A SPATE of drunken and violent crime has sparked urgent calls for increased police patrols and tougher bylaws in the heart of Inverness amid fears the city’s reputation is being ruined.
Provost Helen Carmichael is one of several city leaders to have called for increased police visibility on the streets.
She has also vowed to look at ways to strengthen bylaws to make Inverness city centre safer and has asked for a meeting with senior police officers to address the issues.
Fellow Inverness councillor Bet McAllister revealed that the creation of a taskforce might also be discussed at the next City of Inverness Area Committee.
Police in the city have stressed that they carry out "highly visible patrols in Inverness city centre, both during the day and overnight", but did not confirm if they planned to increase their presence in the wake of local concerns.
Confirming that she had asked the council’s city manager, David Haas, to organise a meeting with senior police officers, Provost Carmichael said: "There must be something we can do about people being drunk and abusive in the city centre – it is giving the city a dreadful reputation. We absolutely need to find a way that we can be more effective.
"It is the same group of people that are seriously drinking and behaving anti-socially. We do need more police in the street at certain times and we need a second look at more city centre bylaws and how other cities deal with these issues."
Her reaction follows several recent incidents of drunkeness or violence which have gone viral after being recorded on mobile phones and uploaded to the internet.
The footage has sparked concern among city residents who have voiced them online.
"I’ve seen it too many times, particularly outside the museum and toilets leading up to the council, also outside the old tourist office where observed some yobs telling tourists to get the **** off the bench as it was their seat. Feeling ashamed," said Tracie Denoon on social media.
Another commenter, Alistair Macfarlane, said: "Centre is getting worse, something [is happening] every day. Too many waste-of-spaces allowed to roam the city centre like a law unto themselves. It makes me extremely angry and embarrassed to be in this fast declining city centre."
Central Councillor Richard Laird said he would be asking the police to increase their presence to reassure the public.
"We have suddenly seen a spike of drunken crime in the city centre," he said. "The good reputation of Inverness is being ruined by these videos going viral and people are going to be on edge following this.
"Police need to make themselves more visual by patrolling the streets on foot. If people see these videos online they will think, ‘what sort of city is this’?"
He added: "This is a long-running issue but it has come to a head. If this does not spur police on to patrol on foot, I don’t know what will."
Inverness Bid’s security team responded to a serious incident on Thursday in which a man lost part of his thumb following an alleged fight in Church Street. Two men and two women were detained and a report is expected to be submitted to the procurator fiscal.
Bid security officer David Mullen said: "The street was busy as well, it was full of children and tourists. You just want to get it defused but when you arrive on the scene, you don’t know what the situation is and everyone is telling you a different story.
He added: "It seems to be getting more common – not fighting in the streets but drinking and needing police attendance."
Richard Burkitt, project director at For the Right Reasons, believes cheap alcohol and an increase in social media activity is to blame for the recent attention.
He said: "It has always been there, but some of these videos are horrible. This is a problem nationally while alcohol is so cheap to buy. You can get pretty drunk on £5. We need to be stricter with minimum pricing. It is the best way to deal with these problems."
Chief executive at Inverness Chamber of Commerce, Stewart Nicol, has blamed social media for the perception of increased incidents, adding that "the social scene of the city is well policed. We are right in the heart of the city and there is always a police presence."
The Inverness Courier asked the police if they would be increasing foot patrols.
Inspector James Rice said: "As part of Operation Respect, Police Scotland regularly carry out highly visible patrols in Inverness city centre, both during the day and overnight. This is a tried and tested community policing approach with the focus on keeping people safe. However, we will and do take action as required to prevent anti-social or criminal behaviour.
"Inverness city centre is generally a safe place but I would urge anybody with concerns about any behaviour they feel to be suspicious to report them to a police officer or to call us on 101."