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How to stop people hassling street kiosk workers
January 17, 2012 7:06 AM   Subscribe

My friends' street kiosk: They are suffering bullying by drunkards and feral 14 year olds. Suggestions for how to deal?

I love my friends' street kiosk where they make very tasty food, play music and also feed local musicians in exchange for playing tunes.

Sadly, folks from bad areas in town (who spend their day drinking in the central area of town) visit them in groups, demanding free food. Also, feral 14 yr old truant kids are bullying them relentlessly. They steal stuff off the counter and threaten them saying e.g. they will burn down the kiosk. Since it's a street kiosk they can't withdraw, so are exposed and have to deal with it some way.

I've witnessed some of it myself again just earlier in my lunch break, when people several times butted into conversations I was having, demanding money and cigarettes and aggressively demanding I explain why I wasn't giving out stuff for free.

My friends are not tough. They're the sweet and gentle types who try to reason and patiently explain over and over again they can't afford giving out free food (when their business is not even making money yet). They don't seem to want to go to the police either (which I've reluctantly suggested). But they just keep getting harassed - the customers get it too - and it's getting them down. I would like to do something for them - most grateful for any suggestions on how to improve the situation. This is in the UK. Thank you!
posted by yoHighness to Human Relations (28 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Would a witty placard of some sort be a "can't hurt, might as well try" sort of solution here? By that I mean something that would either A) appeal to what little morals the hooligans have or B) appeal to the regular customers to understand/aid the vendors in a little way?

Sadly I'm not coming up with anything with regards to an actual message but maybe some of the more well spoken of the hive-mind we have here could?

I just say that because I don't think force will win here, unless some sort of police escort/watchdog is available in which case it would already have been utilized.
posted by RolandOfEld at 7:14 AM on January 17, 2012

Have they considered setting up a video camera and putting a sign noting that customers are being recorded and theives will be reported to police?
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:15 AM on January 17, 2012

Hire a beefy security dude? An unwanted expense, of course, but might be worse than the cost of theft and lost customers. Make sure he's also friendly so that the place still feels welcoming.
posted by PercussivePaul at 7:16 AM on January 17, 2012 [5 favorites]

Your local town council has regular meetings that can be a forum for working out solutions for this kind of thing. At the very least, get in touch with your local councillor, and ask them what they can do to help.

Involvement of the police, or at the very least, the much-maligned people who work as community support officers, may be the only viable way to address this. Whatever your friends' feelings about not causing friction, threats are being made, and people don't feel safe. An increased police presence, or better still, identification and prosecution of the main offenders, may be options. But they can't help if they don't know there's a problem.
posted by le morte de bea arthur at 7:18 AM on January 17, 2012 [6 favorites]

They don't seem to want to go to the police either (which I've reluctantly suggested).

That's the answer. If this is a downtown area, the police probably already have a political interest in keeping it clear of riffraff. If someone is getting hassled, a few calls to the cops will likely sort this out right quick.

Of course, they should be sure that their licensing and hygiene situation is up to snuff before contacting the authorities, but seriously, just call the cops.
posted by valkyryn at 7:19 AM on January 17, 2012 [11 favorites]

Well, according to articles like this, classical music or perhaps a screech machine could work.

And yes, if they won't call the police themselves, their caring customers might want to. It must be hurting their business. But I think the idea of having a skilled bouncer for a bit at the peak times is a great idea. Someone who's pleasant to the customers, but who will firmly step between them and the truants and freeloaders with a non-negotiable "Sorry now, we can't have that here" and who will then encourage them to move away.
posted by peagood at 7:28 AM on January 17, 2012

Why not offer free coffee and snacks for on-duty police?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 7:38 AM on January 17, 2012 [12 favorites]

Barry Manilow has worked for some folks in New Zealand for keeping unruly teens away.
posted by jquinby at 7:39 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is in the UK.

I think this is the significant factor, sadly. My reluctant advice would be to shut up shop, because the stress of dealing with the feral kids will only get worse and worse, as the little sods will just keep upping the odds. As soon as your friends get remotely aggressive in response, the police will get involved and it won't be to make the kids back off. One thing these little b'stards seem to always know, is their rights.

Whilst it goes against everything I believe in to yield the streets to them, I just can't see this ending well. Sorry.
posted by veedubya at 7:41 AM on January 17, 2012

Cops, but also, is pepper spray legal as a self defense and protection tool in the UK? I am not suggesting this as a main way of dealing with things,but at the point where people are threatening to do you physical harm when youre cornered, you need to be able to get them to back off, and it would do that.
posted by slow graffiti at 8:02 AM on January 17, 2012

If the friends are not tough, the refuse to go to police, and still want to keep their shop, they need to hire someone else to run it, full stop. Someone with experience, an unflappable demeanor, and a terrifying gaze that will stop hoodlums in their tracks. They exist, or there would be no street vendors in the UK.

