BBC BLOGS - Mark Easton's UK
« Previous | Main | Next »

Putting police in harm's way

Mark Easton | 09:01 UK time, Thursday, 23 September 2010

Perhaps the most radical idea in today's report on police and anti-social behaviour is the call for a "refocusing on what causes harm in communities, rather than what is or is not a 'crime'".

Instead of police resources being driven by what the criminal justice system regards as serious, we should put the effort into what does most damage to society and our quality of life. So where would that lead us?

Sir Denis O'Connor


The Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Denis O'Connor believes that, too often, "we sanctify anything that happens to be badged by some legislation as a crime" and dismiss incidents and activities which are "a blight on the lives of millions" but are not defined as criminal offences.

"It may not quite qualify in the rules we have. It certainly may not qualify for the experts. But it qualifies every time for them."

Government already claims to operate a "harm reduction" principle when it comes to its strategy on illegal drugs. The Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs has devised a "harm matrix" to assess the relative risks from different substances. In advising ministers on drug classification in England and Wales, the experts consider potential harms to health, families, communities and wider society. (See my previous post on this.)

The Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) describes itself as "an intelligence-led law enforcement agency with harm reduction responsibilities". Its job is to cut not crime, but harm.

This table from an agency report last year shows the complexity of defining the concept when it comes to organised criminal activity. Once again, the multi-faceted nature of harm is considered.

Table of types of harm

Source: Extending Our Reach: A Comprehensive Approach to Tackling Serious Organised Crime: 2009

So the idea of harm reduction in a crime context is not entirely new but suggesting it be used to decide the focus of police activity is still, I think, a radical notion.

The Home Office has dabbled in this area with its attempts to compare the 'costs' of different crimes [337KB PDF].

In 2005 they produced research which tried to put a financial value on the consequences from a range of violent offences, although academics recognised that "current estimates of the intangible costs of violent crime, such as pain, grief or suffering experienced by victims are weak".

Comparison of the consequential costs of violent crime

Nevertheless, the Home Office's table puts a monetary cost on the "physical and emotional impact" of different crimes. The pain and suffering from a common assault, you might notice, is roughly a thirtieth of that from a sexual offence.

Today's report from the HMIC invites us to accept that the physical and emotional effect of ASB is so significant it justifies a far greater police response than some notifiable criminal offences.

In order to free up resources for the "feet on the street" that Sir Denis says are needed to tackle ASB, he has suggested officers be moved from specialist units dealing with hate crime or domestic violence.

This is where the need for a sophisticated crime harm matrix becomes obvious. There is good evidence to suggest that victims of domestic violence, for example, endure enormous psychological trauma in addition to any physical injury. They may never fully recover.

How do we compare that with the harm from kids hanging around the shops drinking cheap cider and swearing at pensioners on their way to the Post Office?

Harm, as SOCA's table and the drugs matrix demonstrate, comes in different forms: direct harm to the victim; harm to the community; harm to the perpetrator from the criminal justice response; harm to the economy - and on and on.

Anti-social behaviour has traditionally been given a low priority because it has been judged that the harm to the individual victim is not acute. Having met many such victims, I would argue this is often incorrect. But it is the harm to wider society that underpins Sir Denis's argument.

"Managing ASB is crucial to sustaining the vitality and confidence of communities. Untreated ASB acts like a magnet for other crime and disorder problems and areas can quite easily tip into a spiral of economic and social decline."

How might we measure this "social harm"? A paper published by the Centre for Crime and Justice Studies in 2005 and entitled Criminal obsessions: why harm matters more than crime [1.5MB PDF] suggested the concept of crime was a "myth" and that "the undue attention given to events which are defined as crimes distracts attention from more serious harm".

This echoes the view of Sir Denis, although I wonder whether his definition of social harm would encompass "notions of autonomy, development and growth, and access to cultural, intellectual and information resources generally available in any given society".

Exploring the idea of "social harm" can quickly become a debate about politics. For instance, is it anti-social behaviour which is the cause of social harm in many deprived areas or a policy of corralling the most challenging and vulnerable individuals and families in poor-quality social housing on isolated estates with few facilities?

The criminal justice system finds the concept of harm too slippery.

Section 143 of the Criminal Justice Act states that "in considering the seriousness of any offence, the court must consider... any harm which the offence caused, was intended to cause or might forseeably have caused". However, when I asked a judge what he thought "harm" meant in that context, he replied, candidly, "No idea".

He told me that the word "harm" is rarely used in court - lawyers prefer to talk about injury or loss. The judiciary is required to consider the social as well of the individual impact of crimes in deciding on sentence, but it is a matter of subjective judgement (that is what judges are paid for, after all) rather than objective science.

And that seems to me to be the weakness in Sir Denis's argument for a "harm reduction" crime strategy. We might agree that ASB has a very significant effect on the quality of life of individuals and communities. But without good evidence of how that harm compares with, say, child abuse or rape or street robbery, how do we know we are putting the feet on the right street?


or register to comment.

  • 1. At 10:31am on 23 Sep 2010, watriler wrote:

    Well there will be fewer feet on the street if Osborne gets his way. The good news is that ASB can be traced back to a relatively small number of originators and as the blog hints it is not just a police matter. Housing management and social work have important contributions to make. Another consideration should be the 'catchment' of people affected by the ASB not just the assessment of the consequences and impact of events. ASB is a daily fact of life for a significant minority of the population. Locating police social work and housing management (suitably protected) on the more troublesome estates or neighbourhoods might help a lot.

