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Will late night levy work in Colchester?
6:00am Thursday 5th December 2013 in News
THE night-time economy is big business in Colchester, bringing in millions of pounds every year.
But the town has an image problem caused by drunken revellers enjoying drinks a bit too much and lapsing into anti-social behaviour.
With cuts taking their toll on Essex Police, officers can only do so much.
And shows such as Bouncers have only highlighted the problem further.
A night of action was held in Colchester town centre - the second of the year.
More than 70 officers took to the streets on Saturday night to prevent crime and challenge those breaking the law.
Colchester councillors joined in the action with many trying to work out how proposals for a light-night levy on bars and clubs would benefit the town.
I was also invited along to see the challenges facing officers.
Following a briefing at Colchester Police Station, we were each assigned a team and sent out on patrol.
It was not only officers and divisions from Essex Police involved. The British Transport Police, Royal Military Police, health workers from Anglian Community Enterprise and even a private group out to catch litterers were out and about.
We had only just got in the patrol car when our unit was diverted away from the town centre.
A fight had broken out at the Weston Homes Community Stadium where a cagefight competition was going on.
Catapulted along, blues and twos roaring, Sgt Ian Banks navigated the streets of Mile End at high speeds.
Pulling up at the stadium, the officers dived out and immediately chased across the fields to find two men who had allegedly attacked door staff who had refused them re-entry for being drunk.
Chief Inspector Richard Phillibrown led the chase, locating the offenders crossing the busy A12.
After speaking to stadium staff and calming down the situation we were diverted back to the town centre.
It was only 10pm but it was already busy.
Taxis were rolling up with people who had already been drinking.
By 11pm, some were already being given orders to leave the area for the night.
One 18-year-old was given a lift by officers in the direction of his home only to be found minutes later back in the town centre.
No excuses, he was slapped in handcuffs and dropped at the front door of his house where his none-too-pleased mum was woken up to be faced by officers escorting her intoxicated son.
It is a tactic which officers say brings results.
Chief Insp Phillibrown said: “Taking these people into custody can mean a long wait and taking officers off the streets where they're needed.
“Instead that young man will have to face what's waiting for him at home.”
Sure enough by 11.30pm, the cells were already filling up.
There are 17 cells at Colchester Police Station and ten were already taken.
In one, a determined young man banged his foot against the door repeatedly for three hours.
For the rest of the night, officers were deployed to all the busy nightclubs, checking licences and stopping fights from breaking out as drinkers went from one club to the next.
When calls come in about a possible domestic on East Hill, three officers take off at a run.
Most of the night's calls concern public order offences, drunk people urinating in the streets and arguments getting out of hand.
Thanks to officers being on every corner, none got out of hand especially at 3am when the last clubs called time sending hoards of revellers onto Queen Street.
The extra police on the beat had an impact in reducing crime.
This is what Colchester councillors want but with funding being axed they are having to look to new ways of providing the finances for such a task.
A light-night levy is the latest suggestion – making pubs and clubs pay an extra charge to provide more policing.
Colchester's Conservatives are behind the proposal and councillors Tim Young, leader of the town's Labour group, and Nick Barlow, leader of the Lib Dems, reveals they too aren't against the idea.
Both said they want to make sure such a proposal would be workable and also would bring in benefits to Colchester.
“If the money raised from the levy could be ringfenced for Colchester, then it could be spent on getting more officers on the streets and making it safer for everyone.”
I certainly can't argue. More officers is the answer.
The route to getting them may be more complicated.
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