Task force offers helping hand alongside arm of the law

PCSO Lauren Taylor attends to a man collapsed in Dickson Road, suspected to have taken drugs including Spice
PCSO Lauren Taylor attends to a man collapsed in Dickson Road, suspected to have taken drugs including Spice
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It’s a crisis not unique to Blackpool.

Homelessness, begging, drug and alcohol abuse are issues seen in every major city.

Police carry out a search on men stopped in Springfield Road

Police carry out a search on men stopped in Springfield Road

But on the streets close to the Promenade a small team is hard at work determined to make a difference in the resort.

A week-long operation is under way, led by Blackpool Council and supported by Lancashire Police and officers from Blackpool BID.

The target is a small group of people – at once both forgotten and a very prominent reminder of how lives can go so badly wrong.

Walking the streets alongside police officers are housing outreach workers, drug and alcohol support workers and public protection officials.

Blackpool Council, Blackpool BID and Blackpool Police on patrol

Blackpool Council, Blackpool BID and Blackpool Police on patrol

The faces they see as they patrol are familiar, many on first name terms, many have been through the system – both criminal and social work – before.

The Horizon outreach worker attached to the team knows only too well the problems those battling to tackle Blackpool’s drug and alcohol issues.

“We get out on the streets to try to find these people, the ones in greatest need.

“They aren’t going to come to us.

“But you aren’t always going to have a success straight away.

“You have to build a rapport, a trust.

“And most of all you have to have people who are ready to be helped.

“If they aren’t committed to making the change in their lives they are going to lapse back.”

Many of those the patrol meet, and greet, are ‘repeat customers’.

Their lives are often chaotic, their most consistent relationships with police or council staff.

And officers know where to look.

In a alley behind Abingdon Street they find a woman sleeping rough.

The previous day she had been issued with a community protection warning – the first stage of a ‘three strike’ process which ultimately ends in the courts.

None of those involved in the operation want that to happen.

And Housing Options workers are quickly into action, making appointments, trying desperately to break down barriers, earn trust and, ultimately, take a vulnerable woman off the streets.

At the same time, Mark Marshall from Blackpool Council, BID warden Ryan Skyrme and Sgt Iain Andrew are discussing the next stage of the disciplinary process.

Mark explains: “This lady was issued a warning yesterday.

“She’ll be issued a community protection order now, the next stage is an appearance in court.

“We hope she’ll take the offer of support, of help, that it won’t come to that.”

The team spend around 20 minutes at the scene, making sure the woman is comfortable, arranging an appointment for the afternoon.

And the Housing Options team are hopeful.

The outreach worker who made the arrangements said: “I think we could get a result here, hopefully she will come in and we will get her the help.”

The operation has produced positive results in its first thee days.

While many have ignored their initial warnings, two people have already been to see the Housing Options team.

And while the meeting at the back of Abingdon Street ends on a positive note, the team’s next encounter proves much tougher.

Heading along Springfield Road two men are spotted exchanging something.

Agressive with officers, both end up in handcuffs as a drugs search takes place.

Gradually they are talked out of their temper but neither man wants to accept the help that is on offer.

The distrust of both men for authorities, not only police but the outreach workers is clear.

The search turns up nothing and both men are released but there is a clear sense of frustration both men are slipping through the cracks.

They are not the only ones.

On Talbot Road police stop and speak to several individuals they clearly know well. The tone is firm but not threatening, the message clear – their behaviour will not be tolerated.

At the corner of Talbot Road and Dickson Road officers stop again to prepare an order for another well known ‘regular customer’.

His was part of a group moved on from the spot less than an hour before.

Hopes are not high that he will heed his warnings.

Sgt Andrew said: “We are very clear with people what we expect of them.

“They know what help is on offer and what the consequences are if they do not accept.”

While police deal with one man, officers are on the radio to the CCTV control room.

Another ‘regular customer’ is being tracked as he walks around town, the feeling is it is a matter of when and not if he breaches the terms of his order.

Despite the huge challenges and immense frustration, the team works professionally, methodically and with huge care and compassion for people who do not always want to accept their help.

As the team are processing a community protection order at the corner of Talbot Road and Dickson Road they are approached by a business owner.

He is concerned about two men who have collapsed close to his shop.

Both are suspected of having taken the illegal drug Spice.

PCSOs Tom Cowell and Lauren Taylor break away from the main group and race to the scene.

On arrival they find one man unconscious outside a shop. Another man is lying still on the pavement barely 10 yards away.

A group of other men and women, all well known to the PCSOs are gathered round.

They quickly melt away when the authorities appear.

PCSO Taylor’s attempts to wake one of the collapsed men prove unsuccessful.

He has a pulse and is breathing but is utterly motionless.

Despite having narrowly avoided being assaulted by a man in similar circumstances just days before, she works hard to wake the man. Her concern always for his safety.

Yards away PCSO Cowell is carrying out the same task, attempting not only to wake the collapsed man, but to shield his face from the midday sun.

PCSO Taylor suspects Spice is involved.

She said: “This is what this does to you.

“This man is so vulnerable, anything could haoppent to him, he could be robbed and he would know nothing of it.”

An ambulance is called to both men and while one is able to walk with the help of paramedics, PCSO Taylor is unable to bring her man out of his coma like state.

A first responder arrives and checks him out before the man is stretchered into an ambulance.

He was taken to Blackpool Victoria Hospital for checks, PCSO Taylor suspects he may have taken heroin as well as Spice.

She said: “People see this and they think it’s dramatic.

“But this is every day for us.”

The shocked business owner who raised the alarm is clear action needs to be taken.

He said: “It’s good to see this action, it’s good to see this operation happening.

“This has been getting worse for months.

“Somebody is selling this stuff, they need to be going after the dealers.

“The police are tacking it, the NHS are having to deal with it. Somebody from high up in the council needs to come down and see for themselves how bad it is and get a plan in place.”

Blackpool’s central library is among the problem spots.

And as PCSOs Taylor and Cowell make their way back to base, there is one last job to do.

Another well know individual is slumped outside the building.

He is clearly worse for wear but denies taking anything but drink.

He is helped to his feet, walked to a nearby bench and given a stern warning that should he open his can of high strength cider, the next stop could well be court.

It sums up the carrot and stick approach which, it is hoped will help Blackpool get to grips with its share of a national problem.