    Complain about this comment

  • 2. At 10:57am on 23 Sep 2010, nautonier wrote:

    Simples ... hand over all police traffic duty to specially licensed and trained private contractors and then put all police officers out on the beat.

    Let the football clubs pay for their own match security and have reserve police on duty at football matches. Recruit more police reservists and put soldiers out on the streets to deal with the worst of the troublemakers and hooligans, in the worst trouble spots... as the police can't handle it and are unable to prevent ... only 'mop up' when it is generally too late.

    Prioritise police deployment to harass the worst and repeat offenders and their family conspirators into behaving themselves and crack down on petit crime and anti social behaviour on our streets and schools.

    Then all that is needed is a review of how much money has been saved and by how much crime has been lowered ... and keep restructuring the arrangement until crime and bad behaviour is reasonably under control.

    Much can be done by recruiting for local neighbourhood watch schemes to be improved and with daily reports being made to local police stations as the 'eyes and ears' on the ground ... and on all of the ground.

    Simples ... why doesn't it happen?

    Complain about this comment

  • 3. At 11:07am on 23 Sep 2010, Megan wrote:

    Perhaps the flaw is in legislation rather than in policing priorities.

    Surely the definition of 'a crime' is an act which harms another person (as in violence or theft), or is likely to do so (as in not insuring a car)? The things people try to pass off as 'anti-social behaviour' fall into the second category, actions which are likely to cause harm. (If I don't insure my car, it is not a problem provided I don't cause an accident and cannot pay for the damage!)

    If the law was codified properly, instead of the mash-up it is at present, then the police would have a clearer picture of what they ought to be doing.

    As for those who claim it's not a police problem and cite social needs... well, I'm sure you know plenty of people who are poor or living in deprived areas or otherwise disadvantaged who are perfectly capable of behaving themselves.

    Complain about this comment

  • 4. At 11:25am on 23 Sep 2010, lostSillyBilly22 wrote:

    I can remember a time when you could leave your car unlocked, with the keys in the ignition and it would not be stolen. Slowly car theft increased, to the point where, eventually, the police response was "here's your crime number for the insurance company". Thefts would very rarely be investigated. Thefts from vehicles would never be investigated (you'd just get told off for leaving things in your car). The same happened with anti-social behaviour. The police ceased to see it a crime and gave up policing it.

    Complain about this comment

  • 5. At 11:26am on 23 Sep 2010, AnotherEngineer wrote:

    In the table above I would have put drug abuse in the societal harm column, but then it would not have been symmetrical.
    Personally I consider organised crime to be a far bigger threat to the country than terrorism.

    Complain about this comment

  • 6. At 11:33am on 23 Sep 2010, DibbySpot wrote:

    I'm delighted the Head of Constabulary is standing up for the people Police forces of this country should serve. Sadly, many Chief Constables see their job as providing "flash toys" for the boys such as expensive "trophy vehicles", rather than getting police out and doing their jobs.

    We need fewer senior officers, who think their council tax payers will always "stump up" more money for less performance. It cannot be right that these over paid under performers have overseen:

    + police station closures at evenings & weekends - so the public cannot use them and have to take time off work to attend.
    + 2 person manning of patrol vehicles.
    + failed to create a national police purchasing authority
    + failed to support force amalgamations to reduce senior officer post
    + failed to sell or redevelop their estates so they are cheaper and more efficient
    + have police officers in management roles they are not qualified for.
    + failed to rail agains the paper based form filling - just accepted it
    + endorse bureaucracy rather than rail against it
    + support failures in CPS process
    + fail to manage out ineffective, sick or suspended officers in less than 6 weeks. see examples of suspended police officers on full pay for more than 2yrs - it is a shirkers charter in some cases.
    + the list is endless

    The Police are generally poorly managed because senior officers think the public will always pick up the bill. I sincerely hope the UK police service will be restructured "root and branch" so the new focus is not on their own perks, benefits and status but on delivering service and protection to the public who pay their wages. This should be done in a spirit of openess, transparency and recognition they get things wrong and need to change and adapt.

    Complain about this comment

  • 7. At 11:35am on 23 Sep 2010, AnotherEngineer wrote:

    2. At 10:57am on 23 Sep 2010, nautonier wrote:
    Simples ... hand over all police traffic duty to specially licensed and trained private contractors and then put all police officers out on the beat..............

    I agree, which must be a first.
    Why will it not happen? too many vested interests, Human Rights Act, EU, lawyers ....

    Complain about this comment

  • 8. At 11:41am on 23 Sep 2010, Wayne wrote:

    A few months ago a group of about 10 teenagers rampaged down my road damaging any cars in their path. My neighbour saw his car being damaged and called on me for help. Not wanting to confront the group we followed descretely behind them and phoned the police for help. We were told that there was no-one availble and should phone back in 5 mins. 40 mins later and 5 calls later there was still no-one availble but the rampage continued until we lost sight of the group in the city center. Nothing more was heard. 6 months after the incident I received a phone call from police asking my opinions about the police and how the organisation was run. My comments are not publishable on this site. Thanks

    Complain about this comment

  • 9. At 11:47am on 23 Sep 2010, TheUrbaneSpelunker wrote:

    New York showed that enforcing the 'old fashioned' values of not dropping litter and not allowing your dog... etc had a dramatic knock-on affect with more serious crime i.e. having the effect of reducing it considerably. However, in order to achieve this Mayor Giuliani's DOUBLED the number of police offices on the 'beat'. So, as there were many more constibule eyes out watching the neighbourhood it's not surprising that overall crime fell. I believe the financial investment required to do this was considerable and therein lies the next bi-election result.

