What councillors can do about anti-social behaviour - Group Leader's Comment - 27 July 2018

This bulletin draws together for you four recent events on keeping safe and dealing with crime and anti-social behaviour.

You may find the information useful or turn it into a locally relevant press release of your own.

An increasing number of our towns and cities have areas labelled “zombie capital” and even police “no-go” areas. As local residents and councillors, many of us will know how hard these problems can be to resolve. How good is the response to your calls? How effective is your Community Safety Partnership at driving action by councils, police and the NHS working together with the community, and are you on it? Is it also on your scrutiny committee agendas? 

How well do you know what powers to instigate?

We have powers, and the question is whether we call on them correctly. At our Independent Group information and development seminar this month, Daryl Edmunds, on behalf of London ASB, gave a superb run-down of which powers to use, selected from a substantial toolbox. For persistent, harmful anti-social behaviour where you need a stronger response, you as a councillor can press a “Community Trigger”, requiring the agencies to jointly respond. If it is a low-level resolution, then the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) must consult you and other community representatives as to what should be in a Community Remedy. But for this, the person must admit the offence, often after a caution.

There is a range of further possible early interventions including acceptable behaviour contracts, parenting contracts, mediation and counselling, often used together. Your council can get a court injunction, based only on the “balance of probabilities” that the person was guilty of causing the nuisance. A breach, however, would need to be proved beyond reasonable doubt and can lead to jail or an unlimited fine.

There are “criminal behaviour orders” for people who have already been convicted once, likely-looking perpetrators can be required to leave for 48 hours under police dispersal powers. Councils can stop a behaviour which spoils the community’s quality of life under a Community Protection Notice. These powers do have some teeth as failure to comply is a criminal offence which results in a substantial fine or prison.

Thanks to Cllr Graham Williamson from Havering and Cllr Mike Bush of Tendring who shared good examples of a Crime and Safety Delivery Plan and a Tenant ASB Strategy, linked below.

Josie Appleton from the Manifesto Club made the case that the distinction between harmful and just unwanted behaviour was not clear-cut enough, and the council powers were too easily applied. We agreed that these powers must be used appropriately with care not to besmirch innocent people by mistake, nor be unduly heavy-handed. However, members present felt that these problems needed tackling seriously to get the improvements we need for our communities, catching perpetrators as early as possible. To help improve the causes, not just the symptoms, a whole person approach is needed, including the drug and alcohol teams, mental health and housing. 

Neighbourhood policing

According to the Home Office, serious crime, thefts, cybercrime and terrorism are on the increase. We were told there are around 20,000 “risk” individuals below the radar in addition to those tracked. Much of the serious crime is fuelled by drugs, and is moving outwards from London to areas where there is less policing. Neighbourhood policing is responsive and popular as it gets “under the skin” of the community to identify causes of crime. 

What is happening to neighbourhood policing in your area? The LGA is seeking local evidence from you. I questioned our PCC this week on his stated commitment to neighbourhood policing, whilst he allowed the numbers of police and community support officers to fall from 280 to 118. Police officer numbers have also fallen by over a 100 in the past two years. It seems PCSOs do not have the same job security as police officers, so a shrinking police force will tend to shed PCSO positions in preference, despite their well-recognised value for money. 

Of particular concern is the proportion of time that police need to spend training, and this is likely to increase dramatically if the College of Policing continues to insist that all personnel must reach degree standard. There is also an increasing regionalisation of services to reduce costs, but it remains important for each PCC to keep a local focus and not allow their meagre resources to be disproportionately used elsewhere. A useful saving has been to combine the blue light service headquarters on to one site.

The LGA welcomes the PCCs into membership and has a particular package on offer. As you know, there is legal provision for PCCs to take over the fire service from councils and run both services, as in Essex. 

Local emergency plans

All councils have a joint command structure, extended in some counties. Here local councillors are at the heart of creating “Local Resilience Plans” and creating local emergency plans for each village or town, which usefully bring together knowledge and expertise to be prepared. 

Slides from recent talks

LGA Police and Crime Panels Workshop: 11 July 2018

Get involved

Applications are now open for the LGA NextGen Programme and the Leadership Academy. I would encourage you to apply for places. Many of our members have gained a lot from the programmes on offer and have found them very beneficial to their work.

We run information and development seminars monthly throughout the municipal year. Keep track of what’s coming up on the Independent Group website.

We are also running a series of regional meetings throughout the autumn and we would love to see you there. Find out the details of your regional meeting.