An increased police presence on Ambleside Drive in Southend is making an impact with residents telling officers they’ve noticed fewer sex workers and a reduction in traffic in the area.
Proactive work from the Community Policing Team (CPT) has seen a greater number of visible and covert patrols, a leafleting campaign, and work with partner organisations to offer support to the women working on the street as part of Operation Vimto.
CCTV has also been installed along the drive with a large amount of intelligence gathered about the vehicles and individuals frequenting the area.
PC Mesher is the officer in charge for Kursaal ward. She said that the CPT are pleased with the feedback they’ve had from residents but that safeguarding the women involved is at the heart of the work.
PC Mesher and her team have been holding meetings every two weeks with the Probation Service, Health and Social Care, and the charities Aspirations and Rape Crisis.
She said: “We want to help these vulnerable women and stop the people who are taking advantage of them.
“We have built a rapport with the women and are there to give them the safeguarding they need. They are all local and many have drug problems. We have contacts who can fast-track them to STARS (the Southend Treatment and Rehabilitation Service).”
The increased police presence has led to numerous vehicles and men walking with known sex workers being stopped. A man in a car who tried to evade officers was arrested, three Out of Court Disposals have been issued, along with a number of verbal Community Protection Warnings.
PC Mesher said: “We’ve stopped a lot of people down there. Most of the time we’ve been in a marked vehicle because we want to be visible so the girls know we’re there and can approach us, but this does make it more difficult to prove that men are soliciting for sex.
“Our main aim is to stop kerb crawlers and find out if there are people controlling these women. They are the people we’re targeting rather than the women themselves.”
The CPT team have also taken simple measures like asking the residents of the flats at Southchurch Avenue end of road to keep the bin sheds locked as there was evidence they were being used as a hub for anti-social activity.
One recent weekend evening saw no evidence of any sex work taking place in the area after repeated patrols along Ambleside Drive and the adjoining streets. PC Mesher said that one of the women had complained to her that the police activity is having a negative effect on business.
PC Mesher added: “We know what we’re doing is making a difference. We’ve listened to local residents and acted on their concerns, and the relationships we’ve built with our partners means we can offer the women the help they need.”