    Complain about this comment

  • 10. At 11:56am on 23 Sep 2010, kaybraes wrote:

    The police are not the problem, politicians and the judiciary are the problem. It has become a pointless exercise for the police to arrest criminals in many cases because the offender will be back on the street before the policeman has completed (in triplicate) his report.The case will then either be dropped, or the judge will fail to give a meaningful sentence and the criminal will continue on his merry way. If the police are called to an incident of street violence, or anti social / yobbish behaviour, eventually a couple of constables will turn up knowing that they can do nothing; if however the incident involves a possible racial element, ie. an incident in an Asian restuarant or a fight in the street involving a coloured person, then not only the two constables will appear, but a van load of assistance will arrive , all under the command of at least a chief inspector. This is called prioritising, or doing the things that could be construed as PC instantly , and ignoring the things that aren't going to cause a fuss with the PC brigade.

    Complain about this comment

  • 11. At 12:00pm on 23 Sep 2010, moncursouthernreiver wrote:

    A quote from the above

    "There is good evidence to suggest that victims of domestic violence, for example, endure enormous psychological trauma in addition to any physical injury. They may never fully recover.

    How do we compare that with the harm from kids hanging around the shops drinking cheap cider and swearing at pensioners on their way to the Post Office?"

    Is it not obvious to everyone that those who are now the perpetrators of DOMESTIC VIOLENCE were the kids that were hanging around the shops 10 years ago having been bred by the yobs that were hanging around the shops in the previous generation?

    After decades in management where I watched a constant rise in the petty criminality of my workforce and clients; I in my last years before full retirement have served as Security/weighbridge operator in various RDC (distribution centres for the major supermarkets) and very large scale factories.

    At ALL levels the attitude has become that the whole of the Law is that "Thou Shall Not Be Caught".

    It is too late for the current crop of hooligans, paedophiles, joy riders, drug users and dealers; we have NO effective means of rehabilitation without an input of manpower and resources that would be unaffordable at the best of times.

    We therefore must have a definitive split in the way we tackle current and future outcomes.

    1) Punitive (and I MEAN punitive)action and detention to remove the most dangerous and/or blatant offenders (They are ALL known).

    2) An extension of the principle behind the seizure of Vehicles policy currently being successfully deployed with regard to uninsured cars.

    I have worked with thousands of HGV drivers in the last few years and the same numbers of warehousemen and process operators and almost all regale me on a daily basis of the latest scam, fiddle, skive, petty larceny, tax evasion, "iffy" m.o.t.'s, " A man they know that can get you..." to an extent that beggars belief.

    The speed camera mentality of Criminalizing hundreds of thousands who rightly or wrongly considered themselves "Law abiding" citizens has greatly contributed to a moral breakdown where it is now perceived that "Everyone's at it" and you are a fool if you aren't.

    If we are to have such an attitude as was exemplified by the speed cameras then it must be extended to a ZERO tolerance of every little misdemeanor from the stationery raid in the office to the declared income of black cab drivers compared to their 4 bed detached in Chigwell!

    Included in that must be an immediate implementation of absolute enforcement of the vagrancy and public intoxication laws.

    The drunken thugs and slatterns portrayed on every relevant T.V clip on this issue should ALL be thrown into very basic drunk tanks the moment they hit the streets. It is an offence to be staggeringly incapable in public, it is also an offence of breach of the peace (read the words) to be loud and raucous in public.

    No new laws, just fast, firm and furious enforcement of Laws that were created when last these islands were in the grip of alcohol fueled public anarchy.

    Make the status of all vehicles tax and insurance very visible (I suggest a sunvisor sized permit with full details.Think Wayne and Sharon)

    Protect us from the current crop as well as possible.

    To reduce the numbers and ameliorate the effects of the next; make the concept of doing "Wrong" the foul thing that it is; no matter how petty.

    Complain about this comment

  • 12. At 12:17pm on 23 Sep 2010, healthytoes wrote:

    "How might we measure this "social harm"?"

    Why is it so necessary to "measure" everything? People don't believe the statistics or want to hear all the drivel spouted. They want a solution.

    I would like the police to turn up for Wayne at #8 and get to grips with the problem. If the parents won't collaborate with the police, turf them out.

    Then send them to St Kilda with a tent and tell them to get on with it.

    Complain about this comment

  • 13. At 12:26pm on 23 Sep 2010, redrobb wrote:

    Hello, we are for now and foreseeable future in the grip of the worst recession for decades! What some of my fellow bloggers are writing is just the beginning. For sure the largely inflation proof brigades will never see some of the worst anti-social behaviours that are an almost common experience for most of us. Troops on the street (sorry their all in Helmund etc), private companies doing traffic / football matches? Certainly having more Police on the streets, can't recall the figure but they'll be paying off quite a few. Listen there is money available to prevent mobs running amok, mostly off-shore or locked away in some vault. Pass emergency parlimentary action get the smart banks, hedge funds & the really rich & wealthy aka Royals, sequestrate all monies needed!

    Complain about this comment

  • 14. At 1:01pm on 23 Sep 2010, mike guilfoyle wrote:

    It is clearly important to recognise the impact of ASB on those communities blighted by insupportable behaviour, which are largely the most impoverished & see the argument in terms of affording protection to those bearing the brunt of ASB whilst offering ways of ensuring those who are subject to ASBO's are aware of their obligations & desist from ASB.. What has so vexed the issue has been the poor implimentation of ASBO's, the patent judicial unfairness of drug addicted & mentally unfit persons being dragged into the court system.( I have seen countless examples of such people during my time as a Probation Officer) There needs to be a maturer debate on the all -important question.. how far ASBO's & other measures against ASB are helping to protect communities from harmful behaviour.

