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Thursday, October 28, 2004

Anti-social behaviour

At the same time as the Government nominates the three Welsh cities as "action areas" in the latest crackdown on anti-social behaviour a second Chief Constable warns against an over-reliance on Anti-Social Behaviour Orders.

In pursuing this agenda the Government is determined to act and look tough in the hope of harvesting popularist votes at the next General Election. Anybody who questions their stance is branded as 'soft on yobs' and castigated in leaflets and the press. However, there must come a time when this gungho approach is actually evaluated to see if it is working and when the views of those who form the front line in the battle against lawlessness, the police, are listened to.

The verdict of residents in Wildmill, Bridgend, where an 'action area' has been in force for a year now, is particularly telling. This is from the BBC article:

The Wildmill estate in Bridgend is one area which has been running the scheme for a year. Many of the windows in homes there are boarded-up and there is glass on the streets where windows or telephone boxes have been smashed.

Local shop worker Ali has been there for eight months and thinks things have got worse, not better.

"From time to time we get some trouble, people stealing from the shop and problems outside.

"People drink and they leave rubbish on the floor. There is no respect to the customer, no respect to the business," he said.

Across the road, a local chip shop owner agreed there were big problems on the estate.

"It really annoys me. The damage I have seen is the phone boxes, the windows being smashed.

"Kids are going to come and play. They are going to fall down get injured."

The article continues:

A local resident, who did not want to be named, added: "I don't think there is anything being done about the anti-social behaviour.

"The kids totally destroyed all my flat. They graffitied it. There hasn't been a difference, no difference at all."

Another said: "You can see it's a mess. There is glass everywhere.

"Kids from as young as four years to 16 or 17 are lighting fires.

"The Asbos are not working.

"David Blunkett may be saying in interviews that these Asbos are working and everything's going well, but I haven't seen any evidence of that whatsoever."

The Chief Constable of South Wales in her evidence to the Welsh affairs Select Committee yesterday said ASBOs should only be viewed as a weapon of last resort and she detailed South Wales' model five-stage approach to tackling bad behaviour. Previously, the Chief Constable of Dyfed-Powys had asserted that excessive use of ASBOs risked unfairly targeting youngsters for acting like children. Both Chief Constables agreed that there is a real danger of "demonising" the young in the anti-social behaviour crackdown.

I think that there is a real danger in this debate that dogmatism and rhetoric will triumph over what actually works. There is another angle here as well. If you talk to a police officer involved in this issue they will acknowledge that anti-social behaviour is a major part of their workload. However, they will also tell you that often they seek to move kids on but that all they are doing is transferring the problem elsewhere. Kids have nowhere to go at night and at weekends.

If the Government were combining their drive against anti-social behaviour with a massive investment in community facilities that would take youngsters off the streets then I would have a great deal more respect for their policy. However, this is not happening. Over-reliance on the big stick will not work alone.

There are many examples of how positive action can help a community that is suffering from anti-social behaviour not least the KPC Youth Centre in Pyle, Bridgend. Why then are the Government not taking this best practise and rolling it out across the Country? Let us have some real investment in our communities to complement the anti-social behaviour initiatives already in force.

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