An initiative has been launched to tackle street drinking, begging, and public drug supply and use in Oxford city centre, and to safeguard those involved at risk of criminal exploitation.
This joint high-visibility initiative, from Thames Valley Police and Oxford City Council, is part of a local response to the exploitation of children and vulnerable people by drug-dealing gangs coming from both larger cities, which had been identified as a national issue, and the local area.
Joint patrols are focusing on the busiest areas of the city centre and individuals associated with the highest levels of harm and demand. Evidence collected in Oxford has shown that most of the people engaged in street anti-social behaviour have entrenched issues with drug addiction, and some also suffer from mental health problems and domestic abuse. This leaves many vulnerable to criminal exploitation. TVP and the City Council, working with Oxfordshire County Council, voluntary and charity sector organisations have well developed processes to identify, engage and support those at risk.
Officers from TVP and the City Council on patrol always seek to connect those willing to engage with the appropriate services, including charities providing support around mental health, domestic abuse and addiction issues. The joint work is a staged process, tackling criminal activities, robustly challenging unacceptable behaviour and giving individuals opportunities to make changes to avoid ending up in court.
Supt Joe Kidman, Local Police Commander for Oxford City, said: “A culture of anti-social street behaviour makes it harder for individuals to disentangle themselves and live safe, healthy and fulfilling lives. It also supports a significant market of chaotic drug use. From our policing operations, we can directly connect that drug market, including money gathered from begging, to the exploitation of children in our city to deal Class A drugs, and drug dealing gangs attracted in from outside. In both cases we can link this to violence, including the carrying and use of knives.
“We are proud of the compassionate approach of our city to those in need. The lifestyle associated with antisocial street behaviour is chronically dangerous for the health and wellbeing of those involved. We also need to challenge the wider risks to our community, especially our children, and ensure that the city centre is and feels safe for everybody who lives, works, studies or visits here.”
Councillor Tom Hayes, Oxford City Council Board Member for Community Safety, said: “People who beg are some of the most vulnerable in our society, and this council is committed to getting support for those who want it, and safeguarding those at risk of exploitation. We’re in daily touch with vulnerable people—listening, advising, and organising referrals to get the long-term help they need.
“Oxford is one of the country’s most compassionate and generous cities. I encourage everybody who wants to help vulnerable people to give what they can to charities like Turning Point, or SMART. Working closely with charities, the police, and support services, this council is determined to do all it can for the most vulnerable members of our society.”