Street fight winners
Five councils are up for an award recognising their innovation in tackling anti-social behaviour. Anita Pati takes a look at their tricks of the trade
Anti-social behaviour can take many forms, each requiring a different solution. It’s not always easy to know where to begin. Luckily, five English councils and their partners are showing the way. Each has gained a stranglehold on anti-social behaviour in their area by using inventive counter methods to tackle ASB.
Now their forward thinking has been recognised by the brand new Local Innovation Awards, previously known as the Beacon scheme and backed by the Local Government Association and Communities and Local Government department. All five partnerships make the shortlist for the awards, which recognise public sector excellence and aim to spread best practice. The winners will be announced in March. In the meantime, we preview the hot contenders.
Tower Hamlets Council
Street theatre project, 2009-present
Why it’s innovative It encouraged ASB reporting through street theatre.
Key stats Robberies in the borough in the past year fell from 33.4 to 25.5 per 1,000 people, part of which the council attributes to its ASB strategy.
Lesson learned Novel means of communication can engage citizens in tackling ASB.
Tower Hamlets Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnership uses unusual methods of communication to get its messages across to local people. Last year, the east London borough hired a local theatre company to stage nine-minute performances at some of the area’s busiest market places on two consecutive Saturdays. The acts used rap and poetry to explore selfish behaviour, with council and local housing association officers on hand to discuss the issues raised.
‘We had an older white guy and this younger black guy and they did this street poetry in a variety of different locations, from supermarkets, near libraries and in squares,’ says Emily Fieran-Reed, partnership manager at Tower Hamlets’ community safety service.
‘The older man is saying, “those young people with all their music” and the younger guy is saying, “older people don’t respect me”. At the end, they come to an understanding of each other’s behaviour.’
The plays were staged at times of the day when reporting to the council’s anti-social behaviour hotline was normally at its lowest to encourage citizens to call the number. Partners at the events included housing officers from local housing association Poplar Harca.
More than 400 people stopped to watch the performances and chat to the officers. Some 350 leaflets were handed out and 25 reports of anti-social behaviour were taken - a figure the council says is ‘significantly higher’ than reporting at conventional events.
Project Exodus, 2007-present
Why it’s innovative: It has quelled young, drunken behaviour by using a town-wide partnership.
Key stats All crime in Newquay fell by 17.3 per cent in 2008/09 compared with the previous year, contributing to a 5 per cent fall across Cornwall.
Lesson learned Local businesses can work with police and social services to keep ASB to a minimum.
In Cornwall’s Crime Disorder and Reduction Partnership, the local council, police, youth service, nightclubs and accommodation providers have banded together as Project Exodus to offer safe leisure pursuits for 16 to 17 year olds, including alcohol-free club nights and controlled public transport.
The project was set up to tackle an influx into Newquay of 16 and 17-year-olds celebrating the end of their exams, who were getting drunk and causing havoc for the locals. Meanwhile licensing laws were being flouted as shops continued to sell alcohol to underage drinkers.
Project Exodus began in 2007, says Rob Andrew, the council’s localism manager for mid-Cornwall. ‘We work with the campsites [where the young people stay] and have detached youth workers there,’ he explains. The team, whose size varies depending on the number of people out, has set up transport to ferry youngsters between the sites and the town centre in the evenings so that they don’t disturb residents en route. The partnership also employs around four ‘night marshalls’, who shepherd young people back to their accommodation between midnight and 4am.
Dave Sleeman, chair of the Newquay Town Residents’ Association, says the situation had been intolerable for residents who, ‘suffered with noise, drunkenness, anti-social behaviour and vandalism every night of the week until five in the morning [which] has caused sleep deprivation for all who live in residential roads within the town, pavements covered with blood and vomit, urination in doorways and private gardens, and the littering of our streets’.
Mr Sleeman says that the partnership’s crackdown on the alcohol-sellers who were breaking the drink licensing laws has meant that ‘the residents of the town are at last beginning to see the results of the actions being taken and are confident that there will be much improvement in the summer of 2010’.
