THEY are a focal point, attracting workers and shoppers during the day and drinkers, revellers and restaurant-goers at night.
City centres present a wide range of potential problems and issues for the police to tackle. In an age of cuts and dwindling resources, Gwent Police, along with Newport council, have to use a broad range of approaches to try and make the city centre safe.
Police say crime in Newport city centre is pretty much an even split between day and night – the problems associated with city centres at night account for around 50 per cent of recorded crime.
Inspector Bob Thompson, who has the responsibility for the city centre, took on his role four years ago. Although the job he does today is the same as in 2008, the methodology and approach has changed.
The first step was reducing crime overall. Once that was brought down the focus became to continue improving without necessarily arresting repeat offenders over and over, only to see the same faces causing the same problems time and again.
“Last year we had a garden full of weeds; we sorted those weeds out and this year is all about maintenance,” says Insp Thompson.
The police have adopted a collaborative approach, which means two sergeants, 12 PCs and 18 Community Support Officers working in the city centre alongside council staff, StreetScene and Street Pastors, among others.
Insp Thompson says a big help is the weekly meetings held between police and other groups, in which they go over issues of the past seven days to adjust strategy. It might be focussing officers in one particular part of town which is suffering more at the hands of shoplifters, or talking to security guards in a particular shop about danger signs if it is suffering.
The focus is on prevention rather than cure; officers will speak to known drinkers in the city centre to see if they want to be referred to projects which deal with alcoholism.
Instead of making repeat arrests, this approach is aimed at tackling the problem at its root.
Drinking Banning Orders (DBO), Criminal Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (CRASBO) and Directions to Leave are both tools in the arsenal when prevention hasn’t worked.
A DBO can ban an individual, for a fixed period of time, from entering any premises within the city which has a licence to serve alcohol.
Likewise, CRASBOs ban people from entering shops if they are prolific shoplifters.
Directions to Leave are issued by police, mostly on people who are drunk but not at the point where they have caused trouble.
If an officer sees someone drunk and thinks they might cause trouble, or indeed there’s a danger of them becoming a victim, they can issue a Direction to Leave.
This bans them from the city centre for 48 hours and they face arrest for breaching it. These are used to stop problems before they escalate and the idea is to stop people causing trouble, or getting themselves hurt, by issuing these directions.
The steps taken seem to be paying dividends: the number of crimes in the Stow Hill ward, which covers the city centre, fell from 3,258 in 2010/11 to 3,012 in 2011/12, a 7.6 per cent drop.
Incidents of anti-social behaviour fell by 24.3 per cent in this period, from 2,239 to 1,694.
Crimes in the city centre in the first quarter of 2012/13 numbered 495, a 35.4 per cent drop on last year’s 766.
Police in Newport say they want to see their efforts to reduce crime in the city have an impact on the bigger picture – namely the ongoing city centre regeneration.
Newport Superintendent Dave Johnson says that as well as the positives of seeing crime figures go down, he wants to see this change people’s perceptions of Newport and encourage more people to feel safe in the city, as well as having a positive effect on the ongoing city centre regeneration.
“Wouldn’t it be great if, because of the work we did in and around the city centre, making it safer and feel safer, big business was more inclined to want to invest in the city centre?” he says.