Police 'need to reclaim streets', police chief warns

How anti-social behaviour affected Chris Rose from Birmingham

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Police have given up on the street and are failing to take problems caused by anti-social behaviour as seriously as victims do, a police chief says.

About 45% (3.5m) of police calls relate to anti-social behaviour, but the Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Denis O'Connor said officers did not regard it as real crime and were slow to act.

He warned cutting spending on the issue would be "a very significant mistake".

Police chiefs say they are deeply aware of the impact of anti-social behaviour.

Home Secretary Theresa May said the report was a "damning indictment of Labour's failure to tackle anti-social behaviour" and the government was reviewing the tools the police needed to deal with anti-social behaviour because Asbos were "clearly not working".

Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson said the report was tremendously important but defended the last government, saying it was the first government to introduce a whole range of powers to tackle anti-social behaviour.

'Feet on the street'

The chief inspector made his comments as a a wide-ranging review of how well forces tackle anti-social behaviour in England and Wales, backed up by a survey of more than 5,600 people was released.

Sir Denis told the BBC Radio 4's Today programme it was time to "reclaim some neighbourhoods".

He said he wanted "feet on the street" and warned chief constables to think carefully about coming cuts, saying if they led police to neglect the problem it could tip some areas into a spiral of economic and social decline.

Theresa May: "We need to get police officers back on the street"

"Confronted by spending cuts, some police chiefs and community safety partnership members may be tempted to reduce the amount of work they do in relation to ASB and to concentrate instead upon volume crime."

He told the BBC Breakfast programme that police had "retreated from the streets" since the 1970s and police availability should be the last thing to be cut.

Tackling anti-social behaviour "really mattered to the public" and early intervention was key, he added, and if anti-social behaviour is caught early, in 50% of cases there will not be a repeat occurrence.

"This is the precursor to crime - stop this, and a lot of other things will happen," he said.

Sir Denis's report said that although all 43 forces said that anti-social behaviour was a priority, the police response was extremely patchy because officers treated the incidents differently to recordable crimes.

Sir Denis said: "The public do not distinguish between anti-social behaviour and crime. For them, it's just a sliding scale of grief".

Top 10 anti-social behaviour offences

  • Street drinking/drunken behaviour/under-age drinking/youths drinking - 30%
  • Youths/teenagers/groups/ gangs loitering on the streets - 29%
  • Vandalism/graffiti - 25%
  • Rowdy or inconsiderate behaviour - 23%
  • Noise/loud music - 21%
  • Using/dealing drugs - 13%
  • Intimidation/threats/ harassment - 11%
  • Verbal abuse/abusive behaviour - 11%
  • Assault/violence/ fighting - 10%
  • Nuisance neighbours - 10%

Source: Ipsos MORI

Note: % is out of the 5,699 people surveyed about anti-social behaviour in their local area over the last 12 months

'Focus on harm'

Nine out of 10 people questioned in the survey told Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) the police were responsible for dealing with anti-social behaviour.

More than a third of those who had experienced problems had changed their routines, such as staying in at night and avoiding public places.

Three out of 10 people said they had experienced intimidation after standing up to bullies - rising to more than four out of 10 where the victim was disabled.

But Sir Denis's report said only 13 of the forces in England and Wales had systems in place to identify quickly the calls from victims most in need of support.

The HMIC said that police should focus on reducing harm caused to communities rather than simply trying to increase the number of crimes they were solving on paper. Sir Denis said this call to focus on harm was supported by fresh academic research by Cardiff University.

It suggests more police resources devoted to anti-social behaviour would mean communities would be more mobilised to reclaim their streets.

The HMIC report develops previous criticisms made by Sir Denis who has repeatedly called on forces to rethink how they do their job. Earlier in the summer, he said that only 11% of officers were available at any one time to respond to calls.

Ms May said victims had been let down, and tackling anti-social behaviour would now be a government "core business" despite the tough financial climate.

Sir Denis O'Connor: "Parts of town centres are now being left in the evening as surrendered territory"

"The government will ensure the right tools and powers are available to crack down fast on perpetrators and our plans to make police more accountable through elected Police and Crime Commissioners will put communities at the heart of the solution," she said.

The government would encourage more police presence on the streets by cutting down on their paperwork, she added.

Speaking for the Association of Chief Police Officers, Assistant Chief Constable Simon Edens said they were acutely aware of the devastating impact anti-social behaviour.

"What this report highlights is that where there is police action, victim satisfaction in the police response to anti-social behaviour is high," he said.

"Modern policing has to meet a hugely complex range of challenges. Anti-social behaviour is not a matter for the police to tackle alone, and the service supports the government's approach to encouraging greater personal and community involvement in neighbourhoods."

A graphic showing that most people believe the police should be responsible for dealing with anti-social behaviour.

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