"We want people to feel safe": Plans to step up anti-social behaviour enforcement in the Borough's town centres
Aggressive begging and obstructive parking will be among the problems targeted under Council plans to boost its enforcement presence in the Borough's town centres.
Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council is in the process of recruiting 12 new enforcement officers to its Civic Enforcement Service, which will grow their numbers from 24 to 36.
The move, which will be funded for one year from COVID recovery monies, is aimed at supporting town centres as they look to bounce back from the pandemic.
And it will see enforcement stepped up in Billingham, Ingleby Barwick, Norton, Stockton, Thornaby and Yarm town centres.
Councillor Steve Nelson, the Council's Cabinet Member for Access, Communities and Community Safety, said: "This is about helping our town centres get back on their feet as, hopefully, we come out of the pandemic.
"We want people to feel safe when they come into our towns to shop, do business or enjoy a night out.
"That's why the immediate focus of these new recruits will be on aggressive begging and other anti-social behaviour.
"They'll also be targeting obstructive parking and irresponsible disposal of business waste, which can cause responsible town centre business owners a lot of problems and frustration.
"By focussing these new recruits on our town centres we can also free up officers to enhance the Civic Enforcement Service we provide across the rest of the Borough.
"That's very important because we know that crime and anti-social behaviour are still major concerns for our residents."
Aggressive begging accounts for around one in four reports made to the Council's Civic Enforcement Service, which operates from 7am until midnight every day of the year.
"Begging is a very emotive subject," said Councillor Nelson. "We understand that and we also understand there can be a whole range of reasons behind begging.
"People see beggars and they assume they're rough sleepers, which in our Borough is hardly ever the case.
"Like most complex problems, it's about finding a fair balance.
"We actually have a holistic approach to dealing with this and we can reassure people that we always do everything we possibly can to help the person involved.
"That includes offering help with any drugs or alcohol issues they may be experiencing and helping with any difficulties claiming benefits or seeking employment.
"The problems occur when begging spills over into aggressive behaviour or harassment, which can be very frightening for those on the receiving end of it.
"In those cases we have to step in to protect the public and if such behaviour continues, it leaves us with no choice but to take formal action as a last resort.
"Very occasionally and in exceptional circumstances that may involve going to court to secure a Criminal Behaviour Order, which in some cases will ban someone from begging in a defined area.
"If the order is breached, then they may face going to prison."
The Council's Crime and Disorder Select Committee is currently exploring the option of rolling out a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO) in the Borough.
PSPOs give councils more power to fine individuals for specific and repeated anti-social behaviour problems in a specified area.
The committee is expected to report its findings and recommendations early next year.