POLICE officers working to improve Portsmouth city centre have warned ‘robust action’ against prolific shoplifters, thieves prowling popular car parks – and street beggars pretending to be homeless.
Police launched a targeted team taking aim at Portsmouth’s Guildhall Walk, Guildhall Square and Commercial Road after a spike in crime and anti-social behaviour before the turn of the year.
Now Project Stark, led by Acting Sergeant Dan McGarrigle and launched mid-January, has already led to a reduction in crime in the centre.
The team, which shares information with the council and other organisations, has been targeting prolific shoplifters, thieves stealing from cars and has been trying to help homeless people.
A/Sgt McGarrigle said: ‘Anyone who is committing crime or anti-social behaviour in the city centre – their behaviour won’t be tolerated.
‘It’s an area that people want to enjoy from all over the city and if there are people there causing problems we will take robust action against them.
‘We’re working with partner agencies to get a full picture of people and the situation.’
The worst-hit car parks are in Slindon Street, the NCP at the back of Cascades and Sainsbury’s supermarket.
A/Sgt McGarrigle warned theft from motor vehicles is ‘seriously high’ and plans are in place to get police cadets to help educate drivers visiting the centre,
The team – also made up of a PC and five PCSOs – are based in the city centre but have been freed up from other duties policing outside of the centre hot spots.
While A/Sgt McGarrigle says his team is ‘helping and supporting’ homeless people they come across, he added: ‘But there are those that are non-engaging and committing crime and causing anti-social behaviour – they’re the people that we’ll look at. Those are people that we want to be engaging with and helping them move on with their lives.’
He added: ‘We’ve been identifying people who have a home but are portraying themselves as homeless. We’ve been warning them about their behaviour.’
Backed by Portsmouth City Council’s new street wardens, the police Project Stark team has already won several key victories. They include:
n Arrested and charged a man after a charity box was stolen.
n Working with wardens to get abandoned property removed from the street.
n Three fixed penalty notices to cyclists in Commercial Road where cycling is banned.
n Caught two wanted men.
n Used dispersal powers to remove drunk man abusing the public and police in Commercial Road, and a drunk student in Guildhall Walk.
n Helped fast food restaurants issue banning letters to nuisance yobs at the top of Commercial Road.
Project Stark has been called ‘innovative’ by Labour MP Stephen Morgan, who represents Portsmouth South.