Yobs allowedto run free as police 'retreatfrom streets'

Mark Casci

POLICE forces are not tackling anti-social behaviour as a crime and many officers do not consider it to be “real police work”, one of the country’s top officers said yesterday.

The statement from the UK’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary came as part of a report showing more than 26 incidents of anti-social behaviour (ASB) take place every minute, with South Yorkshire being named as one of the seven areas experiencing the highest levels in the country.

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The statistics reveal that as many as one in three people who complain experience repercussions as a result, a figure which rises if the victim is disabled.

Sir Denis O’Connor said anti-social behaviour “does not have the same status as “crime” for the police” and claimed officers had been “retreating from the streets” since the 1970s.

He said this absence of officers had “undermined their connection with the public, and allowed some of these things to gather momentum”.

The claims are made in the Anti-Social Behavioural Inspection Report from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC), the most far-ranging of its kind yet, which also showed West Yorkshire experiences high levels of anti-social behaviour complaints, Humberside Police receive moderate levels and North Yorkshire had slightly lower than average levels.

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The figures are published in the same week that 19-year-old Kial Cottingham was sent to a young offender institution after he persistently harassed a 64-year-old man with severe learning difficulties up to the day of his death. David Askew collapsed after confronting youths in his garden in Hattersley, Greater Manchester, in March this year and died shortly after.

Sir Denis said forces across the country needed to recognise that in nine out of 10 cases, police were the first authority that the public turn to when suffering anti-social behaviour and a new approach was needed “to restore civility to public spaces”.

He added: “The public do not distinguish between anti-social behaviour and crime. For them, it’s just a sliding scale of grief.”

Only a quarter of incidents of anti-social behaviour, about 3.5 million, were reported and communities were “becoming used to things we should not have become used to”, he said.

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He said there had been a “degree of normalisation” around anti-social behaviour which should not be accepted.

HMIC said South Yorkshire Police was considering information about repeat and vulnerable victims, as well as anti-social hot spots to decide where resources should be allocated but that this was done “neither consistently nor sufficiently across the whole force”.

West Yorkshire is said to have acknowledged that it needed to make tackling anti-social behaviour a routine part of response officers’ work but the report said only one of its local policing areas was focusing on repeat or vulnerable victims.

In Humberside HMIC praised the force’s work in rural areas and highlighted the effective use of Pub Watch, Shop Watch and Farm Watch schemes around the region but warned: “The service the force provides to repeat and vulnerable anti-social behavioural victims is an area for improvement.”

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Home Secretary Theresa May, who signalled the end of the anti-social behaviour order earlier this year, said: “The public are rightly concerned about levels of ASB and police and other local agencies must work together to tackle it.

“Even in a tough financial climate, tackling ASB must be core business.”

Assistant chief constable Simon Edens, the lead on anti-social behaviour for the Association of Chief Police Officers, said: “Chief officers are acutely aware of the devastating impact anti-social behaviour can have in neighbourhoods, particularly where repeat and vulnerable victims are involved.

“We will continue to work tirelessly to improve our response.”

Comment: Page 12.