What is antisocial behaviour?
Antisocial behaviour (ASB) can refer to a broad range of nuisance behaviour from criminal offences such as drug dealing, to poor behaviour such as being rowdy and dropping litter.
Although ASB is often categorised as a low priority by the police, it consistently ranks as an issue of high concern to the public, although levels of worry about ASB have fallen considerably over recent years.
Though the Government and its agencies do not have a good national understanding of the scale of ASB, a recent review from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) gave a first glimpse of the magnitude of the problem. This report tells us that there were 3.5 million incidents of ASB reported to the police in 2009/10, which suggests that ASB is on a similar scale to total police recorded crimes (4.3m in 2009/10).
Moreover, data from the British Crime Survey suggests that some types of ASB, like noisy neighbours and drunken rowdy behaviour, have a lower reporting rate than for crime overall (less than 30% for ASB versus 43% for crime overall), suggesting that the actual levels of ASB are in fact much higher.
What’s the problem?
ASB is a complex problem: the roots, manifestations and solutions are manifold. The first attempt to formally address the issue came in 1998 with the introduction of the Anti-Social Behaviour Order (ASBO). Since then, a range of tools have been introduced to help tackle the issue, such as Premise Closure Orders, Individual Support Orders, Dog Control Orders and Dispersal Orders to name a few.
Victim Support believes that the current response to ASB remains problematic:
Ineffectiveness: ASBOs were introduced over a decade ago as the first formal attempt to deal with the issue, but it has become clear that they do not always solve the problem. More than half of ASBOs are breached at least once and four in ten are breached more than once. Moreover, if an ASBO is breached, it is breached over four times on average.
Police attitudes: Though the definitions of ASB are vague and the boundaries between crime and ASB can be blurred, police forces have tended to treat ASB as low priority (or not their job at all). Changing the culture of the police to take ASB seriously is one of the biggest challenges in forging a new approach.
Understanding the problem: The poor police attitudes to ASB are in part reflected in the way the police monitor this type of activity. ASB is not recorded alongside police crime statistics, leaving the government with a poor understanding of the scale of the problem. In fact, the Home Office did some work trying to assess the effectiveness of ASB interventions but found that they couldn’t because the data simply wasn’t good enough and reporting and case management was poor.
Funding: ASB intervention programmes can stop the nuisance behaviour and support programmes can play a vital role in re-building the lives of those affected. However, there are great challenges ahead as local authorities are cutting ASB posts to deal with reduced budgets. Victim Support has over 40 locally funded ASB projects in 2010/11. This number has now halved, with many projects being lost despite high demand for this type of support.
What’s the solution?
The Government have acknowledged that the response to ASB needs significant improvement. In More effective responses to anti-social behaviour (February 2011), the crime prevention minister James Brokenshire announced a streamlining of ASB measures intended to bring about cheaper, faster ways to tackle ASB. This was followed by a public consultation earlier this year, the results of which are yet to be released. The suggested overhaul is intended to reduce bureaucracy and lower costs; encourage local, varied and informal responses and make partnerships more accountable. The new toolkit attempts to simplify eighteen existing measures into five. For details see the government’s consultation document.
Victim Support believes that there are several firm steps that can be taken to improve the government response to ASB:
No one should be left without help, protection and communication. Good support involves end to end case management, starting at the point of the initial report and only concluding when the case has been resolved to the satisfaction of the victim. The action of the police must be timely and respond appropriately to both the nature of the troubling behaviour and the victims’ needs. The proposed reform also requires local authorities to inform the complainant about the response within 14 days. However, we have serious concerns about the minimum threshold required to prompt a police investigation. The new rules guarantee a police response only after five separate members of the community have lodged a complaint, or three complaints have been put forward by the same individual. This is alarming, as any victim of crime should receive an adequate police response irrespective of the number of previous or parallel complaints. These thresholds are both arbitrary and potentially fatal.
All relevant agencies must work together to put an end to distressing behaviours and ensure that victims have the support they need. Victim Support has numerous local projects in place to encourage joined-up working and provided targeted support, such as our flagship project in Birmingham in which many agencies work together to ensure victims have get the support and solutions they need. Key to this approach is sharing data between agencies – which needs technology in place to facilitate sharing.
Data on ASB should be published alongside crime statistics. Agencies cannot properly resource and respond to their communities if they do not have a good understanding of the nature and scale of the issues within them.
Services need to be available to those that need them. Victims of ASB require a unique service, and these services in turn must be funded to meet this demand.
The Government are piloting a new approach to ASB in which eight police forces are shifting the emphasis from the perceived seriousness of the offence (usually low) to a ‘harm based’ approach which focuses on the harm caused to victims and communities. Though we welcome a renewed and increased focus on the needs of ASB victims, all victims of nuisance behaviour should be able to access the support they need irrespective of the perceived degree of harm caused.
 Crime and Disorder Act 1998: “acting in a manner that caused or was likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to one or more persons not of the same household.”
 Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary reviewed the police’s response to ASB, summarised in their 2010 report, Anti-social behaviour: Stop the rot.
 Note that recorded crime refers to incidents, whilst ASB figures reflect contacts – one incident may have numerous instances of contact.