Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 23 August 2014

Police defend youth dispersal plan

South Yorkshire Police stressed its dispersal order for young people in Barnsley will be used with discretion

A police force said it will use a town centre dispersal order on unaccompanied young people with discretion and stressed it will only be used to remove trouble-makers after the move was criticised by civil liberties campaigners.

The order gives police the power to remove under-16s from the centre of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, at night if officers think they are behaving anti-socially, South Yorkshire Police said.

The force clarified its position and revised information about the measures on its website after reports of the move surfaced on Saturday.

The order came into force on Friday after being set up by South Yorkshire Police and Barnsley Metropolitan Council in a bid to curb bad behaviour.

A force spokesman said: "It will give police the discretionary power to take home young people under 16 who involved in antisocial behaviour and out on the streets in a dispersal zone between 9pm and 6am, and are not accompanied by a parent or responsible adult."

Civil liberties groups have accused the force of disproportionately targeting and criminalising young people. Nick Pickles, director of Big Brother Watch, branded the move "totally wrong" and said it will severely undermine respect for the law.

He said: "Dispersal orders are a blunt, crude tool that at best moves the problem to somewhere nearby. It is a sign that the police have lost control of the streets and yet does nothing to restore either the community spirit or respect for the law that has been lost."

Civil rights group Liberty said using age as a factor for dispersal was discriminatory and could be unlawful. Emma Norton, a lawyer at Liberty, said: "The police should target offenders of whatever age, not show disrespect and distrust of a whole generation."

Police will also be able to use the powers to move groups of two or more people from anti-social behaviour blackspots and target rowdy night-time revellers or football fans.

Inspector Julie Mitchell, of South Yorkshire Police, said: "Many interventions have been put in place by the police and partners and, although some measures have had some success, nuisance behaviour still persists on an almost daily basis. The common theme that appears to cause the most concern is rowdy, inconsiderate and abusive behaviour. This behaviour is often from people in large groups and has led to members of the public and business community reporting the feeling of being harassed and intimidated. The order is not intended to be applied without discretion; we want to encourage residents and visitors to come into the town centre for retail and leisure."

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