimate partner violence through abuse and exploitation to mental health problems and other drug use.

The guidance acknowledges that the issue of street drinking is broader than policing; but says that Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) can be a powerful local and national voice guiding efforts to deal with this problem, particularly because of their ability to bring agencies together and influence change.

The guidance also emphasises that best practice need not be expensive and the recommendations in the guidance require limited investment.

Best practice

The guidance emphasises the importance of a co-ordinated, multi-component approach and identifies nine areas of action that PCCs can pursue to make a difference:

  1. Support or lead the development of a local consensus on tackling street drinking;
  2. Encourage the establishment of multi-agency groups focused on street drinkers/high impact change resistant drinkers;
  3. Encourage the commissioning of alcohol services which include a focus on change resistant drinkers e.g. services which prioritise and assertively engage this client group;
  4. Encourage the appropriate use of legal powers such as civil injunctions by ensuring that they target individuals with both controls on their drinking and requirements to engage with interventions;
  5. Build partnerships with the retail trade to tackle street drinkers;
  6. Broker agreements between mental health and substance misuse services on the management of these clients who often fall between the two services;
  7. Ensure a constructive pathway exists from prisons and hospitals into the community for street drinkers;
  8. Encourage staff training in relevant approaches with street drinkers / change resistant drinkers;
  9. Ensure performance indicators are built in to any initiative.

street-drinking-multi-component

The guidance argues that the response to street drinking should begin at a strategic level, involving key agencies such as police, local authorities, businesses, alcohol services and health services develop a joint action plan under the leadership of PCCs with the three most important elements of a multi-component approach being:

  1. the development of multi-agency groups to manage the response to street drinkers;
  2. ensuring alcohol services address change resistant drinkers through assertive outreach, other engagement focused approaches;
  3. the use of individual-focused legal powers.

The guidance argues that these components will be supported by work with the retail sector to create an environment that reduces the likelihood of street drinking and the use of appropriate geographically focused legal powers (e.g. Public Space Protection Orders). Further details of each component are set out below.

MULTI-AGENCY CASE MANAGEMENT GROUPS focused on high impact drinkers already operate in a number of areas. These operational groups will be the core of any process and will drive best practice into interventions with street drinkers generally. Evidence is emerging that these groups have a positive impact.

ALCOHOL SERVICES need to be commissioned that are appropriate to the needs of this client group, i.e. services which work with unmotivated or change resistant drinkers and offer assertive outreach. PCCs, police officers and other community safety staff play a vital role in encouraging the development of alcohol service specifications that include assertive outreach and targets for engaging street drinkers.

ENFORCEMENT POWERS should be viewed as a constructive part of a process that leads to individual and community change. If appropriately used, with well-designed positive requirements, orders such as the civil injunctions can help initiate and support a process of change.

The guidance also recommends that the alcohol industry should be a key partner in tackling street drinking contesting that the public has the right to expect that those businesses that sell alcohol do so responsibly.

The guidance recognises the importance of a co-ordinated treatment and referral network with specific links in place with hospitals, prisons and mental health services since they will all encounter street drinkers and it is important to ensure that their response maximises the chances of engaging a drinker in a process of change. There is an acknowledgement that the current, reported, lack of support from mental health services is a major barrier.

Conclusion

Finally, the guidance recommends that at the national level PCCs could encourage five specific developments:

  1. A national approach to identifying the numbers of street drinkers, with a national count based on an agreed methodology;
  2. A model service specification for alcohol services that reach out to, engage and motivate high impact, change resistant drinkers such as street drinkers;
  3. Gguidance on how to write positive requirements in civil injunctions for street drinkers or problem drinkers generally;
  4. A national, educational and supportive dialogue between those providing alcohol interventions and those selling alcohol. This could build an equivalent to the Community Alcohol Partnerships model, which has tackled underage drinking, but targeted at adult street drinking; and
  5. A national debate on better access to mental health services for street drinkers and people with alcohol problems generally.
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