    Complain about this comment

  • 15. At 1:15pm on 23 Sep 2010, iNotHere wrote:

    Putting more police on the streets will solve nothing all the time we have the cps and courts undermining them by letting people like this off with suspended sentences. The charge was way too lenient, so obviously was the sentence and in their juvenile minds they've got away with it. Now I'm not a fan of prison but when the offence is a violent one there has to be something in place that might just shock the perpetrator into some kind of change. All the time they walk out of court with a small fine and not much else where is the incentive?

    I think a complete overhaul of the cps is needed here, not papering over the cracks by putting more coppers on the beat.

    Complain about this comment

  • 16. At 1:18pm on 23 Sep 2010, jon112dk wrote:

    Not sure I agree with the idea that disorder is harm but not crime. I think much of the so called 'disorder' is actually contrary to criminal law.

    Example: Fiona Pilkington & family were subject to actions which amounted to arson, false imprisonment, assault ABH and threats to kill, all serious crimes. They were not treated as crimes because of the age of the offenders and the nature of the victims.

    My view is that the police refuse to respond to 'disorder' because all the kids know that the police are impotent. Arresting a 15 year old will just result in loads of paperwork followed by them being let off immediately at the police station or let off by a court. The arrest actually empowers the youth - before this happened he may have been in fear of being arrested, after it has happened he will never be in fear again. Most of the youths just laugh at the police, which is why the police don't like the experience of attending these calls. (Is that operant conditioning of the police?)

    It sounds like any time now there will be even fewer police to not attend when people call them. So things are hardly likely to get better.

    Complain about this comment

  • 17. At 1:55pm on 23 Sep 2010, Peter Galbavy wrote:

    My opinion will appear opposed to some other posters, but I think our desires are the same. My proposal would be the scrap *all* the non-warranted police replacements and instead use the saving to increase the number of trained and qualified police officers to deal with all those "harmful" offences previously dealt with by the plastic police (CPSOs), traffic wardens and the like.

    There is a clear conflict of interest between harm reduction and enforcement when the enforcement is motivated by income. Traffic wardens work for private companies who contract to local authorities to bring in income - they don't care about uninsured vehicles, dangerous driving behaviour, drunk drivers getting into cars - no, their focus is on issues parking tickets to get money in.

    Same for many other streams of enforcement, including the recent switch for "minor" traffic offences to councils and cameras away from the police.

    If you take the NY style zero tolerance approach then you will find that those whose commit minor acts of harm are usually the same as those who commit more major acts of harm and crime. Back to the motoring example, but this is far wider than just that, stopping someone with misaligned headlights will usually yield a badly maintained, un-MOTed vehicle and driver with probably no insurance and maybe no license.

    Complain about this comment

  • 18. At 1:56pm on 23 Sep 2010, nigel wrote:

    Some lateral thinking is required to resolve this problem and to remove the underclass responsible from proposals although contraversial are that the young males responsible be emasculated and the women involved be sterilised. Such action will resolve the problem within a generation and once again make this country a great place in which to live.

    Complain about this comment

  • 19. At 2:09pm on 23 Sep 2010, Hugh Parker wrote:

    I don't agree with your last paragraph. Although it's hard to quantify the social harm caused by antisocial behaviour, I think it's still better to make a best guess, however imperfect, than it is to avoid the question because it's hard.

    Complain about this comment

  • 20. At 2:11pm on 23 Sep 2010, barryp wrote:

    I know it would be nice to deal with every incident, but the posting by Wayne at No 8, shows quite clearly a truth of Policing. There are not enough Police Officers available at any time. Some 20 years ago Hampshire Police surveyed ALL officers on duty during one evening. It was found that NONE were avaiable, the majority were engaged with offenders and arrests. he majority were in Police stations dealing with the dreaded paperwork, as required by various Laws.
    The Inspector is quite right to query why Police are inside, but he should ensure that it is actually possible for them to get out. Before someone suggests having civilians to do the paper work, the LAW requires that the arresting officer carries out many procedures.
    A feature of Policing that is ignored is that it is demand led. It is rarely possible to predict accurately the number of Police needed at any one time, already the 'troubled times' are prioritised with resources, and them several fights beak out at opposite ends of the town. Should insufficient Police be sent to every incident, resulting in too few being at any place, and often injury to the Officers sent. or, should the incidents be prioritised according to reported severity and some not be attended?
    The major feature ignored by so mny commentators is that magic word, EVIDENCE'. There is no point arresting someone for a reported antisocial action, if there is no evidence. At that happens is that the Police gets a complaint and often the Police get sued. Unfortunately a court wll not convict if a 'witness' can only say, 'I think it was one of those kids who threw a stone'. etc. As everyone knows it is pointless to bluff youths, unless the evidence is there Polie action actually does more harm than good. As for adult offenders the same rules apply, it needs Evidence to obtain a conviction.
    My last and probably most contravercial point is the need to reverse the recruiting policies. One time a Police Constable was at least 5'10", now many are undersized with no 'presence'. Street Policing is often violent and full of risk, it is no wonder that some of the smaller Constables are viewed with little respect by so many.

