We need a community response to antisocial behaviour

Antisocial behaviour – often known simply as ASB – is one of the key issues that constituents raise with me, says Cllr Valerie Bossman-Quarshie

The word antisocial painted on a wall
Photo by Claudio Schwarz on Unsplash

Antisocial behaviour – often known simply as ASB – is one of the key issues that constituents raise with me. They are sometimes very angry about it, and feel disempowered – while ASB erodes their quality of life, they very often don’t feel they can do anything about it. 

There are very broad types of ASB ranging from small things that are daily niggles to actual crimes. The first can be the easiest to resolve, although they can come down to habitual behaviour and can sometimes be hard to change. It may be someone perceiving menace where it isn’t the case, or it could mean annoyances like noise from other flats – people playing loud music, listening to the television at higher volumes, that sort of thing. 

Then comes a family of larger complaints. Sometimes constituents find people smoking cannabis on their estate stairwell, say, and feel understandably intimidated. They also, quite justifiably, don’t like it when people pee in what they assume are quiet corners. There is the dumping of bikes on pavements, and litter, and persistent petty theft. Then there are harder crimes like phone and bag-snatching, robbery with menace, doorstep thefts and so on. 

Sometimes the people flagging these up either don’t approach the police because they don’t think it’s a ‘proper’ crime, and don’t want to bother them, or they don’t think the police will do anything about it. That then starts another argument – that they have no support against the ASB. 

Some take pictures of the ASB and take it to the Nextdoor website. And of course, some escalate their ASB complaints to Islington Council, sometimes via councillors like me, and to people like our local community safety team member Peter Cook. 

However small they may appear, these ASB factors are meaningful to people. At one level they show that we live in quite a fearful society. People might see perfectly innocent kids wearing clothes that they think are threatening, and that might be misconstrued. Here, talking is the best thing, and can break down the perceived barriers. 

I suspect we should think about ASB from the grass roots up. We have to almost go back to how we used to be, and instil community structures which will lessen the possibility of ASB. That might involve getting to know each other better, so we can raise issues with other parents and neighbours in a safe space. It might mean having neighbourhood meetings where people can voice their opinions and suggestions to local councillors, among others. Once we know about it, we can then take it to the police if necessary, who have specialists to deal with ASB. But with these community inputs on ASB, we’re not always expecting action to be a top-down thing. This way, many complaints will be alleviated before they are escalated.

There’s another factor about ASB complaints, which is that some of the people complained about have mental health issues. Then it becomes more difficult, as a multi-agency approach is needed. There is a dire lack of support for mental health in the community, which is a shame. Even if we did have support these people, it’s not always easy to resolve and may need a bit of give-and-take, and possibly medical referrals.

I propose there should be an ASB app that will be easy to use and will log any problems. Then there should be a level of community advocacy: people who are able to build bridges and stop the alienation that leads to distrust and ultimately to ASB. If people feel they know each other, then the potential of ASB is far lessened. 

Having this kind of buffer zone between people and the police is a good idea. But as to the police themselves, if there were more on the beat, that also would be a good move on ASB. It would also be a good way to find out whether it is worth escalating an ASB complaint, or whether it is something that can be sorted by a quiet chat. Either way, having a system of neighbourly advocates, backed up by an App, would be a way to start. There’s something to work with there.

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