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Operation Loose Change

September 10th 2009
Nearly 40 homeless people were arrested in London last month during Operation Loose Change, a joint action between the police, local councils and outreach charities to try and tackle 'antisocial behaviour' in the city. The operation, which ran 6th-9th July, was intended to target 'persistent beggars' identified by Safer Neighbourhood Teams from each area, who were arrested by police officers before being offered access to relevant support services. At its launch, the head of Westminster Homeless Unit, Inspector Martin Rees, said that Operation Loose Change intended both to help vulnerable people and punish persistent offenders. "This operation is supporting the work we do on a daily basis in central London, offering help and support to those who are sleeping rough and putting them in touch with welfare services that can help them find accommodation and employment, but also dealing robustly with any anti-social behaviour or crime which is happening as a result of begging‚Äö?Ñ??, he said. "Hopefully, by bringing the work being done on all the boroughs together, it will demonstrate to the public that we are listening to their concerns and are working hard to deal with any problems whilst offering support to those that need it‚Äö?Ñ??. A total of 36 arrests were made over the 72-hour period, with the vast majority for crimes relating to begging activity. Three individuals were also arrested for common assault and drunk and disorderly offences. The arrests were made across six London boroughs of Camden, Hammersmith & Fulham, Kensington & Chelsea, Lambeth, Southwark and Westminster. Superintendent Dave Musker, of Lambeth Police, who led the operation, said that the statistics proved the success of the operation. "The results will help contribute to improving public confidence in policing and partnership activity in significant public spaces; it will help to reduce associated crimes linked with drug abuse and reduce levels of anti-social behaviour connected with begging and street dwelling‚Äö?Ñ??, he said in a statement. Rather than a 'quick-fix' method of taking people off the streets and out of the public eye, Superintendent Musker saw the operation as "an opportunity to address the problems that could be leading people into crime and associated anti-social behaviour‚Äö?Ñ??. This is not the first time that a 'blitz' on homelessness and anti-social behaviour has been tried in the capital, however. Operation Loose Change was first put into action in 2004, when 27 homeless people were arrested in the West End over one weekend alone. Kit Malthouse, who is now the deputy mayor of London with responsibility for the Metropolitan Police, but was then deputy leader of Westminster Council, at the time praised its 'zero-tolerance' policy. This hard-line approach with Operation Loose Change was criticised at the time by homeless charity Crisis, whose spokesman said: "All this will create is a series of additional barriers for people wanting to escape homelessness for good. "The vast majority of people who beg are homeless and all are vulnerable. What they desperately need is support to deal with their problems and find a route back into society. "Ignoring these problems and embarking on costly crackdowns is a waste of public money and grossly demeaning to homeless people‚Äö?Ñ??. Perhaps in light of these criticisms, the relaunch of the operation placed more emphasis on rehabilitation, according to Mike Nicholas from charity Thames Reach, which worked with police in the operation. "All the evidence suggests that people begging in 2009 are doing so to support a drug or alcohol addiction, not because they are sleeping rough,‚Äö?Ñ?? he said. "When the police targeted people begging in central London, between 70 per cent and 80 per cent tested positive for class A drugs.‚Äö?Ñ?? Arresting known beggars with drug or alcohol problems can be the most effective way of helping their addictions and stopping their reliance on hand-outs from the public, Mr. Nicholas said. "Thames Reach want the very best for people with addictions and encourage them to take up treatment. The long-term effect of joint police and support services ventures such as Operation Loose Change is unclear. Though its stated aim is to crack down on 'persistent beggars' and those with drug or alcohol addictions, it remains to be seen whether aggressive policing operations can have a significant impact on these problems. If not, it is likely that Operation Loose Change could just be employed in attempts to meet homelessness targets ahead of the Olympics in 2012.

September 2009



Best foot forward

Jumping the gun

Doing the Kiltwalk

Sally forth

Homelessness Hurts

The soup report: The right help in the right place at the right time?

Space at Emmaus

MP's expense and being on the street

Anger at a common scene

Operation Loose Change

London's 15 per cent rise in homeless

Swine flu preparations made

Goings on at Novas

Westminster fails to follow up on street count accuracy

Inquest goes ahead as homeless man's family is found

Charities squabble with politicians over homeless rights

Bum fights caused 27 deaths last year

Professional beggars working in Leicester

Belfast local charged with murdering his nephew

Seattle "breached constitutional rights‚Äö?Ñ?? by refusing tent city

Thames Reach, Blenheim partner up

Homeless services to pay for banning animals

Economic crisis transforming US homeless population

Street Shield 7: The Missing Man


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