Be sure your friends have the kiosk insured, by the way. From what I hear, burning down the thing is not uncommon and is not an empty threat.
posted by juniperesque at 8:11 AM on January 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

Either get the police involved or buy a really big and mean-looking dog. Or both.
posted by MinusCelsius at 8:17 AM on January 17, 2012

[...] is pepper spray legal as a self defense and protection tool in the UK?


I'm going to second juniperesque, especially the part about the insurance.
posted by fight or flight at 8:25 AM on January 17, 2012

Ask some of the larger burlier looking musicians to hang around and look err large and burly and menacing instead of playing music. Have them hang around the counter. They don't have to do anything just be there, watching the kids in a large menacing way. If the kids approach have them offer a "friendly" can I help you while flexing their large tattooed arms and smiling like they've just seen a snack. They don't have to do anything but be there and look like they would/could. The kids will move on to easier prey. Also every time they come call the cops, every time basically make it so it is not worth their efforts to be there.

Depending how serious they are they will get worse before they get better trying to bluff you into backing down. But if your friend is a quiet person or a woman right now the drunks and kids feel they have strength and fear behind them which they seem to do. Finding some large broke guys that wouldn't mind some free food and a bit of cash to hang around for a while might be the simplest solution.
posted by wwax at 8:27 AM on January 17, 2012 [3 favorites]

If the police are not a help, or are not an option for the proprietors, psychology may help, especially with the teenaged "bullies."

I'm from the US, but I don't think things are especially different in the human condition across the pond. My parents had a store in Brooklyn where some street thugs were using menacing techniques to shoplift, harass customers, and peddle their drugs on the sidewalk outside.

This was NYC in the late 80s, and the cops were of little help. After failed attempts and escalated retaliations due to the cops being called, my folks basically humanized themselves and established an informal relationship with these people.

They learned their real names from other people in the neighborhood, started calling them by their names, introduced themselves by their first name, offered them drinks on hot days, and didn't engage in "Yosemite Sam" behavior when the kids initially were belligerent. My mom would compliment the ringleader on how big and strong he was, and joke with him about how many girls he must get, while plying him with sweets and soda. It took awhile to get them to come around, but after consistent action in this direction, the ringleader eventually took to telling his friends to leave the store alone, and moved their "operations" up the block. Granted, their initial reaction was of anger, mockery and suspicion, but having no other option, my folks kept trying to "win" them over, and it worked in their case at least.

In other cases, my mom would befriend the problem people's wives, mother's or grandmothers and the word would slowly trickle down to the person to stop their behavior. Of course, this was in a neighborhood where most people lived and knew each other, but it may have some efficiacy even in a more transitionary urban area.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:53 AM on January 17, 2012 [4 favorites]

This is in the UK.

I think this is the significant factor, sadly. My reluctant advice would be to shut up shop, because the stress of dealing with the feral kids will only get worse and worse, as the little sods will just keep upping the odds. As soon as your friends get remotely aggressive in response, the police will get involved and it won't be to make the kids back off. One thing these little b'stards seem to always know, is their rights.

Whilst it goes against everything I believe in to yield the streets to them, I just can't see this ending well. Sorry.

While I don't agree with the language of "feral youth", I've got to admit that UK culture just isn't ready for something like this. Outside of a few very well-policed areas like Covent Garden (and good luck getting permission to do something like this there!), I reckon the problems you're facing are pretty much inevitable. It sucks, but then this whole stupid country sucks.
posted by Ted Maul at 8:56 AM on January 17, 2012

Definitely play uncool music. Not classical -- it's too innocuous. But Barry Manilow ought to do it. (And, obviously, only put it on when they're around, or you'll chase all the cool adults away.)
posted by musofire at 9:15 AM on January 17, 2012

If they make friends with the local PCSOs and make sure they come round pretty often and have words, then that should sort it out. Failing that, if there's repetition, they could get an ASBO for them easily enough. It takes a while and they certainly need the thick skin, and burning it down is a risk, but eventually once they realise the authorities are taking notice, things could change.
posted by ambrosen at 9:41 AM on January 17, 2012

I'm from the US, not the UK, so customs may differ somewhat. I can't imagine, though, taking the time to patiently explain why my business wasn't giving away food rather than selling it. It's good to be sweet and gentle, but it doesn't have to mean being taken advantage of. A simple, "No, sorry" is both polite and clear. If they don't want to talk to the police, perhaps there are nearby businesses they could work with? It's in the best interests of all businesses not to have their paying customers harassed.
posted by epj at 9:49 AM on January 17, 2012

The solution is not bouncers, cops or cameras - this is human relationship issue. Debaser makes some good points.

