Hackney targets kerb crawlers rather than sex-workers to halt vice

Sgt Berns

Sgt Berns - Credit: Archant

»A bold new plan to tackle prostitution in Stoke Newington has been yielding big results, says the area’s top vice policeman.

Sgt Richard Berns took over the reins in Brownswood ward in April and has brought in new ways of dealing with prostitutes, pimps and kerb crawlers in a bid to stamp out the issue that has plagued the area for years.

Streets in his area – like Queen Elizabeth’s Walk or Lordship Park – are rife with prostitution but when the police crack down the women move to Shaklewell Lane, off Stoke Newington High Street, and then come back when things have calmed down.


Sgt Berns looked to other countries, such as Sweden, to see how they approached “the endless cycle” of prostitution by targeting ‘customers’ more than the women themselves.

He said: “You have to look at what works and what doesn’t, but obviously we have to work within our own country’s laws.

“We started to focus on the kerb crawlers, arresting the prostitutes just doesn’t reduce the problem.

Most Read

“Many of the street prostitutes have led very sad lives and can be institutionalised. The idea of getting one more conviction and a fine is not a deterrent to them. It can be an endless cycle of getting fine and walking the streets to pay the fine. I’ve known some prostitutes to have over 100 convictions but they still do it, why?”

“Lets face it, street prostitution is very unpleasant and nothing we can do to them is anymore of a deterrent then the activity itself. No one wants to do it, police issuing warnings and finger wagging will not change that”

“Hackney’s tactic is to hit the men who pay for sex - either arresting them if they are soliciting or sending out warning letters if there is not enough evidence to arrest.

“These men come from all walks of life and don’t just conform to expected stereotypes. We’ve arrested a banker with three child seats in the back of his car and that’s not a typical”.

“We do give these guys a chance to stop their behaviour before prosecution. If suitable, we offer them a course designed by police and Open Doors [an NHS charity]. The course costs the offender £200 and the hope is, with some awareness, they will stop kerb crawling.”

“We’ve also had some good feedback from the warning letters we’ve sent out. One man came to our patrol base pouring his heart out. He said his 18-year-old daughter nearly opened the letter and his heart stopped, he said it really brought it home to him. This has proved very effective in addressing this type of criminal-anti-social behaviour, we are getting results.”

“Sending out warning letters might be controversial, but it really works and by works I mean it reduces street prostitution. The feedback from our local street prostitutes last year was that there are fewer punters about.

“That has to be a good thing.”