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Anti-Social Behaviour – part of the Government’s crime reduction strategy

Regent’s Park College
“Promoting acceptable behaviour – positive approaches to anti-social behaviour”
9 October 2001

One of my memories of childhood is the radio.  Televisions were not around but the radio was on much of the time. There was a diet of Mrs  Dale’s Diary, even before the days of the Archers, Music while you Work (I would love to put that on in the office now) and Gardeners’ Question Time.  All this wafted over a somewhat unruly little boy.

Almost each time Gardeners’ Question time came on, someone would ask a question about delphiniums falling over or whatever and the great man, Percy Thrower, would be asked for an answer.  There was often the single word “well”, a pregnant pause, and that famous line “the answer lies in the soil”.

I mention this because I suspect the answer to many of the questions which will arise today, whether some things flourish whilst others fall flat on their face, will be, in some form or other, “the answer lies in the partnership”.

Crime and Disorder Act 1998

One of the great innovations of the Crime and Disorder Act was its creation of partnerships, known as Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships, or CDRPs.  Pushing local authorities and the police together was radical enough, but the partnerships went much wider to include social services, education, probation, health and the voluntary sector, particularly Victim Support and Neighbourhood Watch.

We have travelled a great distance in the three years since all this was established and I know of nobody who would want to turn back the clock.  The impact on the way the police, for instance, see their work has been dramatic.  Before the Act, the police, quite properly, tended to see the world in the light of their powers: did they have a power in such-and-such an instance, or didn’t they?  If they did, they would act: if they didn’t they would steer clear.  You could say exactly the same about local authorities.

Now, as the result of partnership working, things are very different. Partners can do things not only through powers but also by influence.  So the police, for instance, see the scope of crime and disorder more widely and, if they do not have a power, they will discuss how to tackle the problem using a range of powers across all the partners.  In the good partnerships, that works a treat.  In others it’s harder work.  The answer lies in the partnership.

One of the other radical aspects of the Crime and Disorder Act was the prominence it gave to anti-social behaviour.  The concept was not new.  The definition of anti-social behaviour as that which gives rise to harassment, alarm and distress comes directly from the Public Order Act 1986, when Douglas Hurd was Home Secretary.  What is new is the prominence given to this – and tackling anti-social behaviour through a partnership.

Area child protection committees (ACPCs)

Well, nearly new.  Area child protection committees had been set up a few years earlier.  ACPCs considered offenders who put children at risk, the children who were at risk from offenders and families where children were at risk.  ACPCs consist of the police, local authorities, social services, education, probation and so on.  They exchange confidential information according to a protocol – long before the days of section 115.

ACPCs take decisions about offending behaviour and offenders.  They have been an enormous success and massively improve protection for children.  In many ways, they can be seen as a precursor of Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships which have a much wider scope.  And the reason why ACPCs have done so well is that the answer lies in the partnership.

Importance of anti-social behaviour to CDRPs

The experience with anti-social behaviour since the Crime and Disorder Act bears that out. Tackling anti-social behaviour is on the agenda of every CDRP that I know and a priority for over two-thirds. A major reason for that is that every partnership knows that it has potentially powerful enforcement powers available to it through ASBOs.  You can only start to think of tackling long-standing and difficult issues if you know that there are powers up your sleeve if you need them.

One of the more curious debates over ASBOs is whether they are a measure of last resort or not.  That’s not a question which makes a lot of sense to me.  We don’t ask whether charging someone for burglary is a measure of last resort or not. The mere possibility of ASBOs legitimises the work of partnerships in tackling anti-social behaviour, whether or not they formally use ASBOs very often.  Certainly, without those powers most partnerships would not start trying to tackle otherwise intractable anti-social behaviour – for instance through the interesting work being done with anti-social behaviour contracts in Islington, which we are to hear about next – simply because they know that the offenders will quickly call their bluff.

Research on ASBOs

The Home Office has been carrying out research on ASBOs and I understand that the results are due to be known later this year.  I would be surprised if the research did not show that some areas will have had an excellent experience with ASBOs which have made a real difference to the lives of some communities; while others will have been disappointed, even frustrated. That is generally the way with new legislation and new powers, as I know only too well from my days with tagging.

But, in research, it is necessary to demonstrate only that some people can get it right. The fact that others haven’t is likely to be because they have not had the right conditions, or have set about it wrongly, or have simply been unlucky, which can happen when you hit the courts.  I suspect that the research will show that a single agency cannot do it all by itself: that the answer lies in the partnership.

I am sure one crucial issue is how the partnership tackles anti-social behaviour: whether it has a strategy; whether there is a named person (as the PAT 8 report suggests); whether there is trust and active co-operation between the partners; whether there is a real problem-solving attitude; whether each partner is willing to do its bit to pull off the task; and whether the partnership gives enough publicity to what it is doing.

Examples of partnership working on anti-social behaviour

I have, for instance, been to such a partnership on problem families.  It was in a district of 130,000 inhabitants and the partners met to discuss their handling of 6 or 8 problem families.

