Trigger happy Theresa has a worthy goal but not enough cops to make it happen

With 16,000 frontline officers and 1,800 community support officers being scrapped, does Theresa May believe she has the resources to succeed?

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Home secretary Theresa May’s call for more focus on anti-social behaviour may be a blessing for those suffering at its hands on a regular basis.

But with 16,000 frontline officers and 1,800 community support officers being scrapped, does May believe she has the resources for this?


May’s new white paper is an attempt to seek the holy grail of tackling anti-social behaviour – a phenomenon that a long list of her predecessors have tried to pursue with varying degrees of success.

In the paper, she defines the problem as:

“…nuisance, disorder and crime which affects people’s lives on a daily basis: from vandalism and graffiti; to drunk or rowdy behaviour in public; to intimidation and harassment.”

She proposes replacing anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs) with a simpler set of powers designed to allow earlier intervention and rapid response in dealing with the problem.

Part of this new approach will see Crime Prevention Injunctions introduced in order to protect victims from nuisance behaviour at short notice. Criminal Behaviour Orders will also be used against convicted criminals stopping them engaging in certain activities or visiting certain places.

Perhaps most significantly, today’s paper includes the concept of a “community trigger”, designed to compel the police and other agencies into action if five households complain about anti-social behaviour problem, or if the same individual complains three times.

Her plan echoes metropolitan police commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe’s Total Policing approach which involves first time resolution of complaints.

However the home secretary’s approach also owes much to the analysis of HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Denis O’Connor. In his hard-hitting report from September 2010 entitled ‘Anti-social Behaviour: Stop the Rot’, Sir Denis strongly criticised police forces’ approach, saying bluntly that anti-social behaviour “does not have the same status as ‘crime’ for the police.”

Sir Denis blasted forces for “screening out” too many anti-social behaviour calls and for tolerating a damaging “degree of normalisation” around drunken behaviour and vandalism.

This leads to a demoralised public voting with its feet, with just a quarter of the estimated 14 million actual incidents of anti-social behaviour ever getting reported. Yet these still account for 45 per cent of all calls to police – one call every 10 seconds.

The obvious effect of today’s white paper then is that police priorities will be skewed in having to deal with anti-social behaviour in a more concerted, responsive way. This may be no bad thing – and certainly welcome for those routinely affected by anti-social behaviour – but it lands forces and the new police and crime commissioners with a centrally-imposed target that they will struggle to deliver against.


See also:

The curse of the Home Office continues 18 May 2012


Quite simply dealing with anti-social behaviour meaningfully requires beefing up front line policing. Therefore the gap between the ambitions of Theresa May’s worthy approach and the reality of forces scrapping 16,000 frontline officers and 1,800 community support officers is simply irreconcilable. Especially as every 10% drop in police numbers leads to a 3% increase in property crime.

It is very easy for the home secretary to claim to be ‘putting victims first’ but without adequate staff and budgets it is an idle boast.


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