Is Britain behaving better?


Crime figures: Many believe the fall in homicides is down to better policing

Homicide down. Violence down. Anti-social behaviour down. It really does begin to look as though the country is behaving better.

In Scotland recorded crime is at its lowest level for 37 years.

In Northern Ireland it is the lowest since the late 90s - the last comparable data.

Today we got figures showing recorded crime in England and Wales is at its lowest level in 23 years.

People will refuse to believe it, of course. And I would agree that recorded crime stats are not the best measure of crime trends. (The Crime Survey for England and Wales is better and presents a largely stable picture after big falls since the mid 90s.)

But there is one recorded crime figure that is accepted as a good reference point: the homicide rate. In England and Wales, that is at its lowest level for 29 years.

Forensic investigation The number of killings reached a peak of nearly 1,000 a decade ago

You really cannot fiddle the homicide figures and the level of murder and manslaughter is likely to correlate with the level of violence in a society. The trend has been down for a decade. (GBH has also fallen significantly, incidentally.)

From murder at one end, there are interesting stats on "anti-social behaviour" at the other. In 2007/08 there were almost 3.9 million incidents of anti-social behaviour recorded by English and Welsh police. Last year it had fallen to 2.7 million - a 30% reduction in five years.

Concerns about ASB are not a bad measure of people's sense of the society around them - probably better than really serious crime since far more people are affected.

Today's crime data release describes the long-term trend in respect of ASB as "a prevailing decrease in the perceived level," although worries about noisy neighbours and drunk or rowdy behaviour remain relatively flat.

Nevertheless, the government is convinced that concerns about anti-social behaviour require new legislation and published a White Paper in May entitled Putting Victims First: More Effective Responses to Anti-Social Behaviour.

What struck me reading it is how the definition of anti-social behaviour has been expanding, evidence perhaps of changing attitudes on what we regard as acceptable.

It is clearly anti-social to hit someone or smash their windows. Is it also anti-social to be a bit annoying?

The Home Office website defines anti-social behaviour as "any aggressive, intimidating or destructive activity that damages or destroys another person's quality of life".

What is anti-social behaviour*?

  • Rowdy, noisy behaviour in otherwise quiet neighbourhoods
  • Night-time noise from houses or gardens, especially between 23:00 and 07:00
  • Threatening, drunken or "yobbish" behaviour
  • Vandalism, graffiti and fly-posting
  • Dealing or buying drugs on the street
  • Litter and fly-tipping rubbish
  • Aggressive begging
  • Drinking in the street
  • Setting off fireworks late at night
  • Abandoning cars on the street

*Applies to England and Wales

The White Paper offers a wider definition including "a range of nuisances, disorder and crimes which affects people's lives on a daily basis: from vandalism and graffiti; to drunk or rowdy behaviour in public; to intimidation and harassment."

Further down, the document has another go and describes ASB as "a broad term" used to describe "incidents that make many people's lives in this country a misery - from litter and vandalism, to public drunkenness or aggressive dogs, to noisy or abusive neighbours."

The word "nuisance" has crept into the definition, you will notice, and in a footnote the White Paper authors explain that when using the word "we refer to the dictionary, rather than a specific legal, definition of 'nuisance'. For example, we do not mean nuisance as defined in the Environmental Protection Act 1990."

The EPA, just to remind you, defines a Statutory Nuisance as needing "to pose a threat to health or to have a significant affect on another person. It must therefore be more than just an annoyance or irritation."

My Oxford English Dictionary, however, does define nuisance as "an annoyance" or "an obnoxious practice".

Today's crime figures use yet another definition of ASB - "a new set of three simplified categories," the first of which is "nuisance".

  • Nuisance - captures incidents where an act, condition, thing or person causes trouble, annoyance, irritation, inconvenience, offence or suffering to the local community in general rather than to individual victims.
  • Personal - captures incidents that are perceived as either deliberately targeted at an individual or group, or having an impact on an individual or group rather than the community at large.
  • Environmental - captures incidents where individuals and groups have an impact on their surroundings, including natural, built and social environments.

A pie-chart reveals that the bulk of concern (64%) is with the nuisance category.

Pie-chart showing categories of anti-social behaviour incidents 2011/12

So, from "aggressive, intimidating or destructive activity that damages or destroys another person's quality of life" we have broadened our definition to cover things that are a bit irritating.

I remember chatting to a community constable about ASB and she said that very often she would be called up to deal with kids who were allegedly being anti-social. On arriving, she would discover that the problem was that they were playing football or just standing around chatting.

So who was being anti-social? The children playing or the resident who repeatedly calls up the cops to try and prevent young people doing something entirely lawful?

As the White Paper says: "despite common perceptions, young people are just as likely as older people to identify ASB as a local problem".

Young people with hooded tops drinking in public place Asbos were introduced in 1998 under Tony Blair

The White Paper also accepts that much of what is described as ASB is criminal (vandalism, graffiti, dangerous dogs, street drug dealing and people being drunk and disorderly are already dealt with under the criminal law), but the government believes that civil powers should be available to give the police an alternative when, in the words of the White Paper, "it is difficult to prove that an offence had been committed".

This gets to the heart of the issue. Almost every activity that might be defined as "aggressive, intimidating or destructive activity that damages or destroys another person's quality of life" is already criminal. Some of the annoying stuff, the nuisance, the irritating things are either lawful or are hard to prosecute.

