ANGRY residents have told the Police and Crime Commissioner that “things are out of control” with open drug taking on the streets.

Katy Bourne was invited to the St James’s Community Action Group’s annual general meeting, where she was told about problems with drug dealers loitering and gangs of beggars roaming in the area.

They told her that more action needs to be taken to bring the problems under control, and she said the strength of feeling was so palpable that she raised the issue with police chiefs,

At the community meeting earlier this month, one resident said: “I have lived and worked here for years. I have never seen it so lawless, with aggressive begging and open drug taking. Things are out of control.”

Another resident said: “Why are there so few community police on the streets? I have had to contact the police and there was no response.”

Meanwhile she was also told: “The problem now is that you can ring the police and they know nothing about the area. If they are based in Lewes this is not much help. The police are never seen in the locality.”

There was particular concern because Brighton police station is just a two minute walk from businesses in St James’s Street.

A member of the community action group reported seeing a live drug deal taking place near her home, but said that officers were always too slow to respond to actually catch dealers.

They argued that if there were more officers out on patrol, they would catch more criminals in the act.

Katy Bourne explained how the increase in the council tax precept would help with the recruitment of more officers to tackle anti-social behaviour and crime.

She also said there was a strategy in place to target the top 12 beggars in the area, who may be part of a gang.

Ms Bourne said she listened carefully to what residents and business owners had said, as the effect of crime can have a big impact on the economy in the area.

It led to her questioning the Chief Constable Giles York and Deputy Chief Constable Bernie O’Reilly at a performance and accountability meeting on Friday.

She said: “I heard at first hand their views, and there was a really strong feeling and significant concern about open drug dealing and drug taking in the street.

“What was apparent was that it is not just residents who are worried about drug taking and drug dealing, but also businesses as well.

“Some business owners said that while the police are doing work on this, they felt that it was not enough.

“Areas may struggle to prosper if people visiting and shopping don’t feel confident.”

She said that she doesn’t want to cause alarm, as there was a time in the past when Brighton one of the most prevalent places for drugs problems in the UK, but understands a great deal of police work has gone in.

But she said there is a real problem if young people waiting at a bus stop waiting to go to college see open drug deals taking place, as it sets a bad example.

When she questioned the officers, she said: “It is a vibrant area, but people have serious concerns about drugs.

“One business owner said the area was ‘lawless’ and is considering relocating her business. She described the frequent drug dealing, and on one occasion a drug user intimidated staff.”

Following the meeting, The Argus spoke with business owners who echoed the concerns raised.

Bella restaurant owner Lak Stavrou said it has reached the stage where there is “no point” in calling the police.

He said: “It seems like they are too scared to do anything about it.

“There are people shouting in the streets, there are aggressive beggars. We need police officers going up and down the street on Friday and Saturday nights.

“There is no reason why there shouldn’t be a police presence, it would really help.”

Some business owners described how drug use around St James’s Street is blatant, while residents reported waking up to find needles, urine and faeces on their doorstep.

One resident said: “We get an awful lot of people using the alleyways as a toilet.”

There were complaints that there is often a regular smell of cannabis in the area.

Another resident said: “The main problem is the lack of police awareness. What is the point of reporting something if they don’t do anything. For the things people care about, they are not interested.”

Other residents were critical of the government for cutbacks to the number of police officers over recent years, which they said has led to a decline in the number of bobbies on the beat.

Police say they hope that the increase in the council tax precept will allow them to put more resources into community policing.

Deputy Chief Constable Bernie O’Reilly said: “We have had plain clothes officers stopping and searching people along with uniform patrols, so we are taking action where we can.

“Our officers attended the meeting, and have been speaking with business owners to reassure people that we are out and about.”

Police do have new legislation to target drug dealers, and Ms Bourne said Sussex was one of the first forces to use new powers to block suspected dealers’ mobile phones.

She added: “I raised people’s concerns with the Chief Constable to ask him in public what was being done.

“It is important to know how the police are working proactively, alongside partners such as Brighton and Hove City Council, to tackle tackle these issues.”