A new police hit squad is carrying out daily sweeps of Leeds city centre aimed at ridding the streets of beggars within a year.
The early morning patrols are part of a multi-agency drive to make key retail areas a no-go zone for con artists, who officers say can rake in hundreds of pound a week.
Speaking exclusively to the Yorkshire Evening Post as he patrolled begging hotspots with local police, councillor Mark Dobson, executive member for cleaner, stronger and safer communities, said: “What I want to see is a city centre that is beggar-free
“We are looking to see positive results within a year.
“I think it is do-able. We’ve now got a pool of PCSOs that will be deployed through the city and, through the Safer Leeds partnership, I don’t think it is an unrealistic aspiration tackle what is a very significant issue for people visiting the city centre.”
The new strategy comes after a radical new legal move brought in by the council earlier this year to crack down on a hard core of ‘fake beggars’, who can earn up to £600 every week by targeting unsuspecting shoppers, tourists and clubbers.
The new injunction order is the first of its kind in the country and could see persistent offenders facing time in prison or a hefty fine. Coun Dobson added: “Begging is not a new phenomenon. Out of 80 persistent beggars in the city centre, there are only three or four that are genuinely in need. They are more strategically placed on key routes and that tells you that it is very much an organised thing where they can maximise their profits.
“We want to make Leeds city centre an attractive place to visit and feel like it is a safe place without being accosted.
“When people are walking along the streets of Leeds they want to feel safe and secure, and working with police colleagues we can get on top of that.”
He added: “It’s not about mopping people up and moving them on. It is about working in partnership with charities and organisations to get these people the right support.”
To help tackle the problem, Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) from Leeds City Neighbourhood Policing Team (NPT) is working with the Crime Reduction Initiative’s West Yorkshire Street Outreach Service and city centre management teams to conduct daily ‘sweeps’ of the city centre.
PCSO James Hudson, from Leeds City NPT, said: “We engage with the beggars to see if there are any support systems we can put in place.”
Homeless charity St George’s Crypt is backing councillor Dobson’s plans.