Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Anti-social behaviour? The birth of a new bureaucratic empire...


I'm finding the term "anti-social behaviour" - or ASB - increasingly worrying. While the authorities deny that the purpose of the term (one of those mealy-mouthed, third way Blairite catch-all ideas) is to criminalise behaviour that is not actually criminal this is precisely what seems to happen.

This evening, Bradford's Corporate Scrutiny Committee received a report - an update I believe it was termed - on our "response to anti-social behaviour". Note the careful language here - we noted how this 'response' is improving, mostly by the application of a huge variety of impenetrable phrases and incomprehensible acronyms. The gist of all this was that we should be congratulating ourselves on a job well done!

Bradford - like other places - has an ASBU. This is not, I discovered, a mispelled ASBO, but a bunch of coppers - an Inspector, a Sergeant and a "researcher" - who mastermind the campaign against 'anti-social behaviour'. I'm guessing that, with all the on-costs, accommodation, vehicles, support, cost recovery and such, this ASBU costs about £250,000. Now we should note that other areas (Leeds, Wakefield, Calderdale, Kirklees) also have ASBUs - bigger ones too - we have perhaps getting on for £2 million spent on coppers in offices processing anti-social behaviour cases. That's £2 million that isn't spent on coppers tramping the streets of West Yorkshire nipping the actual anti-social behaviour in the bud.

But we were told it was 'essential' because NPTs (get with the jargon folks) didn't prosecute ASB cases as they were complicated. Now, given that the CPS do the prosecuting, surely all the copper does in collect the evidence, complete the paperwork and hand it over to a government lawyer? Why exactly does this need another stage - clever coppers in an office with a "researcher"? Seems like a candidate for savings there!

The ASB process starts with police officers (or possibly PCSOs) speaking to those causing the bother - most usually young people who've got a bit bored and a bit noisy in a public place. Quite often that's sufficient to sort out the problem but, on occasion, there are some of the youngsters who decide to carry on. So the coppers write letters to parents - ending up with a 'red letter' which is the immediate precursor to what was an ASBO. Again, most of the time, in most places, these letters work.

At no point in this process do I see any role for the ASBU. All beat coppers know the drill - it's part of the stock-in-trade of NPTs - and don't need a special unit to apply the rules. And if more serious stuff - like actual criminal activity - is taking place, the beat copper always has the handy option of actually arresting the offending individual. Again the existence or otherwise of an ASBU seems wholly irrelevant - indeed something of an expensive luxury in these times of financial stress.

In my day-to-day experience as a Councillor, I meet police officers who do a good job, who seem to care about the place they're policing and who are as frustrated at the bureaucracy as the rest of us. But when I look at the police as a whole I see a largely unaccountable, badly managed, indulgent and rather expensive service. It's not just the millions on helicopters and the fancy cars for top coppers but the special units here and there doing little except pushing paper (let's call it "research") or attending meetings. And the meetings are held with similar officers in the council (supporting CSPs since you asked), the probation service, the NHS and any other bits of the public sector that come into sight.

We have more police officers than ever but, it seems, less actual policing. And we have a new empire of ASB - generating strategies, action plans, reviews, reports and workplans. Doubtless there are training programmes, conferences, core strategy groups and workshops - all supported by people with masters degrees in ASB Management.

Rather than this soup of nonsense, we should simply allow those beat coppers - the NPTs - to get on with doing their job. And perhaps use the money to put a few more of those coppers in sturdy boots rather than in snug leatherette swivel chairs sat in air conditioned offices.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I suppose the new Police & Crime Commissioner, once he or she is elected, will need to attend all the training programmes, conferences, core strategy groups and workshops too.
Better order in some extra biscuits.