Not so long ago I was walking home with my partner just after 11 p.m. one Friday from a pleasant visit to the cinema in a well-off medium sized UK city that shall remain nameless, although my experience will be recognised by readers across these British Isles.

The main drag is a wide and even architecturally distinguished street and was busy with mainly young people out for the evening.

In sequence  as it happened we

  • had to step round a mixed male-female group probably in their 20s engaged in a loud and apparently alcohol-fuelled conversation where the adjective “fucking” (sorry, but if I hear this frequently in the streets at all hours why shouldn’t you have to face it in the privacy of your own web browser?) floated out above the general hubbub
  • swerved to avoid a splash of vomit by a shop door
  • ditto a broken bottle next to (not in) a waste bin
  • got bumped by a youth proceeding in a stagger with his pals along the pavement (“Sorry love” he called over his shoulder to my slightly shaken partner)
  • passed a small group of uneasy looking pensioners waiting in a bus shelter trying to appear inconspicuous , and
  • spotted a middle-aged man urinating against a wall in a side street.

That probably not untypical experience came to mind when I read a report published today by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary called Antisocial Behaviour – stop the rot.

My experience was trivial compared with some of the behaviour that the report rightly calls this blight on people’s lives.

The main thrust is that the police response to this sort of stuff, already mixed at best, is what gets cut in hard times but mustn’t be.

Coming at it (obviously) from a police perspective the report identifies three things that work:

  1. briefings on anti-social behaviour for all staff likely to deal with the issue (including neighbourhood, response and CID officers)
  2. tacking what is happening locally using data and intelligence
  3. problem-solving capacity in neighbourhood policing teams.

And it says two things tend not to work:

  1. graded police response systems that prioritise calls for attendance or non-attendance
  2. lengthy partnership processes.

There’s an interesting diagram in the report showing the relationship between harm and frequency of different sorts of anti-social behaviour (you may need to click on it to read the small print).

Just think of the partnership aspects of some of these.  Apart from the police they can involve

  • intimidation – registered social landlords (RSLs)
  • race hate – local authority, RSLs (again), Equalities and Human Rights Commission
  • noisy neighbour – local authority: environmental health, social services
  • drunk – licensing board, NHS, ambulance service
  • teens – education service, social services
  • vandalism and litter – local authority: environmental services
  • abandoned vehicles – Highways Agency, local authority: transportation, environmental services.

The list is partial.  And all of course potentially involve other players in the criminal justice system.

The report says there are some worrying indications that some partnerships are much less effective than accepted wisdom would have it citing:

  • significantly variable standards of service, with some delivering only marginal benefits
  • some are focussed on working together, not working for the public
  • some focus on strategy rather than delivery
  • many interventions take significant amounts of time to be delivered
  • an escalation of interventions, coupled with a culture of meetings, means that some problems are not gripped and as a result victimisation continues
  • the focus in many is on the strategy and process rather than the victim’s experience
  • there is little in the way of testing the value for money in approaches undertaken.

HMIC inevitably link this to community safety partnerships but to this old hand all these characteristics ring true of much partnership working across the public sector.

The report concludes that there are two alternative approaches to this blight.  One it characterises as damage limitation, which would include better partnerhip working.

The other it describes as

an early intervention strategy, similar to those in health and education sectors. It will require reform of police availability and a refocusing on what causes harm in communities, rather than what is or is not a “crime”, or what can be managed out of police systems.

To me that sounds like a need for even more effective partnership working, and not only across the public sector – not to mention trying to get to the root causes of the various behaviours.  Big society and localism, here we come.

Footnote: quote from Sir Denis O’Connor chief inspector of constabulary on BBC TV today – “Parts of town centres are now being left in the evening as surrendered territory”