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Take care of yourselves this Christmas

Alison's latest blog talks about staying safe this festive season and the excellent work of Best Bar None schemes.

Over the next two weeks many of us, me included, will don our glad rags and head out to celebrate the start of the festive season.

Many towns and cities across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly benefit from vibrant, popular, all year round night-time economies but the weeks building up to Christmas offer probably the best time for us all to enjoy them – as well as a great opportunity for businesses to get a much needed financial boost. Our pubs, clubs and restaurants make a welcome contribution to the mixed economy - but excess drinking and gathering of large groups of people do bring challenges for policing and community safety.

Because we know one thing for certain, some people will drink a lot more than they are used to – make themselves vulnerable and putting themselves in danger. It’s not about stopping people from having a good time, it’s about helping people make better choices and, part of that is helping to avoid places where people have too much to drink and behave badly.

Drinking a lot of alcohol makes some people more vulnerable to becoming victims of crime and, sometimes, more likely to commit crime – in particular crimes linked to violence, criminal damage and public order. Alcohol is associated with a range of crimes but plays a particular factor in violent crime. Overall between 20% and 25% of all violent crime is linked to alcohol.

But if you needed any evidence to support the need to make good decisions of where and how you celebrate, that figure rises to around two thirds for violence linked to the night-time economy.

Myself and Chief Constable Shaun Sawyer are particularly concerned about the extent to which people who have drunk too much can become victims of crime – in particular sexual offences - and that’s why it features so prominently in my Police and Crime Plan.

The Plan commits the chief constable to work in partnership with local authorities, businesses, health and other agencies to protect the public and those working in the night-time economy. Both our teams continue to also work to support alcohol initiatives. In particular championing schemes which help to reduce crime and harm linked to alcohol, such as Best Bar None and street pastors.

I want to say a huge thank you to the network of dedicated street pastors who go out on our streets each week to keep people safe.

I also want to thank all the police officers and staff who will be out there at night protecting the public and dealing with incident.

I am a big fan of Best Bar None as it offers a great opportunity for the police to work with the trade. I know the police value the scheme greatly - particularly the way members handle problems themselves, and don’t just leave it to the police to sort everything out. Devon and Cornwall has a number of well established (and award winning)  Best Bar None schemes – in Plymouth, Torquay and  Exeter – as well as one just starting in Newton Abbot and Teignbridge. I hope to support other towns in rolling out the scheme next year too.

Emma – until recently the chair of Torquay and now the Exeter Chair -  has done a great job in bringing people together in Torquay and driving its launch and I know she is going to help our award winning Exeter scheme go on to even bigger and better things next year. And I’ve been so impressed by Jay, the organiser at Plymouth. It’s exciting hearing him talking about helping vulnerable young people, and issues such as trafficking. The more we can educate people about these kind of community problems, the better.

I am also keen to help the local licensed trade’s efforts to promote responsible drinking and safety in the night-time economy which is why I have provided funding to help develop and roll out other schemes like Drinkaware Crew and Ask for Angela.

This time of year is for many the only time in the year when people will really let down their hair, so it is important that we all take some personal responsibility for our own safety. So, if you are out in Plymouth or Torquay or Exeter look out for venues that advertise the Best Bar None logo because in those places you will be safest to enjoy yourself.

And while young men continue to be at greatest overall risk of alcohol-related violence linked to the night-time economy, at this time of year it is really important that everyone takes care of themselves and those they are out celebrating with. Always look out for your friends, try not to get split up from your group, always make sure you know how you are going to get home – don’t accept lifts from people you don’t know and don’t leave drinks unattended.

Of course, not all alcohol-related violence happens within the night-time economy; it is also identified as a factor in domestic violence, and in violence between adults happening in the daytime, and happening at home - but I will write more about that next week.

In the meantime have an absolutely brilliant start to the festive season – enjoy everything this glorious part of the world has to offer, but most importantly stay safe so you can do it all over again next year.

Alison Hernandez