BEGGARS were told to stop asking the public for money or face prosecution as a major police operation was launched last night.
Simon Hayes, the police and crime commissioner for Hampshire and the Isle of Wight, joined officers on the streets of Portsmouth to help hand out letters to beggars.
The notices warned them that begging is a criminal offence – and they could face arrest if they continue.
All the agencies in Portsmouth have joined together to come up with a list of persistent beggars who they can target.
Mr Hayes and officers visited busy places such as The Hard and Albert Road.
Mr Hayes, who is independent and was elected last November, told The News: ‘What is very good is that it’s a multi-agency approach working with the local councils to support individuals that are begging and see what can be done to help and protect them and enable them to have options in life so they don’t want or need to beg.’
Mr Hayes joined police on patrols across the city, including visiting Palmerston Road and Guildhall Walk.
Mr Hayes said he was impressed when he visited Safe Space in Guildhall Walk.
This is an area run by the ambulance service to provide help for young people who are very drunk.
Mr Hayes said: ‘There hasn’t been any trouble. It’s been quiet because of good policing to keep things under control.
‘There’s been a couple of things that could have kicked off on street corners, but early intervention has been good.
‘Certainly from speaking to revellers they come here because they know they can be safe in the venues because they are well-run.
‘I think five years ago that was not the case. There were a couple of fatalities in the centre of Portsmouth and much more fighting and drink-related trouble.
‘We have not seen any aggression. It’s an orderly run night time economy.’
He added: ‘It’s deeply important for me that I actually learn and see what it’s like on the ground.
‘It’s important that I know what officers have to put up with on a day-to-day basis and to see the good work that’s being done in Portsmouth around neighbourhood policing.
‘I’m picking up that the police are doing good work in Portsmouth and are listening to the public and their concerns around begging on the streets, around riding bicycles on the pavements and the police are addressing it.
‘They are dealing with the challenges and I think the public in Portsmouth should be reassured that the police do understand what’s going on in quite a difficult climate financially in the community.’
He joined Sergeant Wendy Douglas, who covers central Portsmouth, for some of her duty as she explained the problems that begging can cause on a busy Friday night.
She said: ‘It’s the anti-social behaviour that sometimes comes with it.
‘It’s the fact that many of the people doing it have drug or alcohol problems and, with people giving them money, those issues are not being addressed.
‘The city has come together in a multi-agency environment – the city council, local wardens, drugs services, court services - to try and look at what we can do to stop people begging on the street.
‘We have looked at a list of people we know are persistent beggars and looked at what their housing needs are and how and where we can help them.’
She added: ‘If you are coming into the city, particularly down at The Hard where we’ve had a good success rate of stopping the begging here, there are people here aggressively begging, swearing at you – it’s intimidating and anti-social behaviour – and it’s not the sort of thing we need for the city.’
She said having Mr Hayes out on patrol was a breath of fresh air.
‘He’s actually getting a taste for what we do – rather than sitting in an office dictating,’ said Sgt Douglas.
‘For me it’s about being able to say the little things that irritate.
‘I am not expecting him to be able to magic them away. But it’s being able to say “Do you know, it’s really hard to get this done” or “sometimes I wish they would allow us to do our job”.
‘Many he’s aware of, but it’s nice to have the opportunity to be listened to.’