A surge in anti-social behaviour which has seen shopkeepers complaining about street drinking and sex acts in a town centre have sparked a call for more community police patrols.
Councillors at this month’s meeting of Bathgate Local Area Committee heard that there were growing concerns around the behaviour and the impact it was having, with fears some businesses may decide to leave the area altogether.
Police said they had been engaging with local businesses over the issue, but admitted that resources were “stretched extremely thin” – and suggested council-employed street wardens could be one way of reducing the problems.
Councillors have now pledged to write to senior police officers to raise their concerns.
Community sergeant Mike Harte told this month’s meeting of Bathgate Local Area Committee that officers acted where they could to control anti-social behaviour and public drinking in and around the Steelyard, but it was a question of stretched resources – with community officers often called in to other policing operations.
He also highlighted that the town’s CCTV cameras were not clear enough to provide evidence to identify wrongdoing.
Chair of the committee councillor Harry Cartmill told the officer: “I have numerous reports from businesses around the Steelyard about anti-social behaviour in the area. In fact, they even handed a petition into the council.
“I wonder if you have any update on investigations, and are we using CCTV.”
Sgt Harte said: “In respect of the Steelyard itself the community officers have been down engaging with the people who do sit about the Steelyard.”
He said officers often moved people on and advised them on the law around public drinking.
The sergeant admitted: “We are aware of reports of increased shoplifting and drinking in public at the Steelyard and there’s some reference to a female as part of that group carrying out a sexual act on others for cash in the lanes and car parks off the back of that, so we are trying to get there as often as possible to try and stop that kind of behaviour.”
Councillor Cartmill said: “As I say, it’s a source of a lot of upset in town. I have had many people approach me about it.
“I’m not trying to tell you your job but it needs to be a high priority because it’s causing a lot of upset.”
Referring to recent conversations on community patrols he had had with fellow Bathgate councillors Pauline Stafford and Willie Boyle, Sgt Harte said Police Scotland faced a resourcing issue.
“Our resources are stretched extremely thin. We run on bare bones at times and that results in community officers being abstracted from their core community role to assist response teams to answer the call volume that we experience.”
“As and when possible we patrol areas to stop any kind of anti-social behaviour.”
Councillor Pauline Stafford said she too received a lot of complaints about anti-social behaviour.
“I completely appreciate the pressure the police are under and I know it’s not just down to Police Scotland.”
She suggested that more partnership working seemed to work in reducing anti-social behaviour. Councillor Stafford worried that some shopkeepers might vote with their feet and leave rather than renew leases if such behaviour went unchecked.
Sgt Harte suggested that the council could employ street wardens, as some councils do, and added that shopkeepers could do a lot to improve their own security and reduce shoplifting.
Citing an instance where a shopkeeper experienced persistent theft from one customer but was deterred from reporting it because the value of goods was not high, he said: “Shops themselves have to take some kind of ownership.”
Outlining problems with the CCTV, Sgt Harte told the committee: “Just this morning I looked at an email from our facility in Coatbridge which monitors the CCTV and saw a comparison of the CCTV in Bathgate and that in Motherwell town centre. I think the phrase used was night and day.”
He added: “The Bathgate one was very poor whereas the Motherwell one was crystal clear so I don’t whether there’s an investment required in Bathgate. To use that as a means of identifying people would be very, very difficult.
“And that was in daylight hours. It would be very hard to convict someone if you cannot make them out.”
Councillor Boyle asked: “Might it be helpful if we as a council could express our concerns at a local level to senior officers”.
Sgt Hart said that would “be extremely beneficial” and said the small number of community officers were being taken away from high visibility patrols.
The committee agreed to write to the Divisional Commander to pass on their concerns. Councillors also requested that the Town Centre management team investigate the issues around the CCTV system.