David Sidwick anti-social behaviour blog
Anti-social behaviour is a problem that can make people’s lives a misery.
Many people know Dorset as a quiet and idyllic corner of the country, but the reality for some is a long way from this.
Hearing about neighbourhoods being blighted by persistent incidents of nuisance and disorder, about drugs being sold on the street or about people feeling threatened by drunken behaviour – these were among the reasons I chose to stand as Police and Crime Commissioner three years ago.
Since that time, both as I’ve been campaigning for the role and since taking up office over a month ago, I’ve heard countless stories about people who feel their lives have been ruined by these and other problems.
I want to make Dorset the safest part of the country, and if we are to do that, we simply cannot have people wanting to move out of their homes because of neighbourhood nuisance.
The county has a long way to go before we truly get to grips with these problems, but I came into office on a pledge to cut all types of crime. That of course includes cracking down on anti social behaviour, and this will feature strongly in the Police and Crime Plan I am now developing.
This work starts with trying to understand the problem, what’s being done now to tackle it and what I can do to provide extra support. For that reason, I’ve spent much of the last few weeks visiting those areas which have most experienced these issues.
Understanding the problem
This includes Ashley Road and the Bus Station in Poole, along with Bournemouth town centre, which I visited with local police officers as well as with Cllr May Haines, BCP Council’s Portfolio Holder for Community Safety.
I’ve also listened carefully to concerns from residents in north Dorset, and I’ve attended a meeting at Weymouth Police Station with officers along with representatives from Dorset Council to discuss issues around the town’s harbour and the Esplanade.
The fact that Dorset Police and local authorities have been involved in these meetings is key. Anti-social behaviour is a catch all term for a wide ranging set of issues, with responsibility for different issues falling on different agencies.
A survey organised by the Office of the Police and Crime Commissioner last year, which almost 4,000 Dorset residents took part in, revealed there was a good deal of confusion about who was responsible for what.
For example, 50% of respondents said they would contact the police if they had concerns about rowdy and noisy neighbours including loud music and late parties, while 45% said they would contact their local authority – the agency who are in fact responsible for this issue.
Meanwhile, 45% said they would contact the council if they had concerns about begging, while 39% said they would contact the police – the correct agency in this case.
This isn’t to say that I’m going to shrug my shoulders and simply tell people that these problems aren’t anything to do with me. I’m a firm believer in closer collaboration between the police and other agencies, and the response to anti-social behaviour is a great example of this.
I will be bringing agencies together to ensure we have this joined up approach. There is an understandable confusion caused by the number of agencies involved and residents get frustrated when they feel they’re being passed from pillar to post.
The most important thing is that we improve the quality of life for the residents of Dorset.
To help with this the Force will be running an awareness campaign around anti-social behaviour this summer, aimed in part around encouraging people to be more considerate of others in the community, and this is something I welcome.
There’s clearly a big piece of work that needs to be done which will see all the agencies involved working together to provide better, clearer communication about who’s responsible for what.
We need to see more robust enforcement of those responsible, but there are other challenges ahead – as well as opportunities.
There are also wider societal issues to be dealt with, addressing the causes of anti-social behaviour so people don’t have to put up with it in the future.
I will be working closely with a wide range of partners over the coming months and years to put these long term solutions into place, but will also be continuing to visit areas of Dorset which have been affected by these problems to ensure we address what can be done in the short term.
Go here for a guide to how to report different kinds of anti-social behaviour and which organisations are responsible.