POLICE are appealing to pub bosses not to try and turn Preston into a “6am city” – saying their depleted numbers cannot cope with all-night venues.
Hundreds of officers have been lost from the force in recent years, but police say they are determined to support Preston’s vision for improvement.
Major progress has been made since part of the city was dubbed “psycho alley” almost a decade ago, but officers are appealing to pub bosses not to push for more late-licence venues.
“Lancashire Police has lost 900 officers, we can’t do the job we used to do, we have to cut our cloth accordingly”, said Licensing Sergeant Tony Bushell.
With an increase in people drinking later into the night and bids from bars to extend their hours, the thin blue line in Preston is being stretched to the limit.
Hundreds of officers have been cut from the force in recent years, but police say they are determined to back the city’s vision for improvement, while ensuring there is no return to the “psycho alley” reputation of 2008.
Major progress has been made since Church Street was claimed to be the most dangerous street in the county, but officers are appealing to pub bosses not to try to turn Preston into a “6am city”.
In a hearing for a late licence of Preston’s Guild Hall, licensing sergeant Tony Bushell said: “A nickname of psycho alley is not a stigma Preston wants.”
He said hundreds of violent incidents had been reported in the city’s cumulative impact policy area or “red zone” already this year, and said: “Statistically, 35 per cent of those offences were committed between 1am and 7am within the saturation area.
“Of that 35 per cent, over half of those were committed between 3am and 7am.”
The Guild Hall’s application for a 6am alcohol licence was rejected, with 4am alcohol sales allowed in the venue, along with 24-hour “licensable activities” in the building’s proposed bowling alley, with strict conditions.
During the hearing, Sgt Bushell said police were unable to do the same job they once did.
He said: “The reason the saturation zone, the red zone, was introduced was to assist the police reduce the amount of violent crime happening in Church Street.
“I think it’s fair to say Preston is a much better place than it was in 2008, but we are seeing a slight rise in violent crime.
“We all know about the cuts.
“Lancashire Police has lost 900 officers, we can’t do the job we used to do, we have to cut our cloth accordingly.
“Effectively it means 900 fewer officers on the street in Lancashire.”
Sgt Bushell said officers covering the late shift policed the city centre until 3am, and said: “From 3am, we’ve got Preston city centre and the whole of Preston and Bamber Bridge and Penwortham covered by a handful of police officers.
“Policing the city centre is a high-demand job, and that makes us unable to respond to incidents outside the city and we can’t provide the cover as rapidly as we would like to.
“If people don’t see the police there, they are less likely to see us as a deterrent.
“So behaviour tends to deteriorate.”
A Lancashire Police spokesman said: “Demand on the police has grown as officer numbers have decreased, and in Lancashire we have seen an overall reduction of approximately 900 officers and 500 police staff in supporting front line roles.
“How we police the night time economy in Preston has therefore required changes to ensure we have a balanced and visible presence.
“This includes taking a multi-agency approach with partners such as the fire service and the NHS to utilise all the resources available across the county, as well as focussing on ‘early action’, which means taking measures to halt crime before it has chance to escalate, or even begin.
“The impact of late licences until 6am could see a further increase in demand for the police at times when there is a natural reduction in available patrols, due to the way we have adapted our service to deliver a service at peak times.
“This could result in us having to change how we police our wider areas, so that we can bring those additional patrols into Preston to police the late night-time economy.
“To put this into context, between January and mid-October this year there were approximately 400 incident of violence in the main Preston drinking area, which in the main resulted from alcohol-related issues.
“However, we remain committed to keeping residents and visitors in the county safe, while providing an efficient and cost-effective service.”
Sgt Bushell said police “applauded” the Guild Hall’s vision, but said a balance needed to be struck for the good of the whole city.