    Complain about this comment

  • 21. At 2:17pm on 23 Sep 2010, ticktickticktickboom wrote:

    There is nothing wrong with policing in this country that could not be put right by turning the clock back 25 years. Proper,trained police officers on foot patrol. Local police stations with direct telephone contact to a front desk manned by local personnel who know and understand the area and it's inhabitants. An end to the awful corporate target, statistics and buzzword mentality that distorts and corrupts everything it blights...Beat Managers? Oh, do leave it out; to me they will always be Police Constables.....Detention Centre for juvenile offenders....jail and benefit penalties for so called low level adult offenders, not the joke that is the ASBO. The great experiment has failed. The Police Force is not a business environment dealing with nicely packaged, easily monitored tangibles. It's time to acknowlege that and revert to time honoured measures that work whilst using advances in modern technology to assist, rather than replace, real police officers.

    Complain about this comment

  • 22. At 2:51pm on 23 Sep 2010, jon112dk wrote:

    18. At 1:56pm on 23 Sep 2010, nigel57 wrote:
    my proposals although contraversial are that the young males responsible be emasculated and the women involved be sterilised. Such action will resolve the problem within a generation and once again make this country a great place in which to live.

    Has been tried, does work, called eugenics.

    Went out of fashion after a chap called Hitler got a bit carried away with it.

    Complain about this comment

  • 23. At 2:51pm on 23 Sep 2010, ticktickticktickboom wrote:

    18. At 1:56pm on 23 Sep 2010, nigel57 wrote:

    Some lateral thinking is required to resolve this problem and to remove the underclass responsible from proposals although contraversial are that the young males responsible be emasculated and the women involved be sterilised. Such action will resolve the problem within a generation and once again make this country a great place in which to live.


    ...apart from the danger of losing your 'nads to a total maniac for, say, dropping a fag-end in the street..

    Complain about this comment

  • 24. At 2:54pm on 23 Sep 2010, asnac wrote:

    What about an approach where enforcement is allocated to situations where harm is reduced by enforcement, rather than just where the harm is worse?

    For me the key role of the police is to prevent people, especially innocent people, from being harmed by the decisions of others.

    This would mean a focus on locking up violent criminals and fraudsters to prevent re-offending, which would make sense. It would mean moving away from drug offences.

    The police resources used to deal with drug 'crime' could then be reallocated to rehabilitation and education. The prisons could then be reserved for the genuinely violent and troublesome minority of criminals rather than teenagers selling some pills to their mates.

    The whole speed camera thing shoud be replaced by compulsory and permanent speed limiters installed in all cars. Make it illegal to make a car that goes above 80 miles per hour, or to import one to this country. Simple. You could, in time, build an electronic limiter which had variable speed controls in different areas. Automatic loss of driving licence for anyone exceeding the limit or tampering with their limiter.

    Moving the criminal law itself to cover areas of aggressive behaviour or actual harm towards others, and away from crimes against property or of non-PC behaviour would also mean people had a better understanding of the role of the law, and could see the justifications behind it. The criminal law is there to prevent people (and society) from harm. Where the matter is actually a dispute (a lot of ASB is actually this) then the civil law should be used which is far better suited to dispute settlement because it is less procedural and is more about finding the right solution, not the 'correct' one.

    Complain about this comment

  • 25. At 2:58pm on 23 Sep 2010, Devon Denzil wrote:

    My conversations with friends and family have shown that they believe that only the concerns of minority groups are taken seriously by the police owing to the impact of the previous Government's so-called "equality legislation". By contrast, your average 'majority group' person hardly gets a look-in.

    In addition, ever since the modern philosophy of "do your own thing" and "there is no such thing as right or wrong, only what makes feels right to YOU" replaced clear moral boundaries, we have suffered from the kind of "what you can get away with" mentality well described by earlier correspondents.

    We can quadruple the number of police officers and have security cameras and undercover detectives on the corner of every street... but if people don't feel shame about their actions and are allowed to believe that there are no consequences for wrongdoing, the levels of anti-social behaviour and law-breaking will continue.

    Years ago, I remember my Dad telling me about certain foreign countries where you couldn't leave belongings unattended or they would be stolen. I was incredulous. We agreed that it was SO much better to live in Britain where at that time such things were virtually unknown...!

    Complain about this comment

  • 26. At 3:06pm on 23 Sep 2010, moncursouthernreiver wrote:

    It is I believe still an offence to be in public without visible means of support, i.e funds. This was vagrancy though the law may have been superceded.

    However in misguided reaction to the eugenicist policies of the Nazi regime we will not tolerate the concept of breeding being illegal without the means of responsible parenting being available.

    It should be a given that the easily identifiable female offspring of the 800,000 well known dysfunctional and feckless families that are responsible for a hugely disproportionate amount of benefit payments, petty crime and ASB should be treated with regular long term doses of contraceptive with or without consent.

    The males involved (A man in Tyneside who has never worked but fathered over a dozen waifs on many benefit dependent young ESN trollopes) should be charged with and convicted of reckless reproduction and given hard labour to in some way recompense the state for the liabilities they have incurred on our behalf.

    I am at the stage where if I see another small crime story that ends with ,
    "Joe Bloggs; who has 120 PREVIOUS convictions" is in court again for another wrist slapping I will almost certainly begin to search for a party that will effect a 3 strikes and you are out (permanently) regime.

    Complain about this comment

  • 27. At 3:08pm on 23 Sep 2010, WolfiePeters wrote:

    Harm and disorder are crime. All people (young or otherwise) who make other people's lives pure misery should be taken off the streets and sent somewhere for treatment. Treatment means something constructive for them and for society.

