EMPOWERING police to kick troublemakers out of a town centre is not a witch hunt against young people.
That's the message from Gloucestershire police after councillors agreed to put in place a dispersal order for the lower High Street area of Cheltenham.
It is hoped the powers will clamp down on anti-social behaviour in the area which has seen a massive increase in offending in the last 12 months.
The order gives police officers and PCSOs the right to tell people who are behaving in a manner likely to intimidate or alarm others to leave the town centre and not return for 24 hours.
Failure to comply would be a criminal offence.
Acting Inspector Tim Hutchinson said problems at the four 'trouble hotspots' of St Mary's Churchyard, outside McDonalds, Jenner Gardens and outside Hutchinson's included people performing lewd acts, urinating in public, drinking and general intimidation.
"The businesses are in support of this application because of the fact that customers are being intimidated," he said at a meeting of Cheltenham Borough Council's cabinet on Tuesday evening at the Municipal Offices.
"This is not the be all and end all but it is another tool in the box that will be available to us. We don't see this as turning the lower High Street into a police state by any means. Flooding the area with police is not an issue."
The powers will also enable police to escort young people under the age of 16 who are causing problems home to discuss their actions with their parents.
But Inspector Hutchinson said the dispersal order could be used on anyone - not just young people.
He added: "This isn't about hitting young people with a stick and telling them to go away. We will be working with our partners so that the underlying causes of anti-social behaviour are dealt with across the board and this is not only about youths."
Councillor John Rawson (St Peters, LD), cabinet member for finance, said: "Clearly there are trouble spots and there are issues that need to be addressed."
Councillors unanimously agreed to the six-month dispersal order from November 30 to May 24.