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George Mitchell: Parts of Aberdeen will become ‘no-go zones’ without proper policing

Columnist George Mitchell has spent months in war-torn countries, but says Aberdeen City Centre presents a different kind of threatening atmosphere these days.

The Marks and Spencer on St Nicholas Street in Aberdeen.
The Marks and Spencer on St Nicholas Street in Aberdeen. Image: Paul Glendell/DC Thomson

“Surely you must have been scared of walking the streets
of countries you’ve been in?”

I’ve been asked this countless times, and, without bravado, my answer is always no. No, when it comes to the general population.

I have spent months each year in broken, poor and often war-torn countries, but the people in general, be it in the West Bank or Iraq, or even the highly dangerous Gaza Strip, are immensely welcoming.

My worry, or fear, is always with the authorities who can and do haul you off for no reason whatsoever.

We in the UK thankfully do not have a police state, and for that we should all be eternally grateful.

In fact, in the UK, it’s all round the other way.

I’m thankfully not scared of the authorities, but I am increasingly wary of dangerous drunk or drugged-up people on the street.

Gangs of kids are ‘slowly but surely taking over Aberdeen streets’

Youngsters gathering to fight in Union Terrace Gardens. Image: DC Thomson

Since returning, I’ve walked all over Aberdeen this past month, and I’ve noticed gangs of very antisocial kids, who seem to be slowly but surely taking over the streets.

Were we angels as kids? No, I certainly wasn’t. But police were always walking around. It gave assurance, I’m sure, to pedestrians, and no doubt to shopkeepers too.

As for us kids, visible police certainly made us think twice before getting up to mischief.

And by that I do not mean ransacking shops, but general mischief, for I’d have been terrified of getting caught and taken home… my dad would have leathered me.

Today? Apparently, kids have been running amok in Union Square, trashing toilets and shops. And, believe it or not, the security guards there have a ‘no touch’ policy.

That is right, these kids can’t be taken by the collar and marched out the door, or physically held until the police arrive.

Utter madness.

Why should any mouthy 15-year-old fear this? They don’t. They laugh at it.

They are seemingly untouchable, they have a swagger, they are arrogant, they have no fear, as they know they will not be challenged.

If an adult scolded us kids, for kicking a ball around, for example, we ran a mile. I can’t even begin to imagine the verbal abuse that would be hurled at you or I if we told these kids to pack it in, or move on. It’s just not worth it.

Youngsters openly drinking and doing drugs in the middle of Aberdeen city centre

The rooftop area above the St Nicholas Centre. Image: DC Thomson

The rooftop garden walkway over the St Nicholas Centre used to be a relaxing place, a bit of time out from the hustle and bustle below. My friend, a grown man, well able to take care of himself, said to me just days ago: “Don’t walk there, I don’t.”

I did. It was only 6pm and, despite the fact CCTV was everywhere, it was obviously no deterrent whatsoever.

With the shops all closed and shoppers gone home, the area was taken over by gangs of kids; not 17 or 18, but I’d say around 14 years old.

Some just clowning around, high on nicotine from vaping, but others were openly rolling cannabis joints to smoke.

Rubbish lay everywhere from discarded takeaway food. And all under the eye of the ever-watching CCTV.

A CCTV camera in Aberdeen city centre. Image: Kami Thomson/DC Thomson

Who is watching this CCTV? The police? Then why are they not swooping down here and rounding this lot up?

On my walks around the city centre, I have not once seen a single policeman walking anywhere.

For sure, they constantly drive around in cars and vans, but that’s obviously no deterrent.

Do parents know where their kids are? And tell me, why are 13-year-old teenage girls seemingly so impressed by 14-year-old louts? I don’t get it.

If I behaved like an idiot at school, which I no doubt did, and tried to impress the girls, which I also did, they would have shaken their heads and walked away… which, if I remember, they did.

Drunken fights outside Marks and Spencers

The area outside of the department store is popular with street drinkers. Image: Paul Glendell

By the ATMs outside M&S, and in broad daylight, I’ve seen drunk or stoned men and women in their 20s or 30s, shouting and screaming at each other.

As for Castlegate, around 6.30pm, five drunk people in their 20s sat and openly drank cans of strong cider. High as kites they were. No police around to challenge them.

I observed a family of four Spanish tourists who were stood nearby taking photos of the surrounding architecture. On spotting these louts, the family looked visibly nervous and walked away to the safety of Union Street.

Something has gone drastically wrong with policing in Scotland. If it’s not sorted out soon, parts of Aberdeen will, even in broad daylight, become no-go zones.

What is the job of the police?

Stupid question you may say, for the answer is, of course, to solve crime.

I disagree, that is secondary and only if necessary. Surely the job of the police is to prevent crime from happening in the first place?

But with police spending all day either in the office or driving around in their cars, there is precious little prevention happening.

Has the ‘one-size-fits-all’ model of Police Scotland worked?

Police walking on Broad Street. Image: Kath Flannery/DC Thomson

Are the police underfunded? I have no idea. But before you start saying “give them more money, that will solve the current day problems” – it won’t.

Like the NHS, the police may well need more cash, but it’s not the answer. Only root and branch reform will do that.

Also, local policing has all but vanished. Is it not time we abandoned the one-size-fits all Police Scotland, and went back to regional forces, ie Grampian, Highlands, Tayside, etc?

Make it local again, and get bobbies walking the beat.

And the icing on the cake would surely be for the police or security guards to be able and willing to grab a lout by the collar, without fear of being accused of assault.

Peace will only come to our streets when those behaving in such a manner think something along the lines of: “Hmm, maybe I shouldn’t do that, cause I’ll get nicked by that big copper over there”.

To paraphrase John Lennon: “Imagine a police force… walking tall and in full view… it isn’t hard to do.”

George Mitchell is a columnist for the Press and Journal.