Teaming up with the Met
What happened when a housing association joined its local police force to improve the response to anti-social behaviour? Simon Brandon finds out
Given the amount of good work done by social landlords’ anti-social behaviour teams over recent years, you might expect them to play a significant role in an England-wide ASB call-handling trial.
The aim of the trial, commissioned by the Home Office in January 2011, was to improve the handling of ASB cases by focusing on the victims and their experiences. But despite the involvement of eight English police forces in the trial, including the Metropolitan Police Service - which ran trials in four London boroughs - just one housing association in England was asked to join a local working group. That landlord was Richmond Housing Partnership in south west London.
‘We thought we might be the poor cousin that was going to be asked to sit in the corner and nod our heads, but it soon became apparent that we were leading the way in dealing with ASB,’ says Ian Whiteway, RHP’s ASB manager. ‘Certainly the majority of our ideas were picked up and run with during the pilot.’
For chief inspector Hannah Wheeler, of Richmond police’s safer neighbourhoods team, choosing RHP to take part in the trial was a no-brainer. ‘It’s always good to pick your strongest partner,’ she says.
Both partners say the six-month pilot has been a resounding success. Between 2010 and 2011 Mr Wheeler reports a 64 per cent drop in reported cases in the Ham and Petersham ward, the area of Richmond most troubled by ASB in the past. For Mr Whiteway, the partnership with 10,000-home RHP has meant much speedier resolution of cases, happier, more secure residents, and even a reduction in the number of evictions.
So how did they do it? In Richmond, the police chose to trial the use of a set of questions called a risk - or vulnerability - matrix, which are now asked of anyone reporting ASB. RHP’s staff had used a similar matrix for years. They helped the police develop a standardised set of questions, and all 25 RHP housing officers were trained to use them.
The matrix produces a score that the agencies involved use to better understand the victim’s situation and their vulnerability - and, crucially,
to share that information easily. By combining data and scores, the types and frequency of ASB in a given area become clearer.
‘By standardising procedures throughout [the partnership], everyone knew what everyone else was doing,’ Mr Whiteway explains. Combining this approach with a new information-sharing protocol between the police and RHP has meant huge gains in how quickly injunctions are brought and cases are resolved.
‘Before all this happened, we could request information from the police and be waiting a month for it to come back,’ he says. ‘Now with this protocol we are often getting that information the same day.’
Even better, these improvements haven’t depleted the landlord’s coffers. ‘If anything, it has saved us money because we’re not evicting people,’ says Mr Whiteway.
The matrix is used on perpetrators wherever possible, and this helps bring their own issues and vulnerabilities to the attention of RHP’s tenant support team, which works on around 100 cases every year. None of the residents helped by the team have been evicted since the pilot began, he adds. In previous years that figure would have been four or five per year.
RHP has also trained 200 police and community support officers in the borough about the role of housing providers in tackling ASB, and the vulnerability matrix is now being rolled out across the Met.
Chris Grose, ASB advisor at the Chartered Institute of Housing, says: ‘The call-handling trials have highlighted that partners can work from the same hymn sheet, because they are all in this for the same reason. There needs to be more of it.’
It should be great PR for the non-statutory housing sector’s achievements and capabilities in this area, suggests Eamon Lynch, director of the Social Landlords Crime and Nuisance Group.
‘We were really pleased to see RHP’s contribution, because there is insufficient recognition from the Home Office and government generally of social housing and what it does,’ he argues.
Mr Whiteway sums up his organisation’s achievements best: ‘What we have done in Richmond is really change the way partners work. In the past we felt that “partnership working” was just words. To us now it’s an act.’
In January 2011, the Home Office announced it had chosen eight police forces in England to run anti-social behaviour call-handling trials with local partners. The trials ran until July 2011.
As the Home Office’s report on the project, Focus on the victim, published last month, states, the trials were an ‘effort to shift practitioners’ focus from logging types of ASB, to protecting victims and communities from harm’.
Each force was allowed to pursue its own methods, in keeping with the localism agenda.
‘The sad thing is we have seen the [victim-centered approach develop] as a result of some quite tragic cases,’ says Chris Grose, ASB advisor at the Chartered Institute of Housing.
‘The good thing is we are trying to learn lessons from that - we are moving towards a more harm-centred approach.