You wouldn’t want to mess with Sergeant Richard Siggs.

The barrel-chested ex-military policeman heads up a task force dedicated to tackling the rising problem of beggars in Brighton and Hove.

Between April 2011 and March 2012, 62 beggars were arrested in Brighton and Hove – more than double the 25 arrested the year before.

Sat in the station ahead of the patrol, Sgt Siggs – or Siggsy as he likes to be known – told us why people in the city resort to begging.

“It’s all about drugs,” he said, all the while listening to his earpiece for reports from a team of lookout officers already out on the streets.

“93% of the beggars we arrest are trying to obtain funds to get their next fix. Many say they need food or something else, but it’s almost all about drugs.

“That’s why we advise people not to give money.”

The officer claimed the generosity of passers-by could even lead directly to a person’s death.

“You’re likely be funding their drug habit and that might be the last hit they ever do.

“Instead people should give money to local charities that protect and support beggars.

“People who give money are actually not helping – because you need to be cruel to be kind sometimes.”

Suddenly Siggsy’s radio crackled into life.

One of the plain clothes officers out on the streets had spotted a beggar in Jubilee Street, outside the Tesco store.

A moment later we were speeding to the scene in a police van, with Siggsy at the wheel.

“Jubilee Street’s a common spot for us,” he said.

“We have got a beggar on an ASBO who’s banned from Jubilee Street and we recently arrested a guy there whose bag was full of syringes.”

We got out round the corner and went ahead to watch.The beggar was a bedraggled young man with a hat on the floor in front of him. Every time a shopper walked past he would ask for spare change.

Soon Siggsy’s van swung into view and the beggar spotted him. He got up and tried to walk nonchalantly away – but the game was up.

As he was being arrested the man gave the officer a resigned smile before stepping into the back of the van.

One of his pals argued and flashed us a V-sign before being hustled away by another officer.

“That guy was one of our regulars,” said Siggsy afterwards.

“He’s an alcoholic drug user whose main issue is drugs. Now he needs to take the point and accept our support.

“He’ll be charged and will go to court before probably being released on bail.

“I’ve probably arrested him about three or four times already, so there’s a level of rapport there. We know our street community and they know us.”

Siggsy’s task force goes out into the city for three nights every three weeks to arrest beggars.

He told us his main objective was not to put the beggars in jail, but to give them the support and care they need.

“We can arrest them lots of times but it won’t stop them needing drugs,” he said.

“So we need to work with 27 other agencies to get them clean and off the streets. Crack cocaine is prevalent across Brighton and Hove, just as much as heroin and standard cocaine.

“We never tolerate the behaviour of beggars but we do understand where it comes from.”

As we were talking, Siggy’s eyes suddenly fixed on a target over my shoulder.

A man was shuffling down the street past Carluccio’s restaurant, stopping and muttering to passers-by before moving on.

As Siggsy moved towards him, the man’s eyes flickered in recognition.

He held his hands up before telling the officer he was only asking for cigarettes.

His excuse was slightly undermined by the fact he already had a lit cigarette between his fingers, but the officer let him go.

“We do have reports of individuals that will turn nasty, but those are few and far between,” said Siggsy.

“We want to know how we can help them to stop begging. That’s the main thing.

“The beggars tell me the drugs are like a fog in which the only thing they can smell, hear or see is drugs.

“What we are able to do is to start lifting that fog so they can start to live again.”

That evening Siggsy’s team arrested three beggars.

The man in Jubilee Street was charged for begging and was bailed to appear at Brighton & Hove Magistrates’ Court on May 25. He tested positive for cocaine and opiates.

The second was a girl who was also charged with begging and bailed to court on the same day. She tested positive for opiates.

The third was an eastern European who was approaching people at tables in the Laines.

He was very drunk and “not fit to be dealt with whilst we were on duty”, but was charged and bailed.

Sgt Siggs told us many of the beggars he met on the streets of Brighton and Hove had suffered appalling tragedies in their lives.

Many had turned to drink and drugs to escape from their memories.

Sgt Siggs said: “Recently I arrested a drug user and alcoholic who had been an extremely well respected QC in London.

“He was going on holiday with his family but got held up at work and told his wife to drive up ahead of him with the children. Later that day he got a phone call to tell him his whole family had been killed in a car crash.”

In that moment the high-flying lawyer’s life fell apart. He turned to drink to dull the pain and soon lost his job. Then he was kicked out of his home.

Soon he was using hard drugs and begging for cash on the streets of Brighton.

Sgt Siggs said: “He didn’t know how to get the right support to help him. He told us he felt he should have been there and that he felt so guilty.

“At some point the solutions he found to help him deal with the deaths of his family become an even bigger problem.”

The officer said it was often single traumatic events that led people to lose control, become homeless and resort to begging.

He said: “People should not be allowed to get away with the offences just because people feel sorry for them.

“But it could happen to any one of us. If you lost your family who would you turn to?

“We don’t accept the behaviour, but we do try to understand it.”

Sergeant Siggs said that help and support, rather than punishment, were the most important thing |for beggars.

He said: “We try not to encourage fines and courts because it often makes their problems worse, not better.

“The penalties are minimal, because it’s not punishment we are looking for.

“Ultimately we want to make it troublesome for them to go through this process so they will be less likely to reoffend.”

The officer also cited the need to reduce the prison population as a factor in the the leniency shown towards beggars.

“It costs a significant amount of money to keep people in prison, and it doesn’t make any sense,” he said.

“We have had incidents of beggars robbing people at cashpoint machines and occasionally they do turn nasty and harass people.

“In those cases we will of course push for punishments.

“But usually it’s much more effective to deal with the root cause.”

Last week a beggar operating in Western Road, Brighton, told The Argus many others had come to beg on Brighton’s streets ahead of the Jubilee and the Olympics.

Sarah (not her real name), 24, said: “I know lots of other street people who have come here from across the region and the country.

“I came down from Kent with my boyfriend two months ago because we wanted to get settled and we knew there would be lots more tourists and visitors in Brighton this summer.

“We’re not here to rob or cheat people, we’re here because we’ve got nowhere else to go.

“It’s worrying when the police come round and arrest us, but we can make £20 an hour each so it’s |worth it.”

Sgt Siggs said he recognised the Olympics and Jubilee issue, but blamed the economic downturn for the rising number of beggars on city streets.

He said: “We are very busy because the numbers are worse than they have been in about ten years.

“We’d always want more resources, of course, but I think we’ve got a good balance with a very targeted approach.

“The fact is we have got a number of our beggars in our city who are significantly ill and need real help.

“Brighton is a social town with transience to it, which is attractive to beggars.

“People think they can blend in but it’s our job to make sure they don’t.”