Bouncers are learning the law to combat violence. Martin Whittaker reports
AT his office in Bradford, Sergeant Chris Plowman keeps a newspaper cutting pinned on his wall. It details a court case where the defendant was given a seven-month prison sentence for supplying the drug ecstasy.
"The reason he's there is because a doorman arrested him," he says. "I just like people to see it because it shows that initiatives like this do work."
Amid Bradford city centre's often turbulent nightlife, door staff - once more commonly known as bouncers - are playing an important role in helping to beat alcohol-related crime. For more than a decade the city has been developing a partnership of police, magistrates, local authorities and licensees in a bid to curb disorder in and around the city's pubs and clubs.
This has included putting door supervisors through tailor-made training accredited by the British Institute of Innkeeping (BII), and making the employment of registered door staff a condition of gaining a public entertainment licence.
Since that was introduced in 1992, the city has seen a 90 per cent reduction in violence involving doormen, and in general the partnership has brought a similar drop in alcohol-related crime.
Training for doormen includes elements of criminal law, drugs awareness, race relations, first aid, licensing law and social skills. The initiative also uses accredited training for bar staff and licensees.
Funding for training in the Bradford scheme has come from a number of sources, including, in its early days, the training and enterprise council.
More recently it used European Social Fund money to expand the initiative across the Leeds and Bradford area.
The partnership considered obtaining funding from their local learning and skills council. "We got all the forms," says Sgt Plowman, who oversees the scheme for West Yorkshire police.
"But I heard a whisper that they were changing. We were told: 'Look somewhere else - you ain't going to get LSC funding'."
He is surprised at claims that the pub trade qualifications, like the national certificate for door supervisors, have little value. "It's a nationally-accredited qualification, supported by the Home Office, that has been shown time and time again to have a major impact," he says. "The training skills them up to be able to deal with conflict, to know how far they can go within the law. We get far fewer doormen assaulted because they know how to handle situations now, and there are far fewer assaults by doormen."
A similar scheme proposed for Norwich would have involved putting 500 employees through the door staff, bar staff and drugs awareness certificates. A bid from Norfolk police to the local LSC for European money was turned down in March.
Roger Cawdron, who runs a pub in Norwich and is chair of the BII's Anglia region, says neither employers nor the staff - many of whom are students - can afford to fund the training themselves.
"When you consider we have several thousand licensed outlets in this area, we didn't think putting in for 500 courses was that over the top," he says.
"But they just keep turning us down all the time, which gets very frustrating. We're trying to make it a more professional situation, more responsible, more socially aware. We're at the sharp end of the business and we get very little support.
"We've got a big leisure industry in our area and quite a big nightclub culture, which draws in thousands of people. It's of tremendous value to the local economy and the tourist industry, and obviously we want people who know what they're doing to be running the thing."