POLICE have pledged to protect Stafford shop owners fearing increasing numbers of homeless alcoholics outside their stores are affecting business.
Officers say there is a problem with drunk and disorderly behaviour by vagrants in Stafford town centre and have set up a task force to tackle it.
Several town centre businessmen and women expressed concerns following the latest arrest of a homeless man in the Mews area of Stafford town centre last week.
The man, in his late 50s, was handed a 24-hour ban from the town centre after ‘ongoing’ public order offences.
However, he returned shortly afterwards and was arrested for breaching the ban.
Inspector Rob Pilling, who covers Stafford Borough, told the newsletter the task force is working with other agencies to find help for the addicts before launching criminal proceedings.
He said: “There are number of people who use the town centre for street drinking. Some are homeless and others come into the town centre to socialise with fellow-drinkers.
“We’re working with organisations including the House of Bread, Axis, Mencap and the borough council to support these people.
“Alcoholism’s an illness and we want to do everything we can to get those affected into safe accommodation, particularly in the cold weather we’re experiencing.
“Having said that, we fully understand the effect these people can have on the public and town centre business.
“We’re taking a positive stance when we get complaints from businesses and individuals or see public drinkers during routine patrols.”
Officers have powers ranging from dispersal notices lasting up to 48 hours to making full arrests.
Inspector Pilling said: “We’ve made a number of arrests of individuals who do not heed our notices but they are a small minority.
“We encourage businesses to get in touch if they’re outside shops because many people would be put off by it and we understand that.
“It’s not a situation that will be resolved overnight and it’s about striking a balance between the safeguarding of individuals and the general public.”