Home Secretary Jacqui Smith stated last week that antisocial youths who misbehave and intimidate others should be “harassed themselves” and treated strictly as possible by police.
This is in response to data showing that more Anti-Social Behaviour Orders (ASBOs) have been breached since December last year, when the figure was already at a high of 47%. However, statistics also show that fewer ASBOs are being issued while more acceptable behaviour contracts and parenting orders are commissioned. Smith said that “There is no let up in tackling anti-social behaviour. We know that getting in early to stop troublemakers works but I want stronger action to deal with persistent offenders.”
The techniques suggested by Smith have already been used by police forces in Essex. Specifically, she wants “police and local agencies to focus on persistent offenders by giving them a taste of their own medicine – daily visits, repeated warnings and relentless filming of offenders to create an environment where there is nowhere to hide”. Operation Leopard, conducted in an estate in Basildon earlier this year, also had officers photographing known offenders for up to four days.
The “blitz” was followed up a few months later, and while Liberty, the civil rights group, called the tactics “heavy handed”, residents of the estate recognized that antisocial behaviour had decreased.
Analysts have speculated that the initiative is also aimed at showing that Labour have something to say about unruly youths, after having left that issue untouched for Tories to speak about, on the back of which, some might say, Boris Johnson won the mayoral elections last week. He has announced that during his tenure as London Mayor, he will ban drinking of alcohol on buses and the London Underground .
This is only the latest proposal to tackle antisocial behaviour put forward by the government. Last month, Labour’s Children’s Secretary Ed Balls announced a scheme that will force drug takers as young as 10 to sign a contract controlling their behaviour and accept drug treatment. Breach of such a contract would leave them open to an asbo. Balls criticised the ASBO scheme last year, commenting: “it’s a failure every time a young person gets an ASBO. It’s necessary – but it’s not right.”
“I want to live in the kind of society that puts ASBOs behind us.”
He firmly believes that ASBOs are a symptom, not a cause, and that the malaise should be tackled at an earlier stage: “It is about parents taking their responsibilities seriously. It is about kids having interesting things to do and it is about young people having respect for the society in which they live.”
ASBOs have been criticised in the past due to the ease with which they are handed out. Last month a man in South Somerest was given an ASBO for having a rooster who kept his neighbours up by crowing too much, and was also ordered to pay £7,5000 pounds in damages and evict 80 birds from the premises. It has also been reported that retainers of ASBOs brag about them, and that they are now becoming a sort of status-symbol among certain circles.