Offenders 'could have goods seized'
Monday 07 February 2011
Offenders could be stripped of prized possessions such as iPods under proposals to give police better powers to tackle anti-social behaviour, the Home Office said today.
Authorities would also be forced to take action if several people in the same neighbourhood complain or if one victim complains three times with no action being taken.
The "community trigger", one of a raft of proposals which form part of a Government consultation on anti-social behaviour, comes after Fiona Pilkington killed herself and her disabled daughter Francecca in 2007 after being hounded by youths outside their home in Leicestershire.
Crime Prevention Minister James Brokenshire said: "For too long anti-social behaviour has wreaked havoc in our communities and ruined decent people's lives.
"It is time for a new approach that better supports victims and makes it easier for the authorities to take fast, effective action.
"This consultation sets out how we propose to tackle this stubborn problem, ensuring the most vulnerable in our communities are protected from the cowards and bullies who carry on in such an offensive manner.
"It is important there is no let-up - local areas must continue to use the most appropriate powers available to them."
In the consultation document, the Home Office said it was working with the Ministry of Justice on proposals "to increase the use of asset seizure as a sanction for criminal offences".
"For example, to explore whether there are particular types of offender for whom seizing assets might be effective and proportionate."
It added that the Government was also considering seizing an offender's passport as a "useful additional sanction".
Asbos, Criminal Asbos and a whole range of other measures will be replaced with Criminal Behaviour Orders and Crime Prevention Injunctions, Mr Brokenshire said.
The orders will ban an individual from certain activities or places while the injunctions will be designed to nip bad behaviour in the bud before it escalates.
They will also need a lower level of proof than the criminal orders.
Asked whether Asbos had simply been rebranded, Mr Brokenshire insisted there were "important differences".
The replacement powers will make the sanctions "speedier to attain and also will mean the lower civil standard of proof is important here", he said.
Mr Brokenshire also suggested that offenders could be banned from taking holidays abroad as an incentive to comply with any court orders.
"We're looking at a range of issues that might have an impact on how people behave," he said.
"Let's be clear - we're not talking about police being able to seize things in the community.
"This is about going to court, evidence being produced and what sanctions may be appropriate for the courts to consider.
"Obviously, if someone's passport is taken away then that could have an impact on their ability to travel.
"Equally it might apply greater focus on their ability to follow through on orders that have been given to them and the consequences of their actions."
Asked about taking away iPods and other belongings, he went on: "We want to ensure that, if there are sanctions and measures for people who break the law, who go to court, who receive those punishments, that there are effective teeth to them.
"And, when we look at things like drug dealing, ensuring that there is that mainstreaming of powers to take away the assets that may benefit, that may be the things that that person has gained from their criminal behaviour, and making sure those powers are properly used and are effectively applied."
Other proposals include community protection orders, which would give councils powers to stop graffiti, noisy neighbours or dog fouling.
They could also be used for "more serious disorder and criminality", such as closing a property being used for drug deals, the Home Office said.
The Asbo was launched under the last Labour government while Tony Blair was still in power.
But the measure attracted criticism in some quarters for the perception that it is seen as a badge of honour among offenders.
Figures showed there were more than 6,500 incidents of anti-social behaviour recorded by police in England and Wales every day in December.
In all, more than 200,000 instances of anti-social behaviour took place, including almost 35,000 in London alone.
Last September, a report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary (HMIC) said only one in four incidents of anti-social behaviour were reported and communities were "becoming used to things we should not have become used to".
But the Children's Society said the move "appears to be more of a rebranding exercise than anything else".
Chief executive Bob Reitemeier said it was "a missed opportunity to adopt a more effective approach for dealing with children and young people who are deemed to be anti-social".
"There is no doubt that sometimes difficult behaviour, particularly by teenagers, remains an issue of great concern in many neighbourhoods," he said.
"But rather than continue to demonise children and punish them without addressing their behaviour, there is an urgent need to develop real solutions that make a genuine difference to children, families and communities."
Mediation and conflict resolution strategies "can be much more effective than using criminal or civil sanctions", he said.
Assistant Chief Constable Simon Edens, anti-social behaviour lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), said any new approach "must recognise the harm that anti-social behaviour causes".
"We have been clear that we will support a simplification of the tools and powers available to frontline practitioners, making it easier for them to do what works best," he said.
"We also recognise that anti-social behaviour cannot be solved by public services alone.
"Police and partners have a role in supporting communities to develop their own capabilities, including enhancing the public's ability to appropriately intervene, without putting themselves at risk."
Victims' Commissioner Louise Casey said the proposals "put tough enforcement action against perpetrators at the centre" of the plans.
"I have worked and campaigned for many years for the rights of the law-abiding community to be given proper consideration over lawless, mindless thuggery that makes people's lives unbearable," she said.
"This has often been caricatured as an infringement of civil liberties or a campaign to give all young people a bad name.
"This is nonsense. It's actually about protecting decent people, often the poorest people, by putting in very reasonable controls over incessantly nasty behaviour - actually most often perpetrated by adults."
The crime reduction charity Nacro said enforcement on its own will not work.
Graham Beech, Nacro's strategic development director, said: "It is not necessarily the measures which sound tough and make the news headlines, like confiscating iPods, that will make the real difference.
"We need a sophisticated response, which acknowledges the complexity of the problem we're dealing with.
"What is needed is a balance of measures which combine police enforcement with interventions which get in early and steer young people away from crime and anti-social behaviour.
"This includes getting them back into school, providing real opportunities for work, using adult role models to help deal with alcohol and drug misuse, and diverting them into more positive activities.
"And those who cause these problems should be made part of the solution by giving something back to the community."
The Criminal Justice Alliance, which represents more than 50 organisations, backed the plans to simplify and clarify the powers.
But director Jon Collins warned: "Enforcement powers will not on their own be enough to prevent anti-social behaviour and there is a risk that if these new measures are not accompanied by providing the necessary support, they will do little in the long term to tackle this important issue.
"Proposals to allow people who breach the new orders to be sent to prison could create a back door to custody for people who have not committed a criminal offence.
"Locking people up for breaching a civil order is neither effective nor proportionate, and the final proposals should ensure that custody is not used inappropriately."
Shadow home office minister Vernon Coaker said: "The thing that has made the biggest difference to anti-social behaviour over the last 10 years has been neighbourhood police teams including PCSOs out on the streets and working with local communities to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.
"Whether using Asbos or the other measures the Labour government introduced, these teams have made a real difference. What we have learnt is that no matter what measures you introduce, you need the officers to enforce them."
Speaking at a public event in Nottingham, shadow chancellor Ed Balls added: "You can't enforce anti-social behaviour orders or any successor if you've not got the police on the streets.
"I think most people on the streets are saying, 'Conservative-led Government cutting police - why are they doing that? That's not what we voted for', and I think it's very important for us to say you need the police on the streets and the PCSOs to make sure our communities are safe and anti-social behaviour is tackled."
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