PICKING up the syringes used by drug addicts, calming feuding neighbours and dealing with rubbish and dog fouling may not sound like everyone’s idea of a good day at work.
But Oxford’s community response officers say there is a lot of job satisfaction in keeping the city’s streets tidy and helping its residents live alongside each other.
The first job of the day was a foot patrol around the city centre to see if any businesses were flouting the rules around waste disposal.
Bags of recycling left to be picked up outside a clothes shop in High Street were checked and found to be properly disposed of. No problems were found at a former trouble spot in Castle Street.
We then took a council van – equipped with CCTV – to investigate a reported case of littering in west Oxford.
Each community response officer is assigned between 20 and 30 on-going cases of anti-social behaviour or environmental crime that they are told to resolve.
They can only hand out fines if they see someone littering or letting their dog foul the streets. So the team relies on tip-offs from the public to catch offenders.
Dan Newton and Nick Prior keep their eyes peeled in Queen Street
One of Mr Newton’s cases sees us visit Osney Cemetery where the team is investigating reports of drug and alcohol abuse.
The officers pull back the branches of a large bush to reveal a den littered with dirty syringes and empty cans of strong lager.
Picking up one of the syringes, Mr Newton says: “If someone stepped on one they would have to go straight to the hospital. And if it is not picked up it will encourage future issues and problems.”
Picking up another syringe, Mr Prior said clearing used needles did not bother him. He said: “It is just part of the job. It is better to have them picked up than left there [in case] someone gets hurt by it.”
We then head to Cutteslowe where the team has put up warning signs to tackle a dog fouling problem in Wolsey Road and increased patrols in Hawksmoor Road which Mr Newton said had become a fly-tipping hotspot.
The community response officer said: “This is an area where people drop stuff off and expect the council to pick it up. If someone does it, everyone starts doing it.”
However, he said he only handed out fines as a last resort, adding: “It is a mix of education, prevention and enforcement. We don’t want to set someone up to fail.”
Dan Newton, top, examines discarded drug paraphernalia in Osney Cemetery
Mr Newton says he most often deals with anti-social behaviour cases – which he says can be difficult to resolve.
He said: “In a neighbourhood dispute you might get someone who is defensive and does not think they have done anything wrong.”
However, he said his job was to calm the neighbours with the goal of trying to make them see things from each others’ point of view, adding: “You don’t have to be friends, but you do have to live beside one another.”
Community patrol powers
Under police powers handed to community response team in 2012 by Thames Valley Police Chief Constable Sara Thornton, officers can:
Issue fines for littering, graffiti, fly-posting, dog fouling, and cycling on a footpath.
Seize tobacco from a person aged under 16.
Require a person aged under 18 to surrender alcohol.
Require the name and address of a person who an accredited person has reason to believe has committed an offence.
Fixed penalty notices
Dan Newton checks waste in Paradise Square
Fixed penalty notices (FPN) handed out by Oxford City Council for offences including dog fouling, littering, and graffiti.
2014 (Jan): Eight
The fines are £80 but are reduced to £55 if people pay within 10 days. If people fail to pay the £80 fine, they may face fines at the magistrates’ court of up to £2,500.
Fixed penalty notices handed out for dog fouling by Oxford City Council.
2008/09: Two fines of £50 each
2009/10: Four fines of £50 each
2010/11: Six fines of £50 each
2011/12: Twenty fines of £80 each (£50 each if paid early)
2012/13: Twenty fines of £80 each (£50 each if paid early)
A very fine way to maintain city
JOHN TANNER, city council board member for a Cleaner, Greener Oxford, says handing out fines for littering is a good way of keeping Oxford tidy.
Mr Tanner said: “The City Council, the Oxford Mail and the public have worked hand in hand on cleaning up Oxford. Part of that successful campaign is giving fixed penalties to people who still insist on dropping litter and on fly tipping.
“Most residents, students and visitors want to see a cleaner Oxford. They either take their litter home or use the many litter and recycling bins around the city. We don’t want to fine people, but if they break the rules we will – and we do.
“There is no magic fairy who cleans up our rubbish. Everything people drop, from cigarette ends to building rubble, costs us, the taxpayer, to clear away. So a big thank you to the great majority who play by the rules and make our city a better place to live in.”