We are often asked how PSPOs are enforced, in terms of the numbers stopped, fined, and prosecuted. Fines are significant but relatively low, as are prosecutions. The main use of PSPOs, we have suspected, is for behaviour policing – telling people to move on or stop what they are doing. These incidents are often not recorded, so we’ll never know how many young people were stopped from skateboarding, or how many homeless people were moved out of town.
An article in Swindon’s local paper says that ‘thousands’ of people have been told that they were contravening the town’s PSPO, which includes bans on begging, pavement art and skateboarding. The paper reports: ‘As every individual approached stopped their activity following the advice, no fines have been issued’.
This shows that PSPOs can have a coercive effect, without any formal criminal punishment. The threat of criminal punishment is used as a means to coerce people and get them to change their conduct. There have been no fines issued, but the effects are still severe: people have been stopped from skateboarding or drawing pavement art, homeless people have been moved on or prevented from earning the money they require to live.
Admittedly, ‘thousands’ is not a very accurate description. It could be two thousand, or ten thousand. But it at leasts gives an indication of the scale of the matter, and the fact that very many people are being affected by these orders.