    Someone the other day suggested capital punishment for repeat offenders. I think that they were going to the extreme to make a point. However, what we do at present, nothing or just lock people up for a while without trying to change them, is about as cruel to the offenders, costs society a fortune and provides little or no protection for the innocent.

    If the Police are unable to act, through their own fear or failings of the legal system, they need to speak up about it. As a motivational and educational experience, perhaps officers, senior and junior, should be forced to swap houses with some of the people who live in problem areas. May be politicians would enjoy the same experience.

    Finally, exactly what crimes, apart from murder and major theft, are considered to be serious? Police Officers, let us know how you spend your time?

    Complain about this comment

  • 28. At 3:24pm on 23 Sep 2010, AnotherEngineer wrote:

    I recently worked at the next desk to a retired Met detective sergeant. Among the many interested anecdotes that he related was the fact that if an officer arrests someone they have to spend most of the next day filling in all the forms, so they don't unless absolutely necessary, particularly since they know that the perpetrator will probably be let off.

    Complain about this comment

  • 29. At 3:57pm on 23 Sep 2010, VF wrote:

    At the end of the day there was a move for a more "touchy feely" Police Force and that was what we got.Social Workers in uniforms,rather than enforcers of the law.An abject lack of responsibilty from the parents has exacerbated the problem and a lack of respect for the law,the police and society as a whole compounding it. I would love someone to crack down on anti social behaviour but it wont happen as niether the Government,the present police force nor the releveant social services have the balls to deal with the problem

    Complain about this comment

  • 30. At 5:53pm on 23 Sep 2010, newlach wrote:

    The judge who said that he had "no idea" what was meant by the word "harm" in the report obviously has not had yobs outside his house causing a nuisance night after night. The truth is that it is often the case that people who are harmed by the anti-social behaviour of yobs simply give up contacting the police because the police seem unable to sort out the problem. The police can then assume that everything must be fine because the victims no longer contacts them.

    Complain about this comment

  • 31. At 7:15pm on 23 Sep 2010, alanderby wrote:

    Following comments about antisocial behaviour, maybe my own experience might be of interest. Having been a magistrate for nearly 20 years I would normally try to cooperate with the police and assist them where possible. Some time ago, we had a problem locally with pre-teen children playing in and around some derelict buildings very near to my house. I and others had reported this to the police on several occasions but we had very little response and usually by the time the police arrived the children had gone. One afternoon about two years ago, the children (aged from around 10 to 14 I think) came again and in an attempt to record evidence, I took around six pictures of them climbing on the buildings. Eventually a police car came and I met it outside my house, told the two officers the story and was then threatened with arrest for taking the pictures. Following a long discussion (during which my criminal record (none) was checked) I agreed to destroy the pictures and after a while they left.

    No subsequent action was taken by the police (towards me or otherwise) but it left me with a feeling of great reluctance to report such behaviour again, with the possibility that a sample of my DNA would be taken and my "offence" logged.

    As it happens, several of us as neighbours put pressure on the site owners to install good gates and demolish the buildings and up to now we have had no repetition.

    So, I would conclude that if the police act like this in other cases, it is not surprising that individuals are reluctant to cooperate.

    Complain about this comment

  • 32. At 8:15pm on 23 Sep 2010, nautonier wrote:

    7. At 11:35am on 23 Sep 2010, AnotherEngineer wrote:

    2. At 10:57am on 23 Sep 2010, nautonier wrote:
    Simples ... hand over all police traffic duty to specially licensed and trained private contractors and then put all police officers out on the beat..............
    I agree, which must be a first.
    Why will it not happen? too many vested interests, Human Rights Act, EU, lawyers ....


    Yes ... very well put ... We may well still be having this same debate in 10, or 20 years time ... as our politicians are not able or willing to deliver on this ... they are our elected representatives and they have the power to make changes and make a difference... but they just don't take any suitable action and a national public referendum with informed choices would also be useful on this?

    Complain about this comment

  • 33. At 8:34pm on 23 Sep 2010, jon112dk wrote:

    31. At 7:15pm on 23 Sep 2010, alanderby

    Standard practice I'm afraid.

    The only people I have ever seen arrested following so called 'disorder' calls are the adults who made the complaint.

    People in areas who are most threatened by this know very well that the police are part of the problem not part of the solution.

    You have to ask how it is that 12 year old children can intimidate whole estates of grown adults - some of them quite roughy, toughy adults. Simple: the youfs operate under the protection of the police. The children are subject to no action. The adults are arrested but usually only intimidated/cautioned - the police do not want it aired in public in a court or in front of magistrates such as yourself.

    Don't forget though, an adult who firmly tells a feral kid to go home, is arrested and cautioned for S.5 public order is a 'crime' cleared up for that coppers statistics. Indeed, they probably put it on the stats for getting tough on disorder in public places.

    Complain about this comment

  • 34. At 9:03pm on 23 Sep 2010, WolfiePeters wrote:

    It's horrifying that after 33 posts from people with different backgrounds and locations, there's not one that has recorded anything positive about the capacity of the police or anything else in the system to control, reduce or in any way usefully tackle anti-social behaviour.

    The present system is clearly useless. Almost anything else, including almost anything from the last 100 years, is better than what we have.

    I don't have much useful to suggest, but... ...

    One step, based on facts in previous blogs on anti-drug laws, is give drugs out on prescrption. This will immediately eliminate the drug trade and free up police and police funds for making life better for ordinary people.

    A second is to reduce the administrative burden on the police (and on everyone else).

    Finally, make it possible to take some sort of action against young people and their parents. And certainly don't criminalise adults who are defending themselves - that is totally shameful.