Politicians know the voters want "something to be done" but evidence published today by the University of Leeds shows that punishment is less effective than encouragement in getting people to behave well.

The new Crime Prevention Injunction to be used on individuals as young as 10 is sold as a streamlined ASBO. Breaches would constitute contempt of court and could result in custody. But the Leeds research raises concerns that the new tool "will lower the threshold of court-based intervention and disrupt existing preventative pre-ASBO work."

Perhaps we should be looking at why it is that, despite all the doom-mongers saying that it was "blindingly obvious" that crime would rise in a recession or that Britain was bound for hell in a handcart, there is so much evidence that behaviour is generally improving.

Mark Easton Article written by Mark Easton Mark Easton Home editor

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  • rate this

    Comment number 199.

  • rate this

    Comment number 198.

    Here in Manchester the BBC has decided that over 50% of the news stories should be crime indeed murder related. Six out of ten stories are about Crime

    It's all that happens here I suppose.

  • rate this

    Comment number 197.

    Many think the gunman was trying to imitate the Dark Knight's villain named Bane who wore a gas mask in the movie as gunman also wearing gas mask+ set off tear gas+guns shooting in movie happened same time when guy began shooting

    Clearly this is a guy obsessed with Dark Knight so much he became the villain in the movie

    People who went to the movie didn't realize they would be in it

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    Theres been a mass shooting at Dark Knight premiere in USA

    Batman has always been an uplifting, inspiring, positive movie franchise until this new-age 'Dark Knight' series which are dark twisted ugly+disturbed movies

    When last one came out there were many people dressing up like Joker with the warped painted smile causing violence

    Dark Knight series is evil+
    It doesnt represent Batman

  • rate this

    Comment number 195.

    There is a serious difference between punishment and discipline.

    Lower the bar and you get improved results with a worse situation.

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    192 - Again I will say it - since serious crime is declining so dramatically are you saying the state should hurry up and kill as many people as soon as possible otherwise the deterrent effect will be wasted?

    There have been enough miscarriages of justice & there are going to be an awful lot more now this government has utterly destroyed the forensic service

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    Some comment on the Tomlinson judgement would have been expected.

    How many times can a police officer break rules before being sacked or bought to justice? A serial offender can elude disciplinary action by leaving due to ill health then enlisting with a different force.

    Hard to have much confidence in the IPCC or any crime figures.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Britain had a much lower crime rate in 1960's before Liabor betrayed British public by abolishing the DP & 'going soft' on crime. Fact is - society chooses who dies - abolishing the DP meant more innocent victims as there is no deterrent effect in the UK & as acting as a magnet, especially for foreign criminals. I'm not interested in cheap political point scoring - only why still too many victims

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    I reported an act of malicious vandalism to my local police, they would not record it as a crime because the damage was reversible.

    When I complained to my MP & police authority it transpired the police had not logged the call at all, although I kicked up a fuss at the time and they had to resort to their phone recordings to back track.

    The recorded crimes are clearly being manipulated.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Perceived decrease in ASB - increasing immunity to it or despair re. over-whelming tide equating to worsening behaviour of society?
    'Perceived' is the key word.
    Prejudice is a nuisance, it's assumptions, causing false accusations.
    Good question re. who is doing the ASB - complainer or those complained about? Does complaining sometimes equate to bullying control-freakishness?

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    "as a society, we have choice as to who dies - innocent victims or apply DP to worst offenders & deter crime."

    Well since serious crime is in such decline, you'll have to really hurry or there won't be anyone left for the State to kill as a deterrent

    Perhaps then it should be a capital crime to 'be a bit of a tree hugging leftie' - that will keep the flow into the privatised gallows profitable

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Could the level of violence be down because people are staying locked within their homes away from it?

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    Still far too much crime in the UK - large part of the worst of it committed by foreigners with no right to even be in the UK. Crime studies have shown (Cambridge University et al) for USA, those states with the 'DP' have significantly lower offender rates with most of serious crime - as a society, we have choice as to who dies - innocent victims or apply DP to worst offenders & deter crime.

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    Lull before the storm, too many laws are numbing us, but it will come back with a vengance!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    "Although, I still maintain that we are a country of thugs..."

    We're certainly a country with newspapers written by incompetent thugs whose lips move while they think.

    Plenty here prefer to believe the dishonest rants in some awful papers to research and data which will be crawled all over by thousands of people for years to come

    Crime is falling here and all over the West. Sorry about that

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    This is welcome news. Although, I still maintain that we are a country of thugs...

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    Just shows there are lies, damn lies and statistics!

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Our public transport network, our national political zeitgeist, our licensing systems, our bankers are all annoying and inconvenient. Do I now have a frame work for recourse?

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    "177.David Lilley
    But a fairer remedy would be to say "congratulations on your pregnacy and we will put you on the council house list at the bottom and not the top."

    You are way out of date. Our council, and I have no reason to assume others are different, will not provide housing for single mothers - they are expected to live with a family member. If they are under 18 they will *have* to.

  • rate this

    Comment number 180.

    @178.Darren Dredge - Not entirely sure why your last comment was removed. It seemed reasonable enough to me. Bizarre


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