DAVID LEASK and CHRIS TAYLOR met the people on the front line -
THE boy is 16 and always orders the same drink. And he often gets it. He has just exited an off-licence in Glasgow city centre with a plastic bag full of alcopop.
"I always ask for strawberry Mad Dog because all the people I know are drinking it," he says as he hands a bottle of the sweet pink liquid to a police officer.
"I went in and asked for a bottle of MD, the guy gave me it.
"I even had to ask for a bag and had to show him what the bottle looked like.
"I had quite a lot of contact with him."
The shop's owner now risks losing his licence.
He has just been stung by one of an increasing number of test purchase operations, the scheme under which underage teenagers see if they can buy booze.
The boy – or "operative" to give him his proper title – has been shopping across the city centre.
So far in this operation he has caught two retailers flogging booze to someone who is clearly too young. Neither, he says, tried to check his age.
Such Test Purchase Operations are just part of a growing drive to stop youngsters getting their hands on booze.
Strathclyde Police has carried out 380 such test purchase operations across the force area this year. Sixty-six licensees failed them, seven for a second time.
Police are also trying to hammer adults or older teenagers who buy alcohol to pass on – or resale at a profit – to children.
And, above all, they are targeting youngsters who, barred from pubs, end up necking their MD or other booze in the street.
Is it working? There are no exact figures for the number of children caught drinking in Glasgow's streets. There are, however, detailed numbers available for how many phone calls are logged by the police from complaints about youths boozing in public.
That figure was 1142 in 2011-12. A lot? Yes, but it is down from 5133 in 2006-2007. That is a drop of around three-quarters.
Complaints about adults drinking in the street are also falling.
The figure for total complaints about public drinking, by adults and youngsters, peaked at more than 14,000 in 2009-10 but had dropped to 6391 in 2011-12.
The total number of people caught drinking is more or less holding steady after years of steady growth.
There were 16,411 such cases recorded in 2011-12, the highest since The Evening Times started our Crime On Your Street series six years ago.
Police for some years have repeated the same mantra over their decision to focus on street drinking: the more people they catch boozing outdoors early in the evening, the fewer they have to lock up for fighting later in the night.
Chief Superintendent Val Thomson is in charge of Strathclyde Police's A division, which covers the West End and the city centre.
She said: "There is no doubt there is correlation between those who drink in the street moving on later in the evening to violence.
"This is not so much in the city centre – where there is not that much street drinking – but some of the outlying areas, such as up Drumchapel way.
"There has been quite a successful operation up there where we have deployed officers early on a Saturday night to target known drinking areas of youngsters.
"That has helped bring a significant reduction in the amount of gangfighting and violent crime we are seeing in that area."
Ms Thomson reckons just high-visibility policing can cut street boozing – perhaps explaining the drop in phone calls complaining about the problem. She added: "There is no doubt we can have an impact by getting in early to remove drink from youngsters or – if we have got somebody older – by reporting them from street drinking offence.
"Even a warning can diffuse the situation early on.
"The fact they know the police are out and about, that can be a huge deterrent for people.
"The earlier we can be visible for people, the bigger the impact we can have for the day or even the weekend."
The trick, for the police, is to have their officers in the right places to catch or deter public drinkers, and so stop behaviour escalating in the course of an evening.
Officer numbers, although still the highest on record, have not risen in the last three years.
So how are numbers of people caught drinking going up – while complaints about drinking are going down?
Because civilian intelligence analysts check data – like the beat crime figures published in our Crime On Your Street series – and figure out where officers need to be.
l Are there are a lot of complaints about youth disorder or drinking in, say, waste ground in Drumchapel? Then that will be where officers patrol.
l Or have there been a lot of assaults near a particular pub? The police will visit the landlord.
It is only relative recently that the police got the computer power – and analysts – to do this kind of work.
Ms Thomson added: "It is smart policing. The increase in productivity is not coming because we have more officers, it is coming because of better deployment and understanding the issues we have to face.
"It is about us being really focused about where criminal offences have taken place and the factors and individuals behind them.
"Our analysts look at the people who are most prevalent at committing violent offences, at where they commit those offences and at who they are likely to hurt. This allows us that early interception."
BOOZE CRIME AT A GLANCE
:: There are more complaints about public drinking in the St Enoch's police beat than in any other beat in the city. But the total of 191 was down from 366 the year before. The area – Alpha Bravo 9 to police – also had the second highest number of people caught drinking, 489.
:: The busiest police beat for public drinking is, as in previous years, Calton Barras. It had 602 cases in 2011-12, up from 561 a year earlier. There were only 28 complaints about the behaviour from members of the public in the beat in the year.
:: Calton Barras is on the way to Celtic Park from the city centre – and football fans make up some of those caught drinking in the street. Hampden and Ibrox beats also saw increases in the numbers of people caught drinking in 2011-12, although neither make it into the top 10 for the city.
:: Figures for public boozing have shot up in Maryhill, which, as we revealed last week, now has more recorded crime than any other Glasgow beat outside the centre. There were just 22 cases of drinking in the street in the Maryhill beat in 2006-07 and 182 in 2010-11. But in 2011-12 that figure had leapt to 401.