Chapter 6: Crime and anti-social behaviour (Jan Pahl)

Chapter 6: Crime and anti-social behaviour (Jan Pahl)

SDG Goal 11: Make cities inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable
SDG Target 5.2: Eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls

This chapter is concerned with many different forms of anti-social behaviour, from serious violent crime and sexual offences to leaving litter and daubing graffiti.

The present situation

These issues are of great concern to local residents, as shown by the annual Residents’ Survey carried out by the Canterbury City Council.  The survey for 2015 presented residents with a list of features and asked them to say how important each one is in making somewhere a good place to live.  The answers showed that for Canterbury residents, ‘Clean streets’ and ‘Levels of crime and anti-social behaviour’ are the two most important features in creating a good place.

The same Residents’ Survey also asked people to say which of the list of features most needed improving in the Canterbury District.  The top five needing improvement were: ‘Levels of traffic congestion’, ‘Clean streets’, ‘Quality of roads’, ‘Affordable decent housing’ and ‘Crime and anti-social behaviour’.

The survey carried out in preparation for writing this Vision for the City was not as large as the City Council Residents’ Survey.  However, it was interesting to see that in this survey too, ‘Controlling crime and anti-social behaviour’ was given as one of the six issues that most concern local people.  When people were asked, ‘What is not so good about living in Canterbury’ their answers underlined the point.  The top six complaints included:

  • Litter, fly tipping, rubbish and graffiti
  • Anti-social behaviour, night time noise, vandalism and violence

So this chapter focuses on some issues which concern many local people.

Crime and anti-social behaviour

What are the facts about crime and anti-social behaviour in Canterbury? In general Canterbury district is a relatively safe area, compared with many parts of the UK.  Figures from Police UK showed that in the year ending in August 2019 the crime rate in Canterbury was lower than that for Kent and for the UK as a whole.

A more detailed picture emerges from the annual crime statistics produced by the police.  Within Canterbury district the most common crimes recorded by the police between Sept 2018 and August 2019 were:

  • Violence and sexual offences: 30 per cent of the total
  • Burglary, theft, robbery and shoplifting: 24 per cent of the total
  • Anti-social behaviour and public order crimes: 24 per cent of the total
  • Criminal damage and arson: 10 per cent of the total
  • Vehicle crime: 7 per cent of the total

However, the statistics hide some crucial aspects of the problem.  Some areas experience more crime than others, with the city centre being the area with the most reports of crime.  City centre residents regularly report being kept awake by revellers, having their property damaged, or finding vomit, urine and the paraphernalia of drug use in their streets.

Many incidents of violence and sexual offences go unreported and therefore unrecorded. At the same time many incidents of anti-social behaviour, such as night time disturbance, fighting in the street, noisy neighbours, littering and daubing graffiti may be reported to the police but not recorded.  The cutbacks in police resources mean that many minor incidents, which can be very distressing to those who experience them, are simply not dealt with at all.

Many crimes are linked to the use and abuse of drugs and alcohol.  The extension of the county lines into Kent have brought more drugs into the city, and drug related deaths have doubled over the past three years.  Westgate ward and Wincheap ward are among the ten top ‘drug hotspots’ in Kent.

At the same time the cutbacks in services for children and young people have taken away many of the activities enjoyed by these age groups and many sources of advice and support.  It is important that we support, promote and extend services for these groups, which have been proven to reduce crime and anti-social behaviours.

Domestic violence and sexual abuse

The statistics above underline the significance of violence and sexual abuse.  Domestic violence is one type of crime which is often hidden or under-estimated.  Evidence from the national Crime Survey shows that every year nearly 2 million people, mainly women, suffer domestic abuse and every month seven women are killed by their partner or ex-partner.  If similar rates apply in Canterbury it means that over 1000 women experience domestic violence each year. 

In Canterbury “Centra” are contracted by Kent County Council to provide refuge accommodation for women who have had to leave home because of violence.  The refuge also provides child and adult counselling, play facilities and emergency provision of essential food and toiletries.  At the same time the Rising Sun Domestic Violence and Abuse Service supports women and children affected by domestic violence in Canterbury and East Kent, offering a helpline, counselling, a range of programmes and a team of independent domestic violence advocates.

However, these services have been affected by financial cutbacks. The introduction of Universal Credit has increased hardship, because of the five-week waiting period before benefits are paid and the imposition of the benefit cap.  This means that the refuge may have to support women and children for five weeks or more. There are also issues about court procedures in which women come face to face with their attackers, and about moving on from the refuge, which is hard because of the lack of social housing.

