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How antisocial behaviour creates the perfect environment for serious crime

In her latest blog Alison discusses Baroness Newlove's report into ASB and the work being done to tackle it in Devon and Cornwall.

Baroness Helen Newlove is someone who understands the impact serious crime has upon its victims. It was the tragic murder of her husband Garry that prompted her to become one of the country’s most prominent victims’ rights campaigners and then the UK’s Victims’ Commissioner.

For some the police’s finite resources should be focussed on the most serious of crimes, but she has argued eloquently that if antisocial behaviour is allowed to fester it leads to an environment where more serious offences will inevitably occur.

Garry had been trying to stop youths from vandalising his car when he was murdered by a gang who had terrorised what was an ordinary working neighbourhood in Warrington, Cheshire, with a campaign of graffiti, violence and intimidation that lasted for months before that fatal attack.

It is perhaps no surprise then that in her last report as Victims’ Commissioner Baroness Newlove focussed on antisocial behaviour and its link to serious offending. Depressingly in the 12 years since her husband’s death she found that nationally little had changed for the better.

She said she found it ‘infuriating’ when she heard anti-social behaviour described as ‘low level crime’, a description that illustrates how it is often treated as a series of isolated incidents when it can have a cumulative effect on victims. The report also criticised failures to make the public sufficiently aware of the ‘Community Trigger’ system that enables people to escalate antisocial behaviour complaints that the police, social landlords or local authorities have not dealt with effectively.

This is a stance that I wholeheartedly agree with – we must create a society that works together to stand up to those who would choose to blight others’ lives. Key to the report’s recommendations for solving the problems of antisocial behaviour is improved connectivity between the police, councils and other agencies – a principle that for the past three years has been at the heart of my Police and Crime Plan.

Happily though, locally we are making good progress in delivering a network of connected agencies across Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly that are focussed on common goals. In practice this means funding Community Safety Partnerships across the force area.

In Cornwall this has led to 10 ‘Safer Towns’ being established. The initiative brings together agencies like police, fire and local councils with local businesses and residents who work together to set action plans and a coherent approach to the issues that matter to people.  Cornwall Council led on their establishment and I was pleased to provide some seed funding for each of the new towns to help them take forward projects.  The Safer Towns are St Austell, Newquay, Truro, Penzance Falmouth, Bodmin, Camborne, Redruth, Liskeard and Saltash.  This year we want to see if we can help start something similar in Devon. 

The day that Baroness Newlove’s report – Anti-Social Behaviour: Living a Nightmare – was published my team were meeting the Safer Cornwall Partnership ahead of Safer Towns events in Penzance, Redruth and Camborne. Next month (June) we will be in Saltash, talking to residents about their concerns and providing reassurance that someone cares and we are focussed on helping.

The problems with antisocial behaviour in places like Penzance are far from resolved, but this scheme has created closer links between residents, the police and councils, so whether it is an issue about parking, littering or aggressive begging that people are concerned about, the Safety Partnerships are a very good place to start.

Through this partnership approach we have also been able to work with local authorities to jointly fund huge improvements to CCTV in towns across the sub-region. Not only do these systems deter criminals and provide evidence for police and the criminal justice system, they can also be used to build safer communities where vulnerable people, such as those with dementia, are less likely to come to harm.

By the end of the 2018-19 financial year my office contributed or committed to spending more than a quarter of a million pounds to support state-of-the-art CCTV roll out in communities across Devon and Cornwall.

The St Ives and Wadebridge schemes went live in August 2018. Schemes in Dartmouth, Stoke Village, Torquay, Tolvaddon, Bodmin, Penzance, Liskeard and Budleigh Salterton are due to come on stream imminently and my office is working with several local authorities to deliver more systems across the next 12 months.

I’d like to thank Helen Newlove for her tireless work to represent those innocent people whose lives have been blighted by crime of all types. We owe it to her, Garry and all of you to continue working to make our communities better connected and ultimately safer. 

More information on the Community Trigger system for Devon and Cornwall is available on my website at www.devonandcornwall-pcc.gov.uk/victims-information/community-trigger. You can report a crime by calling 101, email 101@dc.police.uk, use the police’s online reporting form or using web chat online at devon-cornwall.police.uk. If you have been a victim of crime you can receive free help and advice online via victimcaredevonandcornwall.org.uk or over the phone on 01392 475900. Information can be passed anonymously to Crimestoppers on 0800 555111 or via Crimestoppers-uk.org.