Middle-class whining falls on deaf ears as police ignore ill-defined non-crimes

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?


The arrogance of Tom Harris MP

This post is my response to a rant by Tom Harris MP, Labour, calling for the ejection of the protesters at Democracy Village. He closes his impassioned cry for the forced removal of a legal protest by writing:

What arrogance must motivate you to believe that you have the right to monopolise an area to which other citizens should have free access; to protest, yes, but to enjoy also, to take a stroll in, to have a quiet sit down. And what arrogance must motivate someone to believe that their compulsion to shriek incomprehensibly (and to absolutely no effect whatsoever) through a megaphone is more important than the comfort of others who might prefer not to be harangued aggressively as they pass by.

Such encampments would be dealt with swiftly by the authorities – and with overwhelming support from the public – were they to be inflicted on any other part of the country. That this eyesore still afflicts Parliament Square, that it has been allowed to grow and spread like a malignant infection, is a testament to the failure of politicians who should have acted decisively long before now.

Of course we should – and do – respect the right to protest. But though it might sound bizarrely counter-intuitive to say so, the democratic credentials of elected representatives must be respected also. Just because you’re elected does not mean you represent no-one, and just because you’re unelected and self-appointed does not mean you’re representative of a wider community.

I say, to Mr. Tom Harris…

This is a bad argument. You object to “Democracy Village” for the same reasons as people like Iain Dale: because it is an “eyesore”, an “irritant”, and “pointless”. None of these are good reasons for forcibly removing protesters – regardless of the amount of passion you inject into your rant. You could make the same argument against fat people in leggings.

Your point about the “arrogance” of the protesters is again very weak and raises the question of which citizens have the greater rights. Is it those who are nicely behaved, sitting on the grass for a quick lunch break, or those ugly, noisy non-conformists? You seem to have decided the former, and I’m sure many people will agree. However, I’m sure many others would argue that it’s more arrogant to assert that the right for a quiet place to eat sandwiches overrules the right for someone to protest against the killing of lots of people.

What about the arrogance of elected officials who think they have a mandate to decide which protests to tolerate and which to shut down?

More importantly, how arrogant is it to base such a decision on purely aesthetic, superficial reasons?