Anti-social behaviour 'diverting PSNI resources'
Anti-social behaviour in Belfast is diverting resources from other serious crimes, says a senior Police Service of Northern Ireland (PSNI) officer.
There have been ongoing problems involving groups of young people throughout the city.
Police believe alcohol and drugs are factors, although they say anti-social behaviour has decreased overall.
On Friday night, I accompanied a PSNI patrol to see and hear the issues they face on a weekly basis.
We left Musgrave Street station and headed to the New Lodge area of north Belfast, where anti-social behaviour has been a problem.
An object, possibly a brick or stone, was thrown at the Land Rover and made a large thud.
"That'll be the first stone," said Supt Muir Clark.
The other officers told me it was a common occurrence when on patrol.
"This would have been a problem area for us in the past but there's a lot of good work being done by some of the community groups in lower north Belfast and that has definitely helped," Supt Clark said.
We travelled to other anti-social "hotspots", as described by the police, including The Waterworks and Cave Hill Country Park.
"Certainly during the lighter nights I would expect us to get more calls to Cave Hill," Supt Clark told me as we patrolled the park.
"It is disappointing to hear from residents that parents are bringing their kids here and there is a blue bag of alcohol being handed to them.
"That, unfortunately, results in fires being lit and leads to kids assaulting each other."
The PSNI has dedicated patrols to deal with problem areas but it does have an effect on resources.
"While we are dealing with that behaviour, we're not dealing with other types of criminality, be it drug dealing, car crime or burglary," Supt Clark added.
"Having to deal with this behaviour does divert us away from more serious types of crime."
As we patrolled west Belfast, we were diverted to the Ligoniel Road after a report of two men with firearms in a house.
The siren was activated and officers made their way to the area and try to locate the suspects.
Other officers were at the scene and we made our way back to west Belfast, which has been a focus for the PSNI and Belfast City Council.
On Friday, alcohol liaison officers were out to educate teenagers on the dangers of abusing alcohol.
'There are consequences'
I asked Supt Clark if the police are taking action against young people involved in anti-social behaviour.
"Yes there are consequences," he said.
"If a young person comes to our attention, we will put them through the juvenile liaison system.
"That may result in a warning, or working with social services with parents to address the behaviour or unfortunately it might mean entering the criminal justice system.
"I think sometimes they're so focused on having a good time, as they see it, that the consequences mean nothing to them.
"They don't see that when they're an adult and want to take their family to America on holiday that because of their conviction for riotous behaviour it means they won't be allowed in."
The PSNI has said it does not want to discourage young people from going outside and using community facilities, but it has asked for "consideration and a little thought".
It has also said it will continue to monitor social media to look for arranged fights and to ensure officers are in areas where there could be problems.
While Friday was a quieter than usual night for our patrol, Supt Clark does believe the problems will continue during school holidays and when the evenings turn brighter.