    Complain about this comment

  • 35. At 00:40am on 24 Sep 2010, mike boothroyd wrote:

    It's time to sort out the police service from top to bottom.
    Why on earth do we, a relatively small country in a geographical sense, need to have between 30 and 40 seperate constabularies. Barmy, and a complete waste of money.
    Of course, it keeps all those Chief Constables, Assistant Chief Constables, Deputy Chief Constables and Deputy Assistant Chief Constables in well paid and comfortably pensioned positions doesn't it.
    That's before we get to the Commissioners, Assistant Commissioners, Deputy Commissioners and Assistant Deputy Commissioners.
    Same with the fire services I suppose!
    If you take a little time to think about it, it doesn't take too much time to work out where all the tax payers money is wasted.
    A bit of blue sky thinking is called for.
    If I were in David Cameron's position I'd be tempted to ask Eric Pickles if he had the odd week-end to give it some thought.

    Complain about this comment

  • 36. At 12:48pm on 24 Sep 2010, jr4412 wrote:

    Mark Easton.

    "..we should put the effort into what does most damage to society and our quality of life. So where would that lead us?"

    prisons bursting with white-collar criminals, fraudsters, and not a few politicians, for one.

    Complain about this comment

  • 37. At 3:24pm on 24 Sep 2010, John Ellis wrote:

    We are dealing with problems across several fronts.
    1st most anti social behaviour is alcohol related and then stems of into drugs and organised crime.
    How do you tackle this problem, you cant under all current systems as organised crime is allowed to control drugs, this then leads to communities protecting each other even if they have all just been broken up in a street brawl with each other.

    Statement from a police officer leaving the road i was talking about the other day were 20 or so adults set upon each other.
    "there are some stupid people in the area and all of them live in that road, none of them will say anything about what went on." the 5 police vehicles then disappeared of down the road.

    We are just waiting for it all to kick off again as we know it will. The first power that the police need is blanket orders that allow them not to walk away from such instances but to charge everyone involved with disturbance of the peace with on the spot fines especially were those involved refuse to make any accusations due to what goes on in their private lives with regards to drug dealing and taking, this is the first wall and the only wall between the police and communities.

    If i told you a man in a wheel chair with one leg was beaten up in the same street a couple of days ago by a group of young lads you would all think outrageous lock em up. However step back and you find he was beaten for bringing his heroin habits out in front of local children. This is NORMAL everyday activity...
    At the end of this month a manned CCTV camera is meant to be going up at the end of this road due to its ongoing problems its currently in a little alleyway around the corner. We as a community had to apply for the funding for this CCTV. Our residents can't wait for it to go up as a lot of them will no longer walk down this road due to the alcohol problems the heroin problems (no cannabis problems) some of these residents have walked down this road all their lives 65+years now they wont, instead the will walk around to get to the Co-OP which can be seen at the bottom of the street they are all afraid to walk down.

    I firmly believe that when drugs are no longer an criminal issue and people are no longer afraid to engage with the police we will see a much warmer and more responsive bond appear between police and communities. there are after all 12 million + people in the UK who use drugs and have no wish to become involved with the police at any cost due to their alternate lifestyle choices.
    Say these 12 million people that use drugs have 3 friends or family member's each that don't use drugs but will not act against the family member that does will also be reluctant to get involved with the police for fear of criminalising said individual, so now you have 48 million people who wont engage on any basis with the police.

    Complain about this comment

  • 38. At 8:13pm on 24 Sep 2010, L A Odicean wrote:

    "...what causes harm in communities..."

    What causes drug abuse? Poverty, poor parenting and a miriad of intractable social problems. But if we accept that the underlying causes of drug abuse will only be removed over a very long period of time, it is important to deal in the short term with its consequences.

    Making drugs freely available from licensed suppliers (pharmacies etc) would end a lot of crime at a stroke. Gang warfare, petty theft, mugging and many other crimes currently associated with the supply of illegal drugs would disappear rapidly.

    The police should support such a policy.

    Complain about this comment

  • 39. At 8:35pm on 24 Sep 2010, Bertie wrote:

    Yet more legislation - well i suppose thats what mps are for - all 600 of them.
    Phsycological harm from antisocial behaviour - indeed, having been the subject of antisocial behaviour i can attest to its long term affects - the total lack of support from the police, the support from the council - well the man did his best - courageously so too - then being told i had to sort it - which i did, but had the police known i would have been arrested -
    The idea of a law - my efforts all boil down to one thing - the only way to stop antisocial behaviour is to make it unpleasant for those who cause it.

    Yet another law --- nope best way is to listen to those who know and try some of their ideas, we've got all the answers but as long as we stick to the path and do what weve allways done the problem will never be solved.

    Complain about this comment

  • 40. At 9:21pm on 24 Sep 2010, L A Odicean wrote:

    Poverty, poor parenting and a myriad of intractable social problems, including illiteracy, cause harm in communities.

    Complain about this comment

  • 41. At 09:48am on 28 Sep 2010, crash wrote:

    Instead of hiding behind the old excuses if the police really want to fight crime,they need to get rid of all the cameras and get out there and do some policing.
    Since when did being poor cause crime ?people make the excuse that they were poor is why they committed crime,your a thief if you steal a mars bar or a million it is still stealing.People need to stop hiding behind the poverty excuse.

    Complain about this comment

  • 42. At 3:55pm on 28 Sep 2010, WyomingPat wrote:

    Surely the freedom and rights of the individual need to be restored. These are yobs who try to bully people and are successful at it. Law abiding citizens can do nothing as their hands are tied. How about allowing law abiding citizens to carry the basic means of defence such as pepper spray etc. The yobs are already armed with knives etc and the concern that someone may come to the aid of an old lady being harassed may be enough to make them lay off.

