Water-based anti-social behaviour drops 50% along Essex coast
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Successful work by our Marine Unit to reduce anti-social behaviour around Essex’s coastline has been adopted as best practice by police forces nationally.
The unit’s annual Wave-Breaker operation saw a halving of anti-social behaviour in Essex waters between the spring and autumn this year.
Officers’ main focus is on water safety, both for personal watercraft riders and other water-users who may come into near contact with them, says Sergeant Alex Southgate.
“There are very few accidents involving personal watercraft in Essex and we want to keep it that way. “We want to help visitors to stay safe while enjoying the many attractions our beautiful coastline has to offer.”
Reports of anti-social behaviour and speeding incidents involving personal watercraft (PWCs) this year were half that of 2022, despite a significant increase in users since the Covid pandemic.
Our specialist Marine Unit officers carried out an additional 219 hours of dedicated, high-visibility patrols in known hot-spot areas, particularly along the rivers Blackwater and Colne, at peak times in the spring, summer and autumn.
Reports of anti-social behaviour related to the use of PWCs reduced by 50% during this time, compared with the same period last year, from 74 incidents to 37.
There was a significant drop in incidents on the River Blackwater (65%); the River Thames at Southend (45%); and the Rivers Crouch and Roach (80%). Incidents on the River Colne are being steadily reduced, too, while those in Harwich and Clacton remain very low.
This season, Marine Unit officers stopped and spoke to 165 personal watercraft riders about their behaviour on the water, resulting in 94 verbal warnings. And nine riders were reported for court action after speeding on the rivers Blackwater and Colne, contravening council byelaws.
It’s a significant reduction compared with last year, when officers gave 164 verbal warnings and 12 PWC riders were reported for court action.
In one case last month, a man was fined £400 for breaching a byelaw by exceeding the eight-knot limit near Point Clear. He was also ordered to pay a £160 surcharge and £150 costs. A total of £710.
“We try to educate PWC-users about safe riding, particularly those new to the activity. Most of them heed our advice. But some do not and then we take action. “Officers had already warned the man twice that day about speeding so, the third time, we reported him to Colchester Council, which administers the River Colne’s byelaws.”
Officers also issued the first two fixed penalty notices in the country for infringements of the new water-based public spaces protection order in Southend. One saw a Rawreth man fined £100 for being the owner of a PWC launched into a restricted area.
And, following incidents on the River Colne at Wivenhoe, Rowhedge, Brightlingsea and Point Clear Bay between PWC riders and people on the shore in June, three people were summonsed for breaching the water speed limit while another was charged with three counts of common assault. Cases are still progressing through the courts.
As well as tackling water-based anti-social behaviour, our marine officers work with local authorities and harbour masters to promote water safety along our coast and attend events in the marine community to provide reassurance and specialist crime prevention advice.
Now other police marine units are being recommended to look at the way the Essex Police Marine Unit tackles water-based anti-social behaviour involving PWCs, with the national College of Policing adopting Operation Wave-Breaker for its Practice Bank which shares best practice in crime reduction.
“It’s the third year we’ve run Operation Wave-Breaker and so regular visitors are now more aware of local water byelaws and the risks that speeding personal watercraft pose to other water-users. “And it’s this increased awareness which has proved such a success. We encourage people to report dangerous water-based activity to us so we can take action and we work with local councils, which are responsible for the byelaws, to prosecute offenders whose behaviour has put themselves or others at risk. “This helps to keep people safe when they visit our coast in Essex.”
Our Marine Unit
Our Marine Unit polices 562 miles of waterways and coastlines from the Thames at Crayford Ness to the River Stour in Manningtree, working closely with partners such as the RNLI, the National Crime Agency, Port of London Authority, Border Force and the Coastguard Agency.
Its top priority is keeping our marine communities safe on land and in the water – whether that be out at sea, on our rivers and waterways or in the various marinas and moorings around the county.
The majority of the team’s work focuses on anyone who uses the water along our coast and rivers.
This doesn’t only mean boat-owners but paddle-boarders, canoeists and kayakers, kite-surfers and people using personal watercraft, in fact, anyone who uses the water for leisure.
Officers investigate and help to prevent crimes which matter to our marine communities, such as the theft of boats and marine equipment, and they provide specialist crime prevention advice, too.
By listening to the people who live and work on and by our waterways and coastlines, we can better understand the issues causing you concern, taking action to resolve these problems, ensuring water-users remain safe and that those who cause harm to our communities are held accountable for their actions.
If you experience or have information about crime or anti-social behaviour, ring 999 if it’s an emergency or a crime in progress.
Otherwise, you can report it online where you can also provide information directly to an online Live Chat operator on weekdays (excluding bank holidays) between 10am and 9pm. Alternatively, you can ring 101.
You can also contact Crimestoppers, anonymously, online or by calling 0800 555 111.
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