Reducing the Strength: crime rises despite ban on high abv drinks

Crimes committed under the influence of alcohol have spiked across Portsmouth after it introduced a Reducing the Strength scheme in October 2013, OLN can reveal.

Retailers in the city were asked to strip shelves of beer and cider with an abv of 6.5% or over in a bid to eradicate street drinking and alcohol-related crime.

Many retailers told OLN they felt bullied into joining the schemes and said they were bad for business, but the council refused to back down.

On its website it proclaims that “alcohol related incidents are down by 80% in one area of the city that was blighted by anti-social behaviour”.

But after putting in a Freedom of Information request to Hampshire Constabulary, OLN can reveal that drunken crime has soared since the scheme was implemented.

Incidents of violence where the offender was flagged as being affected by alcohol stood at 754 in 2013. But that figure jumped to 1,138 in 2014 – an increase of 51% – and the number of crimes per month rose as the year progressed and more stores signed up.

December 2014 was the worst month in three years for alcohol-fuelled violent crimes, but this record has since been broken in 2015.

There were 420 of these crimes in the first three months of 2015, and in the last month on record – March – there were 161 alcohol-influenced violent crimes. That compares to 68 in October 2013, when the scheme was implemented.

Meanwhile public disorder incidents featuring drunkenness have remained steady: there were 424 in 2012, 472 in 2013 and 455 in 2014.

Alan Knobel, substance misuse coordinator at Portsmouth council, said the scheme was implemented to specifically target 69 street drinkers in the city.

He said those people were responsible for 2,010 crimes in the city in the year to October 2013. He said the number of street drinkers is now down to 42, and they committed 1,145 crimes in the year to October 2014.

Knobel said: “Twenty-three of those 69 street drinkers moved out of the city or sought assistance with their drink related health issues and sadly four died from their addiction or associated issues.

“These statistics show us that in terms of our targeted work with those struggling with addiction and street drinking we achieved a 39% drop in people visibly street drinking in Portsmouth.”

A drop in visible street drinking levels thanks to people dying or moving out of the city does not sound like a ringing endorsement for Reducing the Strength schemes, and suppliers argue that councils would be better off working with the minority of street drinkers to get them into rehab rather than punishing the entire population. 

“Our view is that whole population measures to tackle the misuse of a minority simply do not make sense,” said Gordon Johncox, managing director at cider supplier Aston Manor. “The view addressed by many working with people with addiction issues is that a focus on the person and not the substance – whether it be drugs or alcohol – delivers positive results.”

Portsmouth has a population of more than 200,000, who cannot enjoy craft beer and premium cider while the council is implementing blanket bans to target 42 people.

Knobel added: “It is also worth noting that not all off-licenses in the city have signed up to the Reducing the Strength initiative, so it is quite likely that some displacement will have occurred, meaning that low cost, high strength alcohol is still available in the city.”

He also said change to the way police record crimes may have caused a spike in the statistics.  

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