Approach to anti-social behaviour 'must be turned on its head'
The Government's approach to tackling anti-social behaviour must be turned on its head, Home Secretary Theresa May said today.
Outlining plans which signalled a possible end for anti-social behaviour orders (Asbos) in England and Wales, Mrs May said: "It is time for us to stop tolerating anti-social behaviour."
Strong community action must be used instead to bring back a sense of personal and social responsibility and to make anti-social behaviour "unusual, abnormal and something to stand up to", she said.
"We must turn the system on its head," Mrs May said. "There is no magic Whitehall lever we can pull simply to stop anti-social behaviour. No magic button to press or tap to turn to stop the flow of misery.
"The solution to your community's problems will not come from officials sitting in the Home Office working on the latest national action plan.
"We will put power into the hands of our citizens and we will put our trust into the professionals."
Speaking at the Coin Street Neighbourhood Centre in Southwark, London, Mrs May said one person in every seven believes their local area suffers from high levels of anti-social behaviour, leading to millions of tarnished lives and costing billions of pounds a year to tackle.
"We need to make anti-social behaviour what it once was - unusual, abnormal and something to stand up to - instead of what it has become: frequent, normal and tolerated," she said.
Government proposals include a sweeping crackdown on binge drinking, reforming the licensing laws and a bid to make police a more responsive and accountable part of local communities.
Mrs May said she wants officers to be able to use their "common sense" to deal with anti-social behaviour, with punishments being "rehabilitative and restorative" rather than "criminalising".
She added that while police are often the first port of call for victims, "they have not always taken anti-social behaviour seriously enough".
"It's time to move beyond the Asbo," she said. "We need a complete change in emphasis, with communities working with the police and other agencies to stop bad behaviour escalating that far."
Communities need to be given the power to bring about their own change, and police and councils need the right tools to get their jobs done, she said.
Plans include incentives for unemployed people to make work pay, regaining discipline in schools by putting teachers back in control of their classrooms and encouraging young people to take responsibility through National Citizen Service.
Solutions to stop anti-social behaviour also need to come from communities themselves, Mrs May said.
"We will back those who step in when it is right to do so and we will support people so that they are willing and able to reclaim their communities," she said.
The key speech came as official figures from the Ministry of Justice showed more than half of the almost 17,000 Asbos issued between June 2000 and December 2008 were breached, leading to an immediate custodial sentence in more than half of the cases.
But shadow home secretary Alan Johnson defended Asbos, which were brought in to deal with persistent minor offenders whose actions might not otherwise have been punished, saying they made huge contributions towards tackling crime and anti-social behaviour.
"The Home Secretary demonstrates a lack of understanding about the powers already available to the police," he said.
Former home secretary David Blunkett, who introduced Asbos and dispersal orders, added that Mrs May "seems to be operating under a very dangerous delusion - namely, that it is communities who are the cause of anti-social behaviour as well as its victims, rather than individuals and persistently dysfunctional families".
"A few weeks ago, Damian Green, the junior Home Office minister, said in the House of Commons that 'the civil libertarians are in the ascendancy in the Conservative Party'," he said.
"Theresa May's statement today underlines this fact - and poses a major threat to the lives and well-being of those at the very sharp end of criminality and dysfunctional communities."
But Assistant Chief Constable Simon Edens, of the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said simplifying the tools and powers available to frontline officers will make it easier for them to do what works best.
"The police service recognises that all individuals and communities have a right to live their lives free from intimidation and harassment," he said.
"We also recognise that anti-social behaviour cannot be solved by public services alone. Society requires confident and resilient communities where people feel safe.
"Any proposals that enable agencies and communities to better deal with anti-social behaviour are to be welcomed. We look forward to more details, and the opportunity to engage in a wider debate."
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