By Pippa Cole
Durham’s Neighbourhood Inspector Dave Coxon has encouraged students to “look after your friends” on evenings out, in an exclusive interview with Palatinate.
Insp. Coxon took over as Neighbourhood Inspector for the Durham sector in January, and was able to shed light on policy changes concerning alcohol-related incidents in the city.
Insp. Coxon’s comments come just over a month after the tragic death of Euan Coulthard, who was the third student to have drowned in the river in 15 months.
Earlier this month, students received an email from the University detailing new measures from the police, which stated that “any person who is found to be drunk and incapable could be arrested or be given a £60 fine for the offence, once sober.”
When asked about the reasons for this more robust approach, Insp. Coxon told Palatinate:
“Up until last year there was a two-tier system in place, whereby if you were a student you’d be dealt with one way, and if you were a permanent resident you would be dealt with in a slightly different way.
“If you were found to be drunk and disorderly in town, as a non-student, you may have been arrested and issued with a fixed penalty notice and be fined the following morning.
“As a student however, you may have been arrested and brought into custody, but then you’d have been released and your name would have been sent to the college, and they would have dealt with the disciplinary issues.”
“That, to people who were receiving fines, and to me, seemed inherently unfair that there was a dual system.”
Insp. Coxon went on to speak about his keenness “to decrease the gap between town and gown.”
In addition, Durham Constabulary will now attend reports of anti-social behaviour such as noise complaints, which previously had been the responsibility of University Security. According to Insp. Coxon, this is to facilitate early intervention and to help prevent repeat offences.
“We understand a lot of people are living for their first time away from home…and we want to help educate them with what is acceptable and what is not acceptable.”
Insp. Coxon praised the set up of a safe haven, available on Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday nights, where vulnerable people can be referred by either the police or volunteer groups such as Durham Streetlights.
Durham Streetlights are a volunteer group who are now linked by radio to door supervisors at nightclubs. If supervisors see someone leave on their own, particularly those walking in the direction of the riverbanks, they can now notify the Streetlights via radio.
They are then able to identify that person and have a conversation about where they are going, and if necessary, refer them to the safe haven.
In addition, the City Safety Group have proposed a trial of using breathalysers on the entrance to bars and nightclubs.
Insp. Coxon commented that it is intended to be used as a “screening tool” and confirmed that “we won’t necessarily be breathalysing everyone who walks through the door.”
However this proposal will at first be a pilot, Insp. Coxon said:
“We are looking at places around the country, to make sure we’re not putting in measures that aren’t going to work. We are, however, aware of the timeliness of the issue so it is something we are keen to progress.”
When asked why alcohol issues have been the main focus for the changes in policies, as opposed to issues with the riverbanks, Imsp. Coxon said:
“The commonality between the incidents we have had on the riverbanks, and in other areas around Durham, has been that people have put themselves at extreme risk as a result of drinking.
“Not every one of them has been so drunk that they couldn’t walk, but the alcohol certainly reduced their inhibitions, and made them feel like the risks they were taking were more acceptable.”
The City Safety Group have, however, commissioned an independent review by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA).
Insp. Coxon spoke about this review and said that “RoSPA will tell us about areas we need to think about, but it’s not just about the riverbanks.
“There have been incidents in other parts of the city too and we will look at the recommendations they make, and as a safety group, we will look at implementing their recommendations.
“But alcohol is by far the biggest issue. We are seeing people who are drinking far greater amounts of alcohol before they come out than we ever have.
“We are seeing people who struggle to locate their way home, look after their own property, and this is making themselves extremely vulnerable. That’s why alcohol is our main focus, as it has been the main contributing factor in the risk-taking that has gone on.”
When asked about people walking home alone, and incidents regarding both males and females, Insp. Coxon said:
“We don’t tend to see as many females walking home alone […] I think that society’s view of females walking home alone changed a long time ago. We do however see a lot of males walking home on their own.”
When asked how this was looking to be addressed, Insp. Coxon added:
“Volunteers are targeting people on their own, predominantly males. They ask them where they are going and where their friends are, and if necessary, take them back to the safe haven.”
“The incidents we have had to deal with would indicate that we do need to target men. This does not mean we should ignore the fact that we do see occasionally females deciding to walk home alone too.
“I hope the message will be the same to everyone, protect yourself and look after your friends.”
Looking forward, Insp. Coxon said that “we are keen not to have a knee-jerk reaction before we fully understand what the problem is; clearly the problem isn’t just one factor. There are a number of factors contributing to the overall problem and we need to understand that.”
Photograph: Pippa Cole