The Police Service’s approach to dealing with ASB has improved since 2010; but there is a significant variation in victim satisfaction levels across England and Wales. More can be done to tackle the problem, and to identify those victims most at risk of harm, HMIC found in their report, ‘A Step in the Right Direction’, published today.

In 2010, HMIC called for a new approach to how forces tackled anti-social behaviour (ASB), based on ‘what works’ and focused on the needs of the millions of ASB victims in England and Wales.

HMIC committed to reviewing progress two years on; and ‘A Step in the Right Direction’, published today, fulfils this promise. This report is the result of the largest ever survey of victims of ASB (with 9,300 respondents); listening to more than 4,400 calls about ASB, to learn more about the victim experience; and an inspection of all 43 police forces in England and Wales.

Responsiveness

Overall the Police Service has improved its responsiveness to victims of ASB since 2010, with progress made in every force. The inspection found better focus on tackling the problem, with many chief officers making it clear that this is a priority for everyone in policing; more frequent and relevant briefings to help local police officers anticipate and tackle problems; and more analysis to identify ASB ‘hotspots’ (so extra patrols can be sent to those areas). The call-handlers in the calls HMIC listened to were also generally focused on the needs of the victim, and neighbourhood police were knowledgeable about problems in their area.

HMIC’s survey work suggests that victims have noticed the difference, with an improvement in how satisfied they are with the service they received from the police in several important areas that we asked them about:

Good analysis of intelligence material is vital because:

  • Victims were more satisfied with how the police dealt with their call. Where the police took action, more victims now reported they were ‘very satisfied’ with the action taken (61% overall, up from 55%).
  • 74% across England and Wales felt their local police were doing a good job – up from 69% in 2010.
  • A few forces received outstanding results in some areas: for instance, when the police took action as a result of a call about ASB in Merseyside, 97% of victims were satisfied with the action taken.

This is a step in the right direction, and is to be commended – especially as it comes against the backdrop of significant financial challenge across police forces.

ASB remains a blight on the life of millions: around 3.2 million incidents of ASB were recorded in England and Wales in 2011/12, and this is probably only a fraction of the true extent of the problem. Many people only ring the police as a last resort (if at all), and so may have been worried, anxious or frightened for some time already; and all those who suffer repeated ASB, or are particularly vulnerable to harm from it (such as some disabled or elderly victims) need extra support. It is therefore vital that the police response is effective, quick and reassuring, and that the public feel that their local force is doing all it can to tackle ASB in their community.

But there is no room for complacency. One in three ASB victims across England and Wales reported they still do not get the service they feel they should. While again there was variation between forces (from 17% to 43%), this is unacceptable. In addition, some forces are still not consistently applying ‘what works’, despite a clear link between doing so and higher victim satisfaction.

HMIC found also variation in practice and performance between forces – and the range of difference is significant. For example, when victims were asked about how satisfied they were with the way the ASB they had called about was dealt with, the overall figure for England and Wales was 63% – but the range was between 49% and 84%.

Risk

All forces now have IT systems to help identify repeat and vulnerable victims (by automatically flagging up if they have called before). But forces, to varying degrees, fail to consistently bolster this with tactful and targeted questioning of the caller. Those forces that do this more reliably achieved