Golding's 'Lord of the Flies' has taught us that humans have social structures - no matter how chaotic it might seem from the outside. At the top of the social hierarchy is, Respect.

Criminals, prisoners, terrorists, feral kids, politicians all understand respect. Example: Cops that don't command respect have considerable more difficulty in "policing" high crime areas, while respected cops get listened to, get leads, apples, etc. Even among law authorities, there is a difference in which law officer gets listened to.

Your friends have to engage them - and not from a point of weakness. You have to enter their world. When the great lion masters learn, they gain respect by engaging the lion in his territory, where the risk is greatest. The lion, the feral kid, the drug dealer knows that you took a risk to get the engagement - this is the 1st chip you can cash for some Respect.

Engaging them will reduce the scorn and mockery that fuels their actions in the 1st place.

(If your friends do not have the internal fortitude or skill to do this, then they have to hire someone with this quality foremost).
posted by Kruger5 at 10:23 AM on January 17, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a former teacher of inner city youths (albeit in the US), I wanted to pile on with the importance of relationships. The more thuggy they act, the more desperate they are for attention. Don't give them things when they ask (unless they're paying, of course)--that just rewards bad behavior and is strong reinforcement that sometimes, they'll get what they want and will only try harder and longer to get it.

Do try to engage them in conversation that is not related to their behavior or the store whenever they come by. Be interested in what they say. It won't work all the time, but I found it worked with 99% of my kids, many of whom were recovering from some kind of major life event trauma or had some kind of serious psychosocial or mental health issue. Good luck!
posted by smirkette at 2:32 PM on January 17, 2012 [2 favorites]

Many thanks for the great and nuanced responses, highlighting so many different facets of the issue. I've marked those as best answer which I think will work.

Security / bouncer may not work - shop's just not large enough. "Burly musician" idea, I REALLY like, sadly, it's more skinny jazz guys than burly rock dudes there.

For this reason also Classical or Barry Manilow may scare all away including customers. I've heard of the proven effiency of classical music in this respect though, good suggestion!

I'll keep suggesting ways to have official help - thank you for the tip with the town council forum and free coffee for officers on duty.

I thank the poster who disagreed with the language of "feral youth". I see that the label doesn't help to think constructively here.

I'm most grateful for the excellent and interesting answers treating it as a human relations problem - this is why I posted it to Human Relations rather than say, Work & Money.

Right, time to print off this thread and make my way there in my lunch break. Thank you ever so much, Hive Mind!
posted by yoHighness at 5:01 AM on January 18, 2012

I don't have a clue about the drunkards but I think Debaser has it regarding the truant 14 year olds. I know it seems like rewarding bad behavior but they might even consider hiring the ringleader.
posted by LiverOdor at 6:27 AM on January 18, 2012

The 10th Regiment of Foot: "Why not offer free coffee and snacks for on-duty police?"
I am quite alarmed that this is marked as a good answer and has lots of favourite points. Justice, security and police presence should not be something that has to be bought by the citizens and businesses that can afford it.
posted by brokkr at 12:46 PM on January 18, 2012

Well. Come to think of it it seems kind of unrealistc imagining British police taking free coffee and snacks in that way. I also take your point, brokkr, so I've unmarked that answer.
posted by yoHighness at 6:39 PM on January 18, 2012

yoHighness: "Come to think of it it seems kind of unrealistc imagining British police taking free coffee and snacks in that way."
Where I'm from it would be downright illegal.
posted by brokkr at 1:26 AM on January 19, 2012

I've certainly had PCSOs pop round for cups of tea in various places I've lived and worked, but never ones where making tea was part of the job. But yeah, relationship building without bribery's probably the way to go.
posted by ambrosen at 3:38 PM on January 20, 2012

Update: I visited the kiosk again today and at the moment various friends are hanging out there at less busy hours. Things seem ok. Yesterday I handed over the printout so today I got to find out the reaction. My friends said reading the thread really opened up their thinking about finding ways forward. They hadn't been aware of such a thing as AskMe before and were just amazed and uplifted by the solidarity of so many people answering! Thanks a million, hivemind.
posted by yoHighness at 5:34 PM on January 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

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