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We’re making progress, but antisocial behaviour still blights too many lives

When writing the Police and Police and Crime Plan which shapes Devon and Cornwall Police’s strategic direction I asked the public to tell me what issues in their communities really needed tackling.

We’re making progress, but antisocial behaviour still blights too many lives

I want to work on reducing the crime types experienced by rural communities

An incredible 97% of respondents to a survey run by my office said tackling antisocial behaviour (ASB) was either fairly or very important to them.

Because of this I made ASB a police and crime plan priority, and have been working on police and partners to crack down on it for the past three years. I am pleased to say that reports of ASB are reducing across the force area but, with more than 23,000 of reports to the police in the year to November (and many more cases unreported), there is no room for complacency.

It is always helpful when the Government is pulling in the same direction as police forces and for that reason I was pleased when the Prime Minister launched its ASB Action Plan earlier this year.

Much of this plan, and the approach taken by my office, is to encourage people to take pride of their communities, work with their neighbours to make communities safer and intervene earlier to divert people away from causing a nuisance with services like the ASB outreach workers I have commissioned.

But a zero-tolerance approach to the drugs which lie behind so many problems in our society must also be welcomed. It is for that reason I was delighted to see the ban on possession of nitrous oxide come into force last Wednesday (Nov 8).

Now possession of ‘laughing gas’ is illegal with repeat serious users facing up to two years in prison and dealers up to 14 years. 

The ban makes nitrous oxide a Class C drug controlled under the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. This means possession of nitrous oxide, where a person intends to wrongfully inhale it for a psychoactive effect – is now an offence. 

Consequences could include an unlimited fine, a visible community punishment, a caution – which would appear on their criminal record – and for repeat serious offenders, a prison sentence.

Reports have linked nitrous oxide to intimidating gatherings on high streets and in children’s parks. All too often those I speak to in our communities find empty canisters scattered across public spaces.

Heavy, regular abuse of the drug also poses significant health risks for users including anaemia and in more severe cases, nerve damage or paralysis.

Tragically nitrous oxide abuse has led to at least one death here in the South West.

Nitrous oxide has been identified as having potentially fatal consequences on the UK’s roads from incidents of drug driving. As creating safer roads is also one of my plan priorities I welcome this move by the Government.

The maximum sentence for production, supply importation or exportation of the drug for unlawful purposes has now doubled, from seven to 14 years’ imprisonment.

Licences will not be required to carry nitrous oxide, but individual users will need to demonstrate they are lawfully in possession of nitrous oxide and not intending to wrongfully inhale it.

I hope this legislation will send a clear signal to people, especially young people, that not only is abuse of nitrous oxide dangerous to their health, but it is also illegal and those caught possessing it will face consequences.

Another cause of ASB which came to light last week is fly-tipping. This illegal dumping of waste came out top in terms of issues experienced by respondents to a rural crime survey carried out by Police and Crime Commissioners from around the South West.

Fly-tipping is a crime which blights communities, poses a risk to public health and the environment, and costs up to £392 million a year. Local authorities dealt with 1.13 million fly-tipping incidents in 2020/21.

Progress is also being made on this, with the Government planning to end charges for disposing of household waste at municipal tips. It has also made available covert CCTV cameras to catch offenders in the act.

Of course, we all have a role to play in reducing ASB by making sure it is reported. If you are concerned about nitrous oxide use you can report this to your local council’s ASB team, their local neighbourhood policing team or Crimestoppers.

Flytipping should be reported to your district council (if in Devon) or Cornwall Council west of the Tamar. Because it is a criminal offence this too can be reported to Crimestoppers.

With the Government delivering the tools we need to deal with ASB, my investing in the right services and our communities giving us essential information I am sure we will start to feel a reduction in the types of behaviour which still blight too many lives.