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Crossing the Tees.

What sometimes gets missed in the current debate about licensing hours is that the vast majority of people who go out on an evening have an enjoyable time and do not get involved in any violence or anti-social behaviour.

As is often the case, it is only a very small minority who feel they can act above the law and without regard for other people.

They spoil things not only for themselves but also, unfortunately, for innocent bystanders.

I firmly believe the goal for any police force must be to ensure that criminality is curtailed without curtailing the freedom of law abiding citizens.

This belief was re-inforced after joining 60 other officers during a recent Saturday night and Sunday morning for a carefully planned series of actions in Middlesbrough town centre.

I should stress that this was not a one-off.

Operation Sabre raids are aimed at confronting head-on criminality such as violence, drugs and burglary which impacts so heavily on the public.

Myself and other senior officers regularly participate in such operations and many more are planned.

They will occur throughout the force area and will not be announced in advance.

In that way the fear will be transferred to the criminal, they will not know where or when we will strike.

On this particular Saturday more than 20 people were arrested for offences involving violence and drugs.

Officers recovered cannabis, ecstasy and cocaine, broke up several fights and prevented an attempted mugging.

I don't regard our actions as "heavy handed" and was greatly heartened by the response we received from the public and licensed trade.

Part of the operation involved checking that doormen were all licensed and I'm glad to say that without exception that was the case ( which indicates the licensed trade take their responsibilities seriously.

I spoke to numerous people on the night and typical were the comments of two lads in their twenties who told me there is a vibrant, enjoyable nightlife in Middlesbrough town centre, but there are a few idiots and that can deter people.

Welcoming the police presence, they said it made them feel safer and would encourage them to return to the town centre.

Like many others, including licensees, they suggested we provide such a presence every weekend.

Unfortunately that is simply not an option at present.

The operation was conducted by shuffling resources rather than paying overtime, but we couldn't do that every weekend for every town centre in the force area.

I don't think it is fair to impose a large precept on the public in order to pay for increased late night policing, there are already enough demands on the public purse.

To my mind an extension of the successful "tranquility" initiative in Stockton and Yarm could be the answer.

Here licensees contribute to a fund that pays the overtime for additional officers to patrol the area on weekend nights.

The Government has made it clear that extended licensing hours will soon be a reality.

This offers opportunity to the business community but will undoubtedly lead to further demands on the police.

Rather than stretch our resources further, isn't the fairest solution to ask those who will benefit financially to fund a level of police cover that will allay public fear and encourage people to visit their local town centre on an evening?
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Title Annotation:Column Crossing The Tees
Publication:Evening Gazette (Middlesbrough, England)
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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