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Alcoholic drinks on a bar (Shutterstock image)

#RU2Drunk breathalyser initiative reduced alcohol fuelled crime in Torquay

A scheme to breathalyse suspected drunks trying to get into pubs and clubs in Torquay has seen a 39 per cent drop in violent crime. #RU2Drunk was piloted by South Devon Police at licensed premises where door staff selected and breathalysed patrons on entry.

University of Exeter sociologists collaborated with the police to assist with the evaluation of the responses to the #RU2Drunk initiative from the bar staff, licensees, members of the public and the door staff. The project was piloted throughout December to see if it helped reduce alcohol fuelled incidents at 23 of the town’s most vibrant night spots.

#RU2Drunk saw over 800 men and women breathalysed when door staff suspected they were drunk, over a third were then refused entry. The police reported that during this period there were 39 per cent fewer violent crimes in the town centre and around the harbour side, which led to a 22 per cent reduction across the town, making it a highly successful initiative.

As part of an independent study of the #RU2Drunk initiative Dr Hannah Farrimond and Dr Katherine Boyd developed an online public survey focusing on people’s attitudes to the scheme over the festive season. The public survey was created to gage public approval for or concerns about, the scheme and to provide feedback on whether there is a public appetite for wider use of such schemes. A separate survey was developed for licensees, door staff and bar staff using the breathalysers, who were also interviewed directly in addition to a local security company (Eliminate Risk) operating in Torquay.

Dr Farrimond explained some of the outcomes from the surveys. She said:“In terms of public support, we found that 79% thought using breathalysers on the doors of pubs and clubs to identify people too drunk to go in was a good idea. Typical reasons included: ‘keeps out the drunks so everyone else can have an enjoyable night’ ‘anything that reduces the harm from drunken violence is positive’. 78% also thought it should be rolled out across Devon and Cornwall, with one person commenting, ‘it should have been encouraged years ago.”

This suggests that there would broad public support for a wider roll-out of the initiative. Not all the public was positive about the initiative, the main concern being that people wouldn’t want to go out in Torquay any more. Interestingly, when we asked pub and club owners about this after the initiative ended, they did not think this had been the case at all, with many reporting ‘their best year ever’.”

According to the research it was clear from meetings and interviews that many licensees and door staff were very positive, particularly those with late licenses or clubs.

Dr Boyd said:“Door staff reported that it was a good tool for diffusing conflict as judgements about who was ‘too drunk’ were not personal if the machine showed a high reading. They found pub/club goers happier to accept the judgement of the breathalyser rather than their own subjective judgement and individuals less aggressive as a result."

Several venues in Torquay are still using the breathalyser after the end of the pilot scheme and the Eliminate Risk security firm in Devon are using the #RU2Drunk breathalysers in their training scheme for security staff.

Tony Hogg, Devon and Cornwall's Police and Crime Commissioner who funded the scheme said:“This has been a most important project and has generated good, interesting results.  We will work with Torbay to ensure the project can continue and my office is now looking at the funding we have to see how we can supply breath boxes to other areas where we feel a similar scheme will be welcomed.”

He added:“I’m delighted to see that Plymouth has generated its own scheme so we will now look for other areas that are high on the list of places that are blighted by over indulgence in alcohol in the night-time economy and the culture of pre-loading.”

Given both the drop in alcohol-related crime, and the evidence of public support provided by the online survey, it is likely to impact policy in terms of a further roll-out of the scheme across selected locations in Devon and Cornwall by the summer. Chief Inspector Neil Ralph of South Devon Police ran and coordinated the project, training licensees and door staff. The initiative fits within a broader interest at the University of Exeter in the co-production of knowledge with police to assist with evidence-based policing. It also raises wider questions about police technologies, drinking cultures and crime which we will continue to explore further as the longer-term impact of the pilot emerges.

Date: 14 February 2015

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