One of the real eye-openers for me in doing this research has been seeing just how much alcohol is costing society.
Normally, if I’m out and about in the early hours of the morning it’s because I’ve had a few drinks myself and the sociological impact of alcohol consumption is not usually what I’m thinking about. However, looking over my notes from the nights I’ve spent out and about with people, it is astonishing how many of the problems we saw were a result of people drinking too much. Whether it be drunken revealers tripping over on the last tube, the street cleaners clearing the smashed bottles around someone vomiting in a gutter, or kebab shop workers being sworn at by customers, alcohol seems to feature in nearly every shift. Having to deal with people who are drunk and abusive is stressful and can be really quite frightening. But it also takes up so much time and consequently money. A drunk on one shift took up over four hours of police time before they passed him on to the NHS:
At 12.30am a young couple flag down the police car. They point over to a man in a shabby suit, in his late fifties who is staggering wildly in and out of the traffic. One of the police sergeants runs over and helps the man back to the pavement, where he collapses against a wall. The police sergeant tries to talk to the man, who is clearly drunk, “What’s your name? Sir, what’s your name?” The man responds by singing loudly. Unable to find out his name or anything else, the police attempt to sober him up by walking up and down the road for 15 minutes. This has no effect. “We’re going to have to call an ambulance. There’s no such thing as a drunk-tank anymore. We can’t just lock them up and let them sober up. There’s a risk they’ll have a cardiac arrest: health and safety. They’ve got to go into hospital.” An hour later, the ambulance hasn’t arrived and the man has soiled his trousers. “This is a fucking waste of time. We’ll see if we can get permission to drive him in ourselves.”
After two hours, the police are eventually allowed to drive the man to an accident and emergency department at a nearby hospital. The A&E is busy and the nursing staff want nothing to do with the drunk man. He smells awful and is staggering around the waiting room, singing. The nurses are adamant that he has no health problems and that he is the police’s problem. The police insist he has to stay in at the hospital. Eventually, the nurses give in and the police leave. “Booze,” sighs one of the policemen as we drive away, “Booze, drugs and fights. It’s always the same. That’s nights for you.”