This is an evaluation of a Northumbria Police-led scheme that aims to tackle street drinking in the East of Newcastle. It is based on a model developed by Suffolk Police, which encourages off-licences, on a voluntary basis, to remove high-strength beers and ciders from their shelves in order to tackle street drinking and anti-social behaviour. The East Newcastle scheme was developed by South Heaton (Byker) Neighbourhood Policing Team (NPT), implemented in January 2014 and became operational in July 2014. It was led by a dedicated Police Constable.
Street drinking has existed along Shields Road for many years. This is probably the result of a number of different factors, including the availability of strong cheap alcohol. Other factors include a history of heavy industry and an associated culture of drinking, the high price of alcohol in pubs and clubs, the presence of a number of homeless hostels where people with substance misuse problems form a large proportion of residents, isolation of older residents, worklessness and deprivation.
Whatever the reasons behind street drinking, the alcohol-related crime and disorder to which it contributes has become a priority for Northumbria Police’s Neighbourhood Policing Team (NPT). As a result of Force planning, learning from successes in other areas, and the energy and commitment of a motivated Police Officer, the local Police team implemented Super Strength Free (SSF).
There has been a mixed response to the scheme, and some businesses did not take part. The hostels felt any initiative seeking to limit availability of the common brands they see their residents drinking is a good thing.
The evaluation found street drinkers generally ambivalent towards the scheme, perhaps because Super Strength Free did not appear to limit their purchasing ability to a significant degree. When the researcher visited off-licences, there were high-strength drinks on the shelves and it was reported that the same products could be bought at national chains (e.g. Iceland and Asda) nearby. Street drinkers were more concerned with Community Support Officers (CSOs) seizing their alcohol, which necessitated purchasing more alcohol elsewhere. Service users in recovery from substance misuse problems found the intervention, whilst welcome, was too simplistic to have any significant impact on the symptoms of what they saw as entrenched problems of homelessness, substance abuse and lack of diversionary activities. Nonetheless, there were people in this cohort who had noticed a reduction in the number of street drinkers on Shields Road.
The Police data present a picture of a steadily reducing number of street-drinking-related crimes in the locality, both adult and youth. This was occurring before the initiative and has continued after the scheme became operational. Clearly, the NPT’s approach has had a significant impact in the area and Super Strength Free has been a recent addition to this.
It is clear that the crime reduction in the area is perhaps less a consequence of the specific scheme and more about the drive and dedication of the Officer behind it. This focuses the attention of other Officers who then provide additional support to the CSO team, who do much of the legwork. Northumbria Police have an excellent record of making crime reduction initiatives work.