For years we've been moaning about stag and hen parties disrupting city centre life, not to mention other forms of antisocial behaviour. Now a team of security men are patrolling the streets to nip potential problems in the bud. MATT CLARK spent a morning with them.

YOU'D be amazed at some of the tricks shoplifters use. Street Ranger Carl Nickson isn't, he's seen them all and if we were allowed to print any of the scams he comes across, daily takings would take a nose dive all across York.

If only they used their cunning for something more worthwhile, like splitting atoms, Carl says as his radio again crackles into life. A jeweller has a known serial offender eyeing up the gems, could a ranger call in please?

York Press:

Street rangers Carl Nickson and Darren Sheriston on patrol in Stonegate. Picture: Matt Clark.

This unseen world of counter crime has become rather more visible since the York Business Improvement District (BID) came into force. At first greeters, supporting the city's initiative to make this a nicer place to spend time in, answered questions about directions and attractions.

Then in September a more proactive team was put in place to keep an eye on the city streets, whether checking up on worse for wear drinkers or advising hen parties that their hilarious inflatables might not be the best of ideas when young families are out shopping.

Street Rangers are paid for by businesses through a levy which goes into a pot to be spent on improving the city centre. Like Sherlock Holmes' Baker Street Irregulars, they are the eyes and ears of York's streets, and in contact with hundreds of city centre traders via wireback, a York 'business against crime' radio initiative.

York Press:

These men are often first on the scene when a crime has been committed. But by and large it is their nous and good humour that diffuses situations before they get out of hand.

"Prolific offenders know us because of our background as security staff," says Carl. "They say hello and are aware that we're in town. We have their respect because we don't have an enforcement approach. They also provide us with information because of that.

"There's an element of trust. Street drinkers, for example, through our presence will say see you later, give us a wave and walk off. They respect the job we're doing. It's a strange relationship but a good one and we're OK with that."

York Press:

Gathering intelligence. Picture: Matt Clark.

Now one of 200 operational BIDs across the UK, the idea is to concentrate on a number of identified areas. Three are fairly obvious; cleanliness, festivals and business support.

But, for some, number four is more contentious, namely safety and security.

You might argue that was a job for the police. Who, after all, would want to take on a worse for wear stag or hen party?

"But what would the police do?" asks Andrew Lowson, Executive Director of York BID. "A lot of the issues aren't arrestable offences, often these people are drunk, they don't know where they're going, so the rangers do what the police would do by helping them. This is very much about prevention rather than cure."

Darren Sheriston says rangers use a friendly, approach to detect antisocial behaviour before it starts to get out of hand.

York Press:

Street rangers Carl Nickson and Darren Sheriston in Shambles. Picture: Matt Clark.

"Our role has to be non judgmental because of the people we come into contact with," he says. "When they swear at us we have to take it. The police are more of an enforcement agency, we're there to help; a visible presence that encourages people to think again."

Not to mention acting as the eyes and ears to spot hidden areas of crime, like needles dumped just metres from a busy city centre shopping street.

"It's like a broken window approach," says Carl. "If there's a run down area with rubbish, people think 'no one is going to clear it up, so they won't bother me if I'm round here.' Then the graffiti starts and that can lead on to more serious things like drugs."

York Press:

Hence the new city cleaning initiative, which works in partnership with businesses and the street rangers.

"Some people still think we're traffic wardens," says Darren. "But when they discover who we are, everyone I've spoken to says 'about time too.' And people who aren't from York often tell us they wish there was a similar thing where they live."

Panel York BID Street Rangers wear highly visible uniforms and are supplied by Eboracum Security, who have filled the roles with professionally trained staff. You will find them throughout the BID area, including city centre streets, Fossgate, Gillygate, Walmgate and Micklegate.

There are two Rangers posted during weekdays in York from Monday to Thursday and six on Friday and Saturday (12pm to late).

A Business Improvement District is a specific area where businesses work together to invest in services, special projects and events. There are now more than 200 of them across the UK, delivering economic and environmental benefits.

But law and order is only part of the role. The rangers are first aiders and agony aunts, not to mention a reassuring street presence that many, especially those who miss seeing bobbies on the beat, welcome.