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Merseyside Police have adopted a football referee style card scheme to target aggressive begging following complaints that people sleeping rough have been behaving in an intimidating manner.
Homeless people who police decide are acting in an “anti-social manner” will be slapped with yellow cards. If singled out a second time, a red will follow – a final warning in no uncertain terms that an arrest or city centre ban is on the cards.
As the Law stands, street begging and sleeping rough are illegal in England and Wales, leading some to suggest that in theory what constitutes anti-social behaviour is open to the widest of interpretations.
Barely up and running, the scheme is already controversial, with critics like Liam Moore, of Merseyside social justice choir Voice in the City, speaking out about the victimising effect the scheme could have on homeless people in general.
Speaking to i news he said, “The issue is where will it stop. Does it open the floodgates to intimidation? Anyone who commits anti-social behaviour should be prosecuted, but we need solutions. Each person on the street is an individual and has their own story. Handing out red cards like football referee Howard Webb doesn’t solve people’s problems.”
The Merseyside measure is one of two recently undertaken with Liverpool City Council to encourage beggars and street drinkers to turn their lives around and enable them to access accommodation and support services with each card containing information to that effect. A new centre has also been opened to tackle addiction, homelessness and health problems.
One of the main organisers of the scheme, Liverpool Chief Superintendent Mark Wiggins, has defended the referee card scheme’s introduction. He suggested that police and local authority actions are motivated by complaints from the local business community and members of the public.
“These cards will help provide homeless people with the information they need to take advantage of support available. If some individuals do not take the offers of support and continue to commit offenses or anti-social behaviour then as a partnership we can take further action to protect the community.”
Wiggins remains adamant that the police’s starting point is one of support and help, preventing people who have received cards from getting into more trouble.
Inevitably concerns will be raised that Liverpool Police’s new approach potentially marks out any homeless individual unresponsive to it as a potential target for any overzealous PC out to hit his quota.
The scheme is backed by the council and the Liverpool Business Improvement District (BID) company, which represents more than 1,500 businesses in the city.
Originally reported by inews.co.uk