Mark Rowe

PCCs on ASB? LOL

by Mark Rowe

A leaflet, Policing Budget Information 2024-25, in the name of the Derbyshire police and crime commissioner (PCC) Angelique Foster, that’s dropped through letterboxes in that county.

Twice – once on each side of the A4 piece of paper – this document in the PCC’s name states: “50 per cent reduction in anti-social behaviour’. It’s a large, hard to believe claim. If you step out, in Glossop, Ashbourne or Swadlincote, you will witness half the ASB, compared with previously (the comparison date that Foster gives, on the PCC website, is May 2021)?

She’s not the only one making such claims, though the halving is greater than many. Across Essex, ASB has fallen by 31 per cent in a year. Hampshire has seen a considerable fall, going by statistics covering April 2020 to March 2023 (although comparisons by year in that period are questionable, given that the first year saw covid lockdowns, when life largely indoors and socially distanced threw up different ASB – neighbours’ loud, annoying music – from the norm).

Let us define anti-social behaviour. Is it things that don’t pass the threshold as crimes, but nuisances that make the law-abiding alter their behaviour out of fear for their safety – feral youths climbing parish hall rooves and at the seaside jumping off piers, hanging around parks and outside convenience stores, so that we avoid using those amenities. Or, is ASB often a signal of the risk of, or a precursor of, crimes – youths loitering outside a shop or a car park at night lead the lone female to fear assault as she locks up and walks to her car? On-street drinkers, presumably, will later do on-street urination?

In fact, according to nation stats, Derbyshire is no better than average. To quote nationally:

Police recorded incidents show a fall in ASB since 2013 to 2014 from around 2.1 million to one million incidents (year ending September 2023 down 52pc). Police recorded incidents of ASB in the year ending September 2023 show a decrease of 8pc from the year ending September 2022.

If ASB is falling everywhere so much, what’s the problem?! To quote the Hampshire PCC Donna Jones only this month: “For too long, communities across Hampshire and the Isle of Wight have been blighted by anti-social behaviour. Residents, businesses and neighbourhoods continually tell me that ASB makes them feel unsafe.” Perhaps the people are wrong and not the official figures?! We should point out the world of difference between a fall in recorded incidents and what Foster as Derbyshire PCC baldly states; that the actual ASB has fallen.

For it’s so obvious as to barely need comment, that police can fiddle (a technical term) how they record and present figures. Or, to use the managerial jargon, police can go in for ‘demand management. If you’re made to hang on the 101 non-emergency line too long to report some low-level public disorder – littering, drug-taking and dealing in an alley (or not so discreetly), swearing on a bus, aggressive begging, someone riding a bicycle the wrong way down a bus lane (the last I saw last Friday in the centre of Shrewsbury) – if it’s too much trouble to report something, you give up. To be candid, if the authorities don’t hear about it, it doesn’t exist as a problem to them.

Seemingly contradicting the official figures, all the indications are that crimes are rising. All the convenience retailers in the Scottish Grocers’ Federation crime survey released this month agree that shoplifting has increased. Retail security and retail people alike (to quote only someone from the March print edition of Professional Security Magazine, Jason Towse, MD of the security side of Mitie, when speaking at a Fabian Society seminar in January) state theft – and accompanying violence – has gone up.

To stay with Derbyshire, Foster as PCC is hailing pilot schemes (in other words, not general) giving ‘fast’, ‘community payback’. This chimes with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s anti-social behaviour action plan, unveiled in March 2023, and fits in with his managerial approach to government. PCCs in the shires (all Conservative) have latched onto the PM’s ‘action plan’ (so much more dynamic-sounding than plain ‘plan’).

Trouble is, the extra patrols in ‘hot-spots’ while making for good publicity (handy, given the PCC elections are nearing, on May 2) are drops in the ocean. Similarly ‘payback’, while sounding wonderful, founders on reality. Rather than pay to keep criminals in prison, put them in high-vis, make them clear litter and fly-tipped waste, or clear weeds (why not fill pot-holes, while they’re at it?!), so they improve the place, and the community sees justice done and it’ll deter others? Trouble is, you can’t deploy such offenders unless toilets are available.

Here lies the country’s greater trouble. You cannot fix crime and ASB, without fixing what’s ailing schools, and hospitals, and the public realm. State schools can only take pupils for four days a week? On the fifth, where do the children go? Millions are on waiting lists for operations? They’re unable to work or can’t be as economically active as they’d like, so they earn less and pay less tax and the state has less to spend on public services.

In policing as in schools and the National Health Service, demand on public services way exceeds supply (hence ‘demand management’). In practice, police are relatively well placed. Parents will feel, in a word, parental, about their children’s life chances. If you are waiting for hospital treatment, you’re presumably too unwell to organise and join a demonstration. You pass graffiti on a wall, or the drinkers in the churchyard, shut the door on a door-to-door scammer, take your car to be washed where it’s £5 and takes four men 15 minutes – in other words, it’s impossible for those workers to earn even minimum wage? You leave it to someone else to report. Police drive past it all in cars all the time.

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