THE party season is in full swing and Peterborough city centre is alive with drinkers and clubbers getting into the Christmas spirit. But lots of people mixed with alcohol can also be a cocktail for trouble and violent crime. That is why police are joining with pubs and clubs to launch a new campaign to crack down on disorder and violence. Features Editor Rachael Gordon reports.
THE party season is in full swing and Peterborough city centre is alive with drinkers and clubbers getting into the Christmas spirit. But lots of people mixed with alcohol can also be a cocktail for trouble and violent crime. That is why police are joining with pubs and clubs to launch a new campaign to crack down on disorder and violence. Features Editor Rachael Gordon reports.CHRISTMAS is always the busiest time of year for pubs, clubs and bars.
Thousands of people flock to Peterborough city centre to office parties and to get into the festive spirit with their friends.
Most of them just want to enjoy a few drinks and have a good time.
But there will always be a minority who are out to cause trouble.
Now, the police, pub and club owners, licensing officers and the city council have joined together to launch a new campaign to clean up the city centre at night time and reduce alcohol-fuelled violent crime.
And today they are sending out a clear message to troublemakers that bad behaviour will not be tolerated.
The campaign includes the launch of Operation Eagle, a police crackdown on violent crime and anti-social behaviour in the city centre.
It has also led to the formation of a new body called the Peterborough Evening Partnership which includes representatives of all these organisations and bodies who are currently working in the city centre at nights.
One of the first parts of the crackdown is the launch of metal-detecting wands.
A 3,000 Home Office grant has paid for 30 of the wands, and 22 have been given out to pubs, clubs and bars in the city centre to be used by their door staff to search people entering their premises for knives and other weapons.
Chief Inspector Steve Selves said: "In Peterborough, we are committed to cutting the number of incidents of violent crime in the city centre, particularly those which happen late at night, when people have been out drinking.
"The wands will allow members of staff from the pubs and clubs to unobtrusively search people as they enter their venues. Any weapons or dangerous items found on people will be confiscated and the person will be turned away.
"We hope that the presence of these wands will send a message to anyone contemplating going into the city centre carrying a weapon, that they are not welcome.
"We will not tolerate violent crime of any sort in Peterborough and intend to employ a number of different measures to make the city centre a safe place to enjoy the nightlife. We will deal with those who think they can get away with it accordingly."
Del Singh, owner of The Park nightclub in Park Road, Peterborough, and chairman of Peterborough Centre Safe (PCS), which links up pubs and clubs in Peterborough with the police and the city council's CCTV control room, welcomed the wands.
He said: "There has been a rise in knife crime across the whole country, and people carrying weapons isn't just an issue in Peterborough, it's an issue in towns and cities right across Britain. And it seems to manifest itself most in the night-time economy.
"Knives are easily come by and easy to carry, and the problem is that once someone has been drinking alcohol, if they have a knife they might use it. If it is in a crowded bar or pub then people can get injured.
"What we want to do is identify these people who believe it is right to carry knives and make sure they don't mix with law abiding citizens and are not allowed into pubs and clubs."
However, Mr Singh, a father-of-five, said the situation should not be blown out of proportion.
He said: "We do need to keep things in perspective. We are not introducing these measures because we have a big problem with people carrying knives and guns in Peterborough now.
"But we want to do something now before the problem escalates. We do not want Peterborough to become a place with no-go areas in certain parts of the city where people are too frightened to go to in the evenings.
"It is too late for schemes like this in some parts of the country, but we want to act now and bring all the authorities together to tackle this issue before it becomes a problem.
"Taking this proactive approach is how Peterborough Centre Safe came about in the first place. It would be asking too much for the police to cover all the bases all of the time because they do not have the resources to do it.
"But with the Peterborough Centre Safe scheme, we are another set of eyes and ears for the police.
"Everyone benefits, we are protecting our customers and our licences, and helping to make Peterborough a safer place for everyone to live work and visit.
"I am a Peterborian, I have lived here all my life and I want to ensure that it is a safe place for my children to live in too."
He also said that education was key to stopping the rise in people carrying weapons.
He said: "Some of people who've come to live in Peterborough from other countries have come from highly volatile places where carrying weapons is part of their culture. They have been used to leaving their homes in the morning and not knowing if they would return that night.
