I think part of the problem is that because the wide range of behaviour that could be classified as antisocial isn’t always criminal, so who deals with the perpetrator depends on what exactly has happened. For example, using threatening or abusive language is a police matter, while dog fouling and nuisance bonfires fall firmly into council territory.
This can create confusion on who victims should call upon for help, sometimes giving the impression that dealing with antisocial behaviour is not really at the top of anyone’s agenda, and that no one really thinks it is that important. In Devon, Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. I want to change that narrative because I know far too many people are plagued by a nuisance neighbour or live in fear of a gang in their town or village.
And the impacts of antisocial behaviour can be severe.
Victims’ mental health can be affected, their confidence can suffer and in the worst cases, when no one seems to care or help, things can escalate to a point where serious crimes are committed or, as in the most tragic cases, victims are driven to take their own lives.
Anyone who doubts the severity of antisocial behaviour on people’s lives should read about the tragic case of Leicestershire mum Fiona Pilkington, who took her life, and that of her learning-disabled daughter, after suffering from years of abuse. There are cautionary lessons to be learned from such cases for authorities who fail to notice a pattern of escalating abuse.
We know that although we live in a safe part of the world we have a problem with antisocial behaviour. Of a range of issues and crime types mentioned in my 2021/22 budget survey ASB emerged as the top priority, with half of respondents (49.6%) saying it was something they most wanted tackling.
We’ve also witnessed an alarming rise in incidents, probably related to the effect of lockdowns and stress from the coronavirus pandemic. In 2020/21 Devon and Cornwall Police saw a 31% increase in complaints about rowdy neighbours when compared with the previous 12 months, malicious or nuisance communication reports increased by 45% and reports involving fireworks were up by 22%.
In response to the publication of my Police and Crime Plan 2021-22 Devon and Cornwall Police has pulled together a new antisocial behaviour strategy. Its focus is on a preventative approach, working with people at a neighbourhood level and partners to intervene and help sort out issues before they escalate.
There is some excellent work going on in this space right now. In Truro city centre, for example, where the police and Cornwall Council receive multiple complaints, police are working with Cornwall Council’s antisocial behaviour team on a robust programme of engagement and enforcement. The team visit businesses and let residents know what action they and the neighbourhood police officers are taking on their behalf. But this good service is not universal.
In the next few weeks and months you can expect to see a much clearer response from the police relating to antisocial behaviour. The officer uplift means new cohorts of officers are joining neighbourhood teams all the time, aiding police visibility, and safer streets funding is assisting police.
I am also pleased to be hosting a day of online discussions this Friday as to how we tackle antisocial behaviour together, closing a week of talks hosted by the Safer Plymouth Partnership, one of Devon and Cornwall’s community safety partnerships (these groups have the shared goals of reducing crime, antisocial behaviour and alcohol and drug misuse).
Attendees will hear from a range of experts including the country’s Victims Commissioner, Dame Vera Baird DBE QC, and Harvinder Saimbhi, chief executive officer of the charity ASB Help, which provides advice and guidance for victims. A number of organisations will be signing a pledge to promote the community trigger, a case review designed to make it easier for people affected by antisocial behaviour to get the support they need and to be listened to.
The talks promise to be hugely informative but for our communities the time has come to put these words into action.
One of the problems people find with antisocial behaviour is knowing who to contact when you’ve experienced it or see something like verbal abuse taking place. So to be clear, for issues like noise nuisance, fly tipping, parking issues (non obstructive), littering, dog fouling highways issues and animal welfare it should be your local authority. To report crimes, unless there’s an emergency, use the police 101 WebChat or phone contact service. There are occasions of antisocial behaviour, for example, if you think a situation is escalating to the point where someone is in danger, to call 999 and get an emergency response from police. Alternatively, to stay 100% anonymous, contact the independent charity Crimestoppers online at Crimestoppers-uk.org or call Freephone 0800 555 111.
Victims of Crime can get free expert advice 24 hours a day from Victim Support on 08 08 16 89 111 or via victimsupport.org.uk.