    In many US states concealed carry laws allow licensed persons to carry hand guns. Although this is a small proportion of the population (8% where I live) a mugger does not know whether an armed citizen is going to come to the aid of his victim - we do not have ASBO's here and very little yobbishness.

    Complain about this comment

  • 43. At 10:16am on 30 Sep 2010, laptopden wrote:

    Our Police are not fit for purpose anymore. They have become infested with political correctness and managerialism. They need to be disbanded and reformed along Peelian principles.

    Complain about this comment

  • 44. At 10:57am on 01 Oct 2010, Framer wrote:

    The police have no ability to check their tendency to overdo things in areas that that are fashionable or news worthy.

    I instance the fact that there were over 50 police weapons staff at the Chelsea shooting as per recent inquest evidence.

    When they go abroad to interview witnesses there is always more than one officer travelling.

    And when police do patrol the streets why are they invariably talking to each other rather than looking round?

    Complain about this comment

  • 45. At 4:17pm on 01 Oct 2010, tacrepus wrote:

    Perhaps we should re-allocate some government spending towards re-taking the streets and towns of Britain, before we waste any more on the failed attempt to reclaim the streets of Iraq and the wastelands of Afghanistan.

    To say we can't afford the policing required to deal with both crime and anti-social behaviour (a euphemism for petty crime) is a joke when we seem to have no problem spending billions on fighting American oil wars in the Middle East.

    Complain about this comment

  • 46. At 12:50pm on 02 Oct 2010, McCrimmond wrote:

    What would you rather have children seen and not heard or children heard and not seen? I agree for the first time with any Tory, education is the answer, education on social values that is.

    All the PC brigade should hang their heads in shame, we need a harsher and more punitve approach from an early age, life inside is just to bloody cushy for these misfits and scum bags.

    They need locked up without televisions, play stations and cigarettes. Lock them up at least 100 miles away from their friends and families. Loss of liberty should be what it means, loss of all liberties..................

    Complain about this comment

  • 47. At 10:24am on 04 Oct 2010, ExpatDinosaur wrote:

    It is not really a question of draconian punishment for anti-social behaviour - it is more a question of taking it seriously at an early enough stage. "Nipping it in the bud" was the common term when I was young.

    Once children find they can get away with unacceptavble behaviour without any meaningful sanction then some will go on to push the boundaries and become a real menace to society.

    It would be my contention that any effort invested in reducing low level anti-social behaviour will provide greater returns in the reduction of crime and violence in the longer term.

    The only real difficulty in this is finding appropriate sanctions at an early enough age that are socially acceptable.

    Complain about this comment

  • 48. At 03:47am on 08 Oct 2010, acsc1966 wrote:

    How about a community court that the community itself oversees regarding this anti social behaviour. It could be held in the local council or community hall. Staffed by people from all ages 18 - as old as you want. Could be a volunteer thing, or some kind of stipend could be worked out. It could have a police presence for oversight. Have the local courts backing with strict rules and guidelines. Sentences could be community service, giving time to needed issues, making the offender go through some kind of sensitivity type classes. Have the local court backing to enforce the summons etc. it would address behavior that is not considered criminal but is a nuisance anyway. Oh and post the misbehaviour in a public place as in a "wall of shame".
    It used to be people wouldn't take misbehavior from youngsters and would tell them off or tell their parents, wherein there would be some sort of punishment at home. Now everyone is afraid to get involved or be harrassed.
    An example would be someone was being rude to OAPs and making them feel unsafe, so make the offender go to an OAP home and help out, or write an essay on what life was like for the person they were being rude to when they were young. Presenting this in a public forum would be great. Researching the past would give them new eyes to see with.
    If it is a young mother being bothered have the offender do her washing or get the shopping in for her or do some time in a state home with kids who have no families. Something to help out. If it is graffitti, then cleaning the walls and painting the mess, digging out ditches, sweeping the street, litter patrol in addition to any fines they may have.
    I know its very rudimentary and would not fit everyone but all the same the way to take back our communities from the local yahoos is to take back the resposibility as adults. Oh and always a letter of apology should be required.
    There are many ways to deal with people who are nuisances that don't need the full force of the law, but just in case the offender doesn't see the need to comply with the community court then you throw in the heavy hand of the full courts and have them dole out some kind of fine or some other detterent.
    I know its an "invasion of privacy" and an "violation of the yahoo's rights" etc, but some kind of common sense and decency has to be taught and instilled in quite a lot of people now a days. Since Empathy is on the demise world wide it seems it needs to be nursed back to health.
    A simple solution that would rebirth some common sense is the way to go.

    Complain about this comment

  • 49. At 8:50pm on 11 Oct 2010, Dave wrote:

    The Coalition seems determined to cut the number of police on the beat - so up goes crime - up goes insurance premiums - up goes criminal activity and enthusiasm for crime in a decaying and don't have society -down goes police morale

    Public opinion always wants more police on the beat - people will pay more to have a safer society - is this Government do dim and dumb that it does not understand that cutting the police and their ability to protect the community is not what the British people want. I want police officers in the community - I do not want bankers paid bonuses - I want their bonuses redistributed to police and other front line public services

    Complain about this comment

View these comments in RSS


Sign in

BBC navigation

BBC © 2014 The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites. Read more.

This page is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with style sheets (CSS) enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets (CSS) if you are able to do so.