"But what we need to do is educate people that weapons are not part of our culture and it isn't necessary to carry them.
"In the past, we've had people come to the club carrying craft knives. They've said they needed them for work. But if you come to our pubs and clubs with a weapon we will confiscate it. A club, a bar or a nightclub is not a place of work, and you do not need to carry offensive weapons when you go out in the evening."
Acting inspector Ken Young, who is in charge of policing the city centre, said: "The whole campaign is about trying to find a long-term solution to alcohol-related disorder in the city centre.
"Anyone arrested and charged with a disorder offence between now and Christmas will have bail conditions excluding them from the city centre until they go to court. That means that if someone is arrested this Friday or Saturday they won't be allowed back into the city centre until the New Year."
Dave Keetley, managing director of VIP Leisure Ltd, the owner and operator of Faith Nightclub, in Geneva Street, Peterborough, which is another member of Peterborough Centre Safe, said: "There is a problem out there with people carrying weapons – you only have to read the newspapers to see that.
"If they are carrying them out on the streets, the likelihood is they are carrying them into night-clubs and pubs and other licensed premises.
"These metal detecting wands will go a long way to deter people from carrying them and let those people who do carry weapons know that we will not tolerate it.
"Unfortunately, there is a minority of people who spoil it for the majority who just want to come into Peterborough city
centre and have a good time.
"It is the same people who are causing trouble, and if they continue to do it, then they will face a ban from all the pubs and clubs in the Peterborough Centre Safe scheme."
Jo Oldfield, community safety team leader for Peterborough police and chairwoman of the partnership, added: "The majority of people want to come into the city centre and have a good time and they don't want any trouble.
"But there are a minority who can cause trouble and disorder and we do not want that."
Government plans to tackle knives
FORMER Home Secretary David Blunkett announced plans earlier this week to ban the sale of knives to under-18s in a bid to curb violent crime.
Mr Blunkett said the Government was "seriously considering" the proposal, which would boost the police's powers to search people for weapons.
Pubs and clubs could also be forced to install metal detectors or frisk customers under the new measures outlined by the Home Secretary.
He announced plans for the police to be given powers to force licensed premises identified as trouble spots to search customers to make sure they are not carrying banned weapons.
He also revealed measures to add new categories of knives to the list of banned offensive weapons.
These could include implements identified by police as being used in street fights, such as potato peelers or Swiss Army knives.
The Government is expected to consult widely on his proposal to extend the ban on the sale of knives from under-16s to under-18s.
Retailers and police will be asked the best way to make sure the ban is watertight.
The Government has already said headteachers should be given new powers to search pupils for knives and call in the police for spot checks if it is believed knives are on school premises.
In a statement, Mr Blunkett said: "While the number of incidents involving knives remains low, I share the concern of the public about this issue. I am determined to tackle knife-related violence to help ensure the safety of our communities.
"The Government is seriously considering strengthening the law to help get knives off our streets.
"Bringing in a ban on under-18s buying knives – as at present with alcohol and fireworks – will play a key part in this, as will action by Education Secretary Ruth Kelly on tackling knives in schools.
"The proposals would boost the powers police already have, and are already using, to search people for weapons.
"Working together with the police and community groups, the Government is committed to action,
particularly through our strategy on violent crime to help build safe and secure communities."
Partnership aims to make city centre safer at night
THE Peterborough Evening Partnership is a joint body aimed at tackling anti-social behaviour and crime in the city centre after dark and making it a safer place for everyone.
The metal-detecting wands are the first initiative being launched by the partnership which is currently seeking funding for further projects to help enhance Peterborough's night-time economy.
The partnership is made up of representatives from the police, various Peterborough City Council departments, licensing officers, and licensees.
Jo Oldfield, community safety team leader for Peterborough police and a member of the partnership, said: "The partnership came about following a conference in May in which we invited licensees, council officers, and police to talk about what they saw as the issues surrounding the city centre in the evening.
"Although there were lots of different forums already talking about the issues, we decided to set up a partnership involving everyone to look at ways we could all work together to make the city centre a safer place.
"At the moment, we are seeking funding for a variety of different projects including an advertising campaign to raise awareness about the dangers of binge drinking.
"We want people to think about the consequences of excessive drinking not just to themselves but also to others, and will be working with pubs, clubs and bars to get this message across."