Worrying times for fans of social behaviour as headlines erupt with the news that police are failing to crack down on so-called anti-social behaviour. According to Chief Inspector of Constabulary Sir Denis O’Connor, while a massive 45% (3.5m) of police calls relate to anti-social behaviour, the cops are not taking it seriously and don’t consider them real crimes.
For the politicians on all sides of the political divide, this is good news. The Tories immediately respond by claiming this as another legacy of Labour’s failure (with, no doubt, a quick jab at the welfare state), while Labour use this to strike again at the coalition’s cuts. I’m sure the Lib Dems are screaming something about “police state”, but who really cares, eh?
But what does this actually mean? And what can be done about it?
I have some sympathy with the police here; it’s no surprise they don’t consider ASB to be real crimes. By definition they are not real crimes. If they were, the press would be talking about 45% of police calls regarding crime being ignored. Which would be serious. But they’re not.
If ASB is not a crime, what is it? Helpfully, the BBC have a list of the top 10 anti-social behaviour offences, based on a survey by Ipsos Mori.
Turns out that the top two anti-social offences basically consist of young people drinking and hanging out (would it be more pro-social if they locked themselves in their bedrooms and read a book?). Another three could fairly be summed up as ‘neighbours having fun’, ‘neighbours making noise’, and, simply, ‘neighbours’.
It seems the biggest problem with anti-social behaviour is people being social.
Of course, intimidation, abuse and violence should be dealt with seriously – though I’m sure they’re actual crimes and there are actual laws covering them. From the start, the non-concept of anti-social behaviour was doomed to devolve into the kind of hazy anecdotal bullshittery much-beloved of the Daily Mail.
So, what to do? Nothing. The government won’t put up the funds to flood the streets with coppers. And besides, extra bobbies would surely be as impotent as anyone when confronted with a group of youths ‘hanging out’ in public places shamelessly not committing any crimes.
Regardless, I’m excited to see how the coalition responds to this. Given all their attacks on New Labour’s civil liberties record (which was synonymous with their wasted attempts to curtail anti-social behaviour), will they echo the mistakes of the past or make entirely new ones?