It's close to 10pm and I've been out in Westgate tonight with the formidable Sgt Lara Connor and her TASK Team of officers.
In an earlier post, I mentioned my concern at the astonishing rise in anti-social behaviour incidents and even a robbery in Westgate in the last month or so and I'm delighted to say that this week, the dedicated Police unit started vigorously patrolling Westgate in some force, ten hours a day, targeting the groups of teenagers who are behind the problem and this evening, taking a number of the younger ones home to surprised parents with a strong message.
A dispersal order will come into force on 9th October but until then the police and the PCSO's are making life difficult for the teenagers who have been using the area ouside and inside the train station to congregate and drink. As I came home this evening, most had been pushed out towards the seafront with their cans of 'Stella' confiscated and poured away into the gutter.
There is however a carrot as well as a stick on offer and PCSO, Craig Raisbeck, is organising football at Hartsdown on Wednesday night and even bowling for teenagers who are prepared to leave the streets for something a little more challenging.
From speaking with the Police and PCSO's this evening there are a couple of things that I would like to see done and I'll be seeking the support of my colleagues, the two other Westgate councillors, Tom King and Brian Goodwin.
Firstly, the Police would like to see the bench outside 'Almost News', moved somewhere else, as this is acting a congregation point opposite the station. Secondly, they would like to see the 'planters' outside the station moved or taken away, as these also act as seats for the kids,. They are also frequently vandalised and have turned into huge outdoor ashtrays, so I'm inclined to agree with the sense of trying to do something with them.
Finally, the railway company needs to be persuaded to put a very bright light outside the station entrance to deter the teenagers from congregating there at all. It's an intimidating, shadowy place at present and not really what we should have, as both the cash point and the bus stop is are in front.
From what I've seen this evening travelling around in the patrol car, the initiative appears to be working very well and the problem teenagers, most known by name to the Police and some with a long history, appear to be getting the message. Most certainly, I'm not prepared to see the centre of Westgate become a place where people don't feel safe after dark and I've been promised regular reports on the progress of the operation and any arrests that have been made.
Finally, CCTV outside the station would be an ideal deterrent but that's a far more difficult challenge to overcome at present.