Tackling problem families in this way is a very effective use of everyone’s time.  Every practitioner knows that a small proportion of their clientele accounts for most of their time.  Typically, 8% of patients account for 80% of a doctor’s time.  When I was a forensic psychologist in prisons, the proportion was even smaller.  In Los Angeles – to take a non-UK example – 16% of families account for two-thirds of arrests and a similar proportion of Los Angeles social services, health, probation, police and education expenditure.

The reason for this is simply that known offenders account for the vast majority of reported crime.  We don’t spell it out anything like often enough but, in this country, we catch and punish the vast majority of persistent offenders.  People who go on committing offences get caught and are punished for it.

It would be unrealistic to think that we could ever detect or prosecute every offence, so the experience of most of us will be that “our” offender is not caught.  But call in at any court and see how offenders are brought to justice so regularly that they have strings of convictions. Our prisons are full.  There aren’t many who are getting away with it.  We all know who our offenders are.

We can use this to our advantage.  It means that we can target our efforts on the families and individuals known to us. We don’t have to go searching in order to reduce crime, we know the people already.  What’s more, all the partners know. The answer lies in the partnership.

Problem families

So in the partnership I was talking about they considered their problem families.  The usual issues came up: poor school attendance, drugs, thieving and anti-social behaviour, prostitution, drink, unemployment, father in prison (actually, the problem was that he was just about to come out).  The partners together worked out how best to tackle each family together, in the round.  In one case the police said that they would hold back from charging one youngster if the attendance officer was able to get him to school.

This all seemed to me to make eminently good sense. I would have to say that, in none of the cases I heard that morning did anyone consider that they needed an ASBO, or at least not just now, but the awareness that an ASBO was available greatly strengthened partners’ resolve and confidence in addressing the problems thrown up by these families.

Police and probation co-operation

Another example I know of is where the police and the probation service co-operate actively over persistent offenders, exchanging confidential and intelligence information in a way which would have been unthinkable a few years ago and using each others’ powers.

So when they had to consider what to do about one individual who always commits serious motor offences in the company of another named individual, the police and probation service together decided to put a condition on a release licence which forbids that.  That simple co-operation between two services made enforcement enormously easier.  It could not have been done without trust.  It is not merely joined-up thinking, but joined up working.  The answer lies in the partnership.

Supporting CDRPs

The next question is what are we doing to support, sustain and encourage these partnerships?  Firstly, we have put lots of guidance on the crime reduction website and, in June this year, we issued further guidance, in the light of the PAT 8 report, to add to the toolkits on partnerships, anti-social behaviour and intelligence and information-sharing.

Secondly, nationally, the Home Office has funded a partnership support programme of £20m for this year and the next two.  The way this plays out in different regions will vary.  But in the South East every partnership has received between £20k and £50k, depending on its size and the level of crime, for each of the three years.  One of the major impacts of that will be the appointment of a number of community safety staff.  I expect it has been much the same in other regions.

Funding streams are important.  You will know that we are coming to the end of the crime reduction programme (CRP) which will be replaced next year by the Safer Communities Initiative.  The SCI is likely to be more generic that the CRP, so there won’t be separate CCTV, burglary, schools &c pots of money.  It is also likely to be more regional, with greater discretion for Government Offices.  But we don’t yet know how much money will be in the pot.

Development of C&D strategies

Perhaps more important is the fact that, as we speak, local crime and disorder partnerships will be putting together their strategies for the next three years from April 2001. Those strategies should contain the essence of how the partnerships will be wanting to tackle their anti-social behaviour problems and be based on consultation with local communities.  Without a strategy and, as the PAT 8 report recommended, without a named person to take forward initiatives, anti-social behaviour will surely slip between the cracks.

Besides the obvious elements of such a strategy – like identifying the key areas or estates where anti-social behaviour is a problem – partnerships need to consider elements like race; how they handle witnesses, some of whom may be vulnerable; how to avoid delaying and putting-off action; and how to enforce any action as it is a serious matter to breach an ASBO and the courts must be left in no doubt about that.

For the future, the debate will continue about whether we need also a new type of ASBO which might be added on to a sentence on conviction (and that is a matter for the consultation around the Halliday report); and whether we need to make it possible for registered social landlords and the British Transport Police to apply for ASBOs.

Importance of getting the partnership right

But the context for all this, as I have said before, is the nature of the partnership: making sure that all partners engage and co-operate; where there is a real problem-solving approach to anti-social behaviour; where there are proper procedures for collecting evidence; where the partnership has the confidence of the courts; where there is a proper follow-up within the partnership and, if an ASBO is breached, proper enforcement of the breach.  Don’t give up if the going gets rough!  That’s what too many people have been doing for years.

Today will develop our skills in tackling anti-social behaviour and I look forward to that.  It will also be about developing partnerships.  I have referred to how ACPCs in some ways paved the way for Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships.  That process may well be repeated in some areas where Local Strategic Partnerships will be formed and are likely to build on the experience of their Crime and Disorder Partnerships.  The important thing is not the name – for the partners so often stay the same – but the quality of the relationships in the partnership and the cohesion with which they work for the good of their locality.  Whether it be robbery, burglary, car crime, or anti-social behaviour, the answer lies in the partnership.

Address given by Hugh Marriage OBE
Crime Reduction Director, Government Office for the South East