True cost of alcohol: Busy night on Leeds booze patrol

Each Saturday night 70,000 revellers descend on Leeds to drink their way round the city's bars and clubs.

In the second day of our series about alcohol, Katie Baldwin joined the cops policing the hordes.

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Outside a bar in Leeds city centre, a man is on the pavement.

Being arrested brings a premature end to his Saturday night out.

His friends mill around, one tearfully trying to explain to police officers her version of the incident. Another woman, who may even be just a passer-by, is unimpressed at the attendance of the police.

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"You always spoil things," she shouts, as they pointedly ignore her.

When more officers arrive in a police van, the arrested man is carted off to the Leeds Bridewell.

For Sergeants Cheryl Corley and Martin Mynard, this is just another day at the office.

Tonight they are in charge of the Street Marshals scheme, which sees police officers, Police Community Support Officers, special constables and door staff from bars and other premises patrol specific sectors of the city.

In an innovative move, the bars - and some fast food eateries - pay into the scheme. Patrols cover the three areas where most pubs and clubs are located and therefore are hotspots for drunken crime.

Each team is briefed at the start of the night and tonight Sgt Mynard warns them about purse-dipping and reports of two men attempting to prey on very drunk women.

Working together is the key, Sgt Mynard says. Previously police didn't liaise with door staff unless there was an incident and the relationship could be strained. Now they are in constant contact and can share information.

At the start of the night, things are good-natured. Being asked for directions or even recommendations of where to go is common and, officers are happy to oblige if they can.

A couple of revellers don't argue as they have their bottles of beer poured away as drinking from an open container of alcohol is banned in Leeds city centre.

But as we are on Call Lane, reports of a fight at a bar on Woodhouse Lane come through so we jump in the car and speed through the city centre, through red lights and weaving between buses.

When we arrive the suspect is quietly on the ground and most of the excitement is over.

However that area of town turns out to be the liveliest. Earlier, outside another pub nearby, Sgt Corley said: "If there's any trouble tonight, you can tell it's going to be here."

Her instincts are proved right as later we hear scuffles are breaking out inside. Outside the atmosphere is palpably edgier, the pavement packed and people spilling into the road, many too drunk to notice the danger of traffic heading their way. One woman is leaning so far back it's a miracle she's still standing.

The problem is the doormen haven't been strict enough about who they let in. With the city unexpectedly busy for a January night, officers say they can understand pub owners being keen to get punters in, but it's not difficult to tell who is likely to cause trouble - especially

the man who is obviously not a reveller but a street drinker.

Sgt Mynard has stern words with the door staff about being much more choosy.

Further down the road, another doorman tells two lads wearing pumps that they can't come in to his bar.

"Too casual," he barks. They look affronted but head off without argument.

In fact he'd seen them on the other side of the road and decided from

their lairy behaviour there was no way they were coming in, pumps or not.

Suddenly a man is ejected from the bar, friends in tow. Tempers flare and as a couple of lads look ready to square up to the door staff, Sgt Corley and Sgt Mynard step in.

After a few words, the group crosses the road and we watch them try their luck at getting into a club. Sgt Corley knows they'll never get in - all the door staff let each other know about troublesome

customers.

That's exactly the kind of incident which may previously have become

violent, but because of the Street Marshalls scheme, was defused.

Chief Insp Sue Jenkinson, who is responsible for policing in Leeds city

centre, says the results of the initiative have been impressive.

"That's been a real success – within the first three months that saw a reduction in violent crime of 75 per cent.

"It's a genuine commitment to keeping the city centre safe, not just from the police but from the licensees as well. They are funding it and it's actually working."

On a weekend, 35 per cent of city centre crime is alcohol-related and a wide range of offences can be involved. There are also issues around dealing with suspects, complainants and witnesses who have been drinking.

"When people are intoxicated they can act a lot differently to how they would if they were sober," she said.

"People can go from one extreme to the other. They can be really placid and want to give you a hug to becoming potentially violent and it's a

more risky situation for the officers involved."

But she added that they were trained in calming down these situations, while several schemes were tackling the problems caused by excess drinking.

Taxi marshalls have been introduced, there is a new licensing system where incidents are recorded against specific premises and an education programme sees women warned about personal safety, especially linked to drinking.

Also anyone arrested by City and Holbeck police for an alcohol-related offence is assessed and referred to other agencies if needed.

Chief Insp Jenkinson said ultimately, the aim was to work with other organisations to cut harm linked to booze and to make the city safer.

"What we want is for people to come into Leeds and have an enjoyable night out, feel safe and be safe," she said.katie.baldwin@ypn.co.uk

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