Operation Staysafe (part of Operation Safe for All), 2008-present
Why it’s innovative: One of the first councils to use legislation to physically remove vulnerable or disruptive people from the streets.
Key stats A 4.9 per cent drop in youth violence between 2007/08 and 2008/09. Knife crime has plummeted by 17 per cent.
Lesson learned Being firm but fair - using both legislation and support - is an effective means of tackling ASB directly on the street.
Operation Safe for All, part of the Safer Croydon Partnership, was set up in response to a spate of stabbings and murders in Croydon in the summer of 2008. Andy Opie, acting head of community safety at Croydon Council, says that Operation Staysafe has been one of its most successful elements.
‘When this first came out, it was a new way of dealing with ASB, directly removing young people from the street,’ he says. Backed by child protection legislation, the initiative involved physically removing vulnerable young people from the streets to their homes and providing them with follow-up professional support if needed. Within three months of its inception, knife crime in Croydon had ‘almost disappeared’, says the council, with youth crime in Croydon’s town centre cut by more than 36 per cent.
Staysafe involves a team of police and detached youth workers, which varies in size and specifically seeks out ASB. ‘If they identify groups of young people [roughly between 12 and 18 years old] who are acting in an anti-social way or are deemed to be vulnerable, they use legislation to remove them from the street,’ says Mr Opie. The young people are either taken directly home where the team speaks to their parents, or are removed to a safe residential home for young people until they can be collected.
The dedicated team targets problem areas on a Friday and Saturday evening every fortnight. Between October 2008 and September 2009, Operation Staysafe had contact with 163 children and young people, with 18 referred to social services. Everyone removed is referred to social services although not every case triggers further action.
West Oxfordshire Council
Parent alcohol workshop, 2007-present
Why it’s innovative: Teaches both parents and children about the dangers of alcohol.
Key stats A 26 per cent reduction in youth crime since 2007.
Lesson learned Involving both parents and children when discussing problem drinking can remove barriers to tackling the problem; multiple partnerships can make better use of their resources working together to fight ASB.
Conservative leader David Cameron’s Oxfordshire constituency of Witney has, as a rural market town, suffered its fair share of ASB despite its air of Cotswolds wealth.
The West Oxfordshire Safer Communities Partnership began to address rowdy behaviour in Witney and the neighbouring towns of Carterton and Chipping Norton in 2004. ‘In 2005, our biggest issue was alcohol-related disorder and low level criminal damage to public buildings and cars, and graffiti,’ says West Oxfordshire’s head of community safety and licensing, Bill Oddy. Boredom motivates much of this, he says. ‘Young people in areas like this do live in isolation.’
One particularly successful strand has been the parent alcohol workshop, set up in 2007, after a visible increase in numbers of young people drinking in public places. Parents and young people attend a presentation, then watch an awareness-raising DVD on the effects of alcohol. This has led to 98 per cent of attendees feeling more confident to speak to their child or parent about alcohol. It has also achieved a 26 per cent reduction in youth crime.
The council has also harnessed Bluetooth technology in its fight against ASB. The communication device has been a particular success on local housing association Cottsway’s estates where messages can be picked on people’s mobile phones. ‘If there had been an incident, we might ask for information,’ explains Mr Oddy. ‘Or I could let people know there’s a public meeting on.’
Mr Oddy recommends that social housing providers, ‘engage in a partnership with the police and the local authority because there’s a significant benefit in resource terms, both financial and human. For instance, the Bluetooth system is owned by the council but anyone in the partnership could use it.’
Safer Sunderland Partnership, 2007- present
Why it’s innovative: Planted ASB problem-solving groups at ground level.
Key stats Perceptions in Sunderland that ASB is a problem have fallen from 51 per cent in 2003 to 23.5 per cent in 2008.
Lesson learned Involving multiple agencies at a local level tackles the root of the problem
The Safer Sunderland Partnership uses multi-agency problem solving groups to zap crime in each part of the city.
The hands-on approach ensures a direct response to crime, fear of crime, anti-social behaviour and substance misuse at area level. The eight groups, each with a £10,000 budget, meet some 80 times a year to embed their presence in the community.