In tackling violence and sexual abuse it is important to remember that this is largely a crime perpetrated by men, with both men and women as victims. It is often associated with the abuse of alcohol and other substances, though it also arises from a sense of entitlement and from anger. Changing male attitudes and behaviour must be one goal and there has been some success with courses for male offenders. Eliminating violence against women and girls is Target 5.2 among the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

While domestic violence continues, refuges for women and children are crucial, as well as financial and housing support. Support for the refuge from Kent County Council is very welcome but women still face serious problems. Leaving a violent home may leave a family penniless and essentially homeless, even though the refuge can provide emergency accommodation. Policy responses should therefore include building more rented houses which people can afford, such as council houses, and paying Universal Credit when people first apply rather than after many weeks.

Tackling the problem

There are many possible routes to tackling crime and anti-social behaviour, including prevention, changing attitudes, better policing, more effective punishment and a move towards greater equality in society. Different issues may need different responses. The cutbacks in services for children and in the youth services mean that many young people now have nowhere safe to spend their leisure time, so it is important that these services are restored and promoted.

Night time disturbance and anti-social behaviour have to be tackled with a range of responses.  These can range from increasing the presence of police officers and Police Community Support Officers (CPSOs) to reducing the availability of alcohol and the opening hours of night clubs.  Canterbury street marshals and street pastors have played a part in reducing night time disturbance.

Evidence for the scale of the problem of litter and graffiti in Canterbury comes from the work currently being done by volunteers. Regular litter picks by many different groups, including the Canterbury Society, produce enormous quantities of rubbish. The causes are many, from the increases in take-away food, to the carelessness of some individuals, to the lack of litter bins and the cut backs in local authority funding for clearing litter.

Graffiti has become an increasing problem. Research shows that perpetrators fall into three groups: street artists (whose aim is to decorate the public realm), taggers (whose aim is to leave a personal mark and claim a territory) and others for whom graffiti is an expression of boredom and alienation from society.  Providing a wall to paint may work for the first group but doing something about other sorts of graffiti will require a variety of responses, from fining and policing to youth work and providing greater opportunities for young people.

The Business Improvement District (BID) carries out regular deep cleans in particular areas of the city centre, but this can underline the need for deep cleans in other parts of the city.  There continues to be considerable frustration among local people at the inability of the responsible authorities to tackle the issue of litter and graffiti. Some possible solutions to the problem are outlined in the recommendations at the end of this chapter.

Future directions

Future directions for action on litter and graffiti can take many different routes. The council plays a key role but residents’ groups and individuals also have a part to play. The charity Keep Britain Tidy reports that there are more than 150 local waste management systems in place, with households recycling less than half their waste. It says, ‘We need to get rid of the existing complexity and develop a simple, nationally consistent collection system combined with tangible rewards for re-cycling’.

In Canterbury concern about these issues led to the setting up of the Litter Roundtable, which brings together representatives of the City Council, Serco and local residents’ groups to tackle the problems of litter, fly tipping and graffiti.  It also provides a way to publicise the many litter picks organised by residents’ groups.  Support by the council for these litter picks, in providing equipment, insurance and support, is crucial

The Litter Action Guide gives advice on dealing with litter, while the GrotSpots Facebook page provides an online site where examples of litter and graffiti in the area can be highlighted – and drawn to the attention of those whose job it is to clear them up. These initiatives have been very effective in highlighting the problem of litter and graffiti. However, they have not done so much to prevent the problem.

Numbers to contact

To report an emergency phone 999, while for non-urgent crime phone 101

To report noise, phone 01227 862202 or email: envhealth@canterbury.gov.uk

To report rubbish phone 0800 0319091 or email: help@serco.com

Recommendations

The current financial climate, in which local authorities and police forces are being starved of funds by central government, means that any proposals for actions to tackle crime, antisocial behaviour and littering are unlikely to be fully implemented. However, this does not mean that we cannot make recommendations for the future.

Dealing with crime depends on:

  1. Employing enough police and ensuring they are on duty when much crime and anti-social behaviour occurs, that is during the evening and at night.
  2. Funding other responses to anti-social behaviour, such as Police Community Support Officers, street marshals, park wardens and others.
  3. Reducing opportunities for alcohol consumption and limiting licensing hours.
  4. Restoring and promoting services for children and young people and making sure leisure activities are available for these age groups.
  5. Ensuring a secure and long-term source of funding for refuges, providing financial support and advice for those who have experienced violence and enabling women and children to move on into their own homes.

Reducing litter and graffiti depends on many different strategies. These include:

  1. Working with schools and youth groups to encourage pride in the public realm and discourage littering and graffiti.
  2. Drawing up a better and more comprehensive contract with the next waste management service provider.
  3. Installing more bins, and providing bin lids and divided rubbish bins for recycling.
  4. Providing designated street wardens for residential areas with whom students can engage, and who will also advise on rubbish and re-cycling.
  5. Carrying out deep cleans of particular areas, as is done by the BID in the city centre.
  6. Urging the businesses which create most of the litter, such as McDonalds and KFC, to take responsibility for clearing up.
  7. Cleaning the roadside verges of the main roads to the city on a regular basis.

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