Leeds: ‘We’ll help keep revellers safe at night’

Police on patrol in Albion Street, Leeds. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
Police on patrol in Albion Street, Leeds. PIC: Bruce Rollinson
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The police officers who act as guardian angels for late night drinkers are prepared for a busy festive season. Laura Bowyer joined them for an evening patrol.

After spending at least 10 minutes in the care of police officers her Saturday evening finished with a ride in the back of an ambulance to Leeds General Infirmary.

Just minutes earlier the young lady, who appeared to be in her early twenties, had stumbled towards a police patrol at the bottom of Briggate.

She claimed to have been enjoying a few drinks with her mother before the pair were split up.

But just seconds later, the contents of her handbag had spilled across the pavement as police officers tried their best to recover her personal property.

They soon flicked through her purse to discover some identification as they called for assistance from the nearby community medical unit which had opened up in preparation for another busy evening.

Staff armed with bottles of water tended to the young girl who was even struggling to hold up her head as officers tried to establish where she was heading.

But just minutes later the young girl had emptied the contents of her stomach onto the floor, narrowly missing the two police officers who had rushed to her aid.

Sending the youngster tearfully to the city’s accident and emergency department was a last resort to care for her.

And her increased vulnerability was clear for all to see.

But unfortunately this was not going to be a common sight during my patrol of the city centre with West Yorkshire Police officers.

Just a few hours later another young girl was spotted unable to stand and resting on a railing in Lower Briggate.

Her two friends were desperately trying to help her stand up as they worked out what to do next.

Within minutes she too had been escorted to the medical unit at the bottom of Briggate by police officers for assistance.

The medical staff handed her a bottle of water and kept a watchful eye over her in an effort to help ensure that she and her friends would make it home safely.

West Yorkshire Police officers have teamed up with agencies from across the city to help keep a watchful eye over revellers during the festive period.

The cold Saturday night began with an on-street briefing where door staff and marshals from Businesses Against Crime in Leeds (BACIL) were handed sheets of details of known criminals operating in the city centre.

And as the eyes and ears of the city’s streets they are in the best place to spot anything out of the ordinary and to help officers.

Within minutes one of the door supervisors was quick to point out a familiar face who had caused trouble at one of his venues in the past.

But it is this information that helps the city remain vigilant as it prepares to welcome hundreds of thousands of revellers before Christmas.

Sgt Paul Hopwood, who is based at Leeds Central Police Station, said: “It is not just the police involved in this operation.

“We have other partners as well door staff, the Street Angels and taxi marshals who are all aimed at keeping Leeds city centre safe for users of the night time economy.

“As part of that we have two zones.

“Zone One is from Albion Street to Woodhouse Lane and the second zone is towards Call Lane.

“Officers are sent out in in pairs and they will engage with the public and doorstaff.

“They’re encouraged to stop and speak with people and to also intervene should there be any problems,

“We are encouraged to take early intervention where if we may have someone causing any problems we may decide to arrest.

“The theory is that if we intervene early doors then it may prevent a much more serious incident happening later in the evening.”

Just minutes before the patrol and street briefing was due to begin the team of police officers were called to an incident outside a bar near The Calls.

A commotion could be spotted on one of the closed circuit television cameras which feeds back images into the police station.

The blue lights of the police van from the team, who had just left the station to help, could soon be spotted on the monitor.

And officers swiftly made three arrests for drunk and disorderly behaviour before the alleged culprits were offered a stay at the force’s new Elland Road custody suite.

Officers were later called to reports of a disturbance in another city centre night club after marshals took to the radio to ask for assistance.

The BACIL team and police officers then worked alongside each other to help diffuse the tension.

As well as offering support and diffusing arguments police were also on hand to offer directions from one end of the city centre to another.

People wanted to know where the nearest taxi rank was and to be given directions to particular clubs and late night shops.

One young man asked police officers about an apparently homeless man who was spotted with a dog on the street.

The young reveller had been so concerned about the dog’s welfare that he had even offered his £70 coat to the dog to keep it warm.

Towards the end of the shift a young girl was sobbing at police officers because she was unable to catch a taxi to take her boyfriend home.

Her partner had been sick at the top of Call Lane and was unable to talk to police who tried to check he could remember what had happened.

The man’s friends told officers that he had been “poorly” earlier in the evening but they did not know how to get him home.

Police officers then gave them advice about where to catch a taxi before they walked away into the night.

But it is that presence in the city centre that helps to protect revellers as they enjoy the festive period.

Sgt Hopwood added: “Over overall message would be to take care of valuables and to also look after each other when out in the city centre.

“I would advise people to take care with their mobile phones, handbags, and wallets and not to leave coats unattended.

“Don’t leave phones in the back pockets were they are visible.

“If you’re in a group try and stick together.

“Do not to put yourself in a position where you may become vulnerable,

“Do not drink to excess and share numbers with each other if in the event you do get seperated.”

Andy Howe, head doorman at Hedley Verity, added: “What we try to do is make sure everyone in Leeds has a good night out.

“If someone gets thrown out of one venue we try to let others have a good description of them so they can’t spoil anyone else’s night out.

“The main thing is drink sensibly.

“People do drink themselves to a point where they do things that they ordinarily wouldn’t do.

“Most of them when they turn up the following week can’t remember the things they did the week before.

“It’s definitely going to get busier in the run up to Christmas.”

Chief Insp Steve Palmer, Leeds city centre commander, added: “There are clearly some busy dates coming up including this Friday.

“Everyone has a vested interest in keeping Leeds safe.

“It is about working together and it also reduces the demand on Leeds General Infirmary.”

The Yorkshire Evening Post last week revealed that crime in Leeds’s most popular party district more than trebled in six years, figures show.

There were 778 recorded night-time offences on Call Lane in 2013 – up from 228 in 2008.

The street – home to a host of bars and nightclubs – has topped a list of the top 10 city centre streets with the highest overnight crime figures for the last three years.

Thefts and people being drunk and disorderly were the most common offences.

But businesses and police say city centre crime is now falling and insist the area is safe.

Figures contained in a report to Leeds City Council’s licensing committee reveal Briggate had the second highest night-time crime levels last year, with 679.

The other eight were: Albion Street (566), The Headrow (369), Woodhouse Lane (322), Boar Lane (172), Hirst’s Yard/Duncan Street (158), Great George Street (136), Cookridge Street (134) and Kirkgate (126).

But Chief Insp Steve Palmer, Leeds city centre commander, said crime overall had fallen since last year.

“These reductions are very much down to the close working relationship we have with local licensees, door staff, the council and other key partner agencies who work alongside us,” he said.