NORTH Wales’ chief constable has suggested that a legal order aimed at stopping people using drugs in Wrexham town centre needs a rethink.
Throughout 2017, the town has attracted media attention for its drugs problem, after the issue received national coverage.
Images of users said to be feeling the effects of so-called ‘legal highs’ such as ‘spice’ and ‘black mamba’ around the town’s bus station in King Street have featured prominently with some describing the ‘zombie-like state’ of people as being like something out of the horror series The Walking Dead.
In August 2016, an order giving police and council officials powers to disperse anyone causing a nuisance, rough sleeping, consuming alcohol or taking drugs came into force.
People in breach of the public space protection order (PSPO) are issued with a £100 fixed penalty fine. In the year following the move, a succession of offenders have appeared before Wrexham Magistrates’ Court, despite promises of welfare help and warnings before any action is taken.
At the time North Wales police and crime commissioner Arfon Jones – a former Wrexham Council member – raised concerns the order may move problems elsewhere and not solve them.
Now almost a year later his views have been echoed by chief constable Mark Polin, who has warned the policy is not working long-term.
“The town centre-wide behaviour order was not our idea but it is there and we are supporting the fact that it’s there,” said Mr Polin, speaking to the Leader.
“What it gives rise to is a danger you are going to try to ‘police’ your way out of an issue, which I don’t think is what is required here – in fact I am sure of it.”
Speaking last week, following a fact-finding mission to Switzerland, Mr Jones called for a more “tolerant and compassionate approach”, which treats addiction as a health, rather than a criminal, issue.
“Fundamentally for me this is a health-related problem and we need to tackle it with the assistance of Public Health Wales and the Health Board,” agreed Mr Polin.
“The good news is we are certainly starting to see engagement from Public Health Wales and the health board, which is important because fundamentally this is not a problem we are going to arrest our way out of.
“We are dealing with individuals with complex needs many of them health related and we need to understand the underlying causes of this behaviour and tackle them jointly.
“We don’t want to see this problem extend in the way it exists in Wrexham to other towns.
“That is possible as this is a problem occurring in Manchester and Birmingham, so we have to get on top of this issue and seek to negate that risk.”
At the same time, Mr Polin is keen to reassure people visiting the town centre that problems with anti-social behaviour will be dealt with.
“We are doing our bit from an enforcement point of view so reports of anti-social behaviour are coming down and we have made 85 arrests and summons in this financial year in addition to 57 penalty notices for disorder and 13 criminal behaviour orders. We do not want to over egg it and want to get the balance right but there is a lot of good work going on.”
Mr Polin suggested Wrexham’s problems were wider than just drugs, with a town-wide focus on improving the look and economic future of the area fundamental to solving its problems.
“We’ve been involved in holding events with the users in Wrexham to seek to understand what their underlying concerns are so we are playing a part,” he added.
“I walked through the town centre recently and there are a lot of vacant premises. There needs to be a coherent plan around the town centre that is not just related to or connected to the current drug issues we are seeing.
“The temptation to blame that for the decline in the town centre is wrong because I do not think they are one and the same.”