Cash-strapped councils should take a greater lead on tackling anti-social behaviour instead of expecting police to solve the problem.
Devon and Cornwall’s police and crime commissioner Alison Hernandez told a panel that oversees her organisation this week that a crackdown on ASB would only be successful if councils and local police inspectors work together – but it’s for councils to lead the way.
She said a report from the government called ‘Out of Order’ says councils are failing to do that.
The panel was told that investment in neighbourhood policing teams is still a priority for the force, with 24 additional officers and 17 PCSOs being appointed who focus on anti-social behaviour and neighbourhood crimes.
A special operation on low-level crime called Operation Loki was said to provide a visible presence and tackle ASB and violence against women and girls. It has been carried out in areas of Torquay, Exeter, Barnstaple, Plymouth, Truro, Falmouth and Paignton.
During that time, police engaged with more than 27,000 people and ASB dropped in the target areas. Drugs, mainly cocaine and cannabis, were seized too.
The next step is to seek funding from a pot called ‘Safer Streets 5’ to pay for mobile (pop-up) police stations, training so police and partners can understand the difference between ASB and criminal activity, wider engagement with communities and stronger punishment for ASB. They may also pay for an ASB lawyer to try to secure prosecutions.
The panel heard that one council-led scheme working well is Looe where the local police inspector and businesses cooperate well. Anyone found shoplifting is banned from all shops, and people behaving anti-socially in pubs are banned from every pub in town. The town council is tackling drugs next.
But in Bideford, the absence of street marshals has been causing a problem.
Torridge District councillor Philip Hackett said Barnstaple was lucky enough to get Safer Streets funding to put such marshals in place which had resulted in ASB incidents in the town being cut by a third, but neighbouring Bideford had lost half of its PCSOs.
“We have a joint community safety partnership with North Devon and we used to have funds at our disposal for street marshals, but now we have to bid independently and we have lost out. We desperately need them.”
He said people had been urinating in the street in Bideford and Westward Ho! through the summer and the council has to find the culprits from CCTV images.
“How can we take more money from our councils to fund street marshals? We have a deficit and we are paying more for our police. Surely the money should come from policing not the councils. ASB is expanding and the resources are not being directed in the right place.”
Ms Hernandez said the effectiveness of Barnstaple’s street marshals hadn’t been evaluated, but she had been lobbied by North Devon MP Selaine Saxby to find funding for them. North Devon District Council has agreed to pay for a further six months whilst partnership funding is found.
“If they [street marshalls] are that good, the council should be prioritising its funding. Nothing is stopping the council funding that scheme to do it straight away rather taking it from policing ,” she told Cllr Hackett.
“We do not have have an answer at the moment, but there are a few things to consider through the budget process.”
There is a possibility that some of ASB funding, which had been used to tackle gangs of youths in Dartmouth and East Devon, for example, could go to street marshals, she said.
Schemes where ASB officers were trained under the community safety accreditation scheme and had powers usually only available to the police, such as issuing fixed penalty notices or confiscating alcohol, had worked best. Plymouth Against Retail Crime was one such scheme which is highly rated by local police.