It is interesting that Councillors are rejecting the criticism from Mr Adrian Lee, Northamptonshire’s Chief Constable over decisions taken with regard to them not understanding what contributes to alcohol fuelled violence in the Town Centre.
The Chief Constable will have weighed his comments very carefully before he made his statement and I think the public can be assured that he will have made sure that they are supported by the evidence.
The fact is the consequences of violence that results from overindulgence of alcohol can be catastrophic not only for the immediate victims of an assault but the families of the victim and perpetrator if and when they are processed through the criminal justice system.
This isn’t the first time that the Chief Constable has attempted to curb the violence that occurs every weekend in the Northampton Town Centre.
In 2010/11 an experiment of closing Bridge Street to traffic overnight at the weekend from Friday to Sunday was a major success for the police with violent crime falling by over 30%.
The success led to a request by the police for the weekend closure to be made permanent and was supported by the Northampton Borough Council Community Safety Team.
As the Leader of the Borough Council, all be it for a short period, I expressed my support for the police request to Cllr Gonzalez and Cllr Mackintosh who as the County Council Cabinet members for Highways and Community Safety were responsible for making the decision.
I think it should be born in mind that I was at the time still a Senior Manager in Wellingborough Prison and had seen the tragic consequences of alcohol induced violence at first hand.
My support for the police request was therefore based not only on the evidence of its success but also on first hand experience of having to deal with the consequences of those involved.
It was also a consistent approach having supported the then Liberal Democrat administration at the Guildhall when the trail was implemented.
I shared the Chief Constable and the police officers dismay that the request was rejected by Cllrs Gonzalez and Mackintosh who decided that Bridge Street should be reopened at weekends.
What is also interesting is that the Conservatives advisor at the County Council at the time was the current Police and Crime Commissioner and it would be worth knowing what advice he gave at the time.
It was difficult to establish the grounds on which the decision was taken to refuse the police request but at the time there was rumours that complaints from restaurant businesses at the lower end of Bridge Street had been given preference.
What at the time was clear was that the ‘clubs’ in Bridge Street supported the closure to traffic because it prevented overcrowding on the footpaths which as many people will recognise are ‘flashpoints’ where alcohol is involved.
Given the fact that incidents around Bridge Street has now returned to above the pre-2010/11 trial it is clear that Cllrs Gonzalez and Mackintosh have a number of questions to answer.
I don’t subscribe to the notion that the Chief Constable is talking out of turn.
The facts speak for themselves, alcohol fuelled violence continues to be a major issue and we should be grateful for the job that our front line police do in preventing it from being even worse than it is.
Whether Early Morning Restriction Orders (EMRO) are the answer to reducing alcohol related violence is a discussion to be had, but the evidence seems to suggest that it will help.
The problem of course is that Councillors have to have the courage to stand up to vested interests who they may well be their supporters.
The overriding factor should of course be the protection of the public, which sometimes means protecting people from themselves.
I take the simple view that where the evidence is available surely it makes absolutely no sense not to listen to the Chief Constable and his operational staff who are dealing with the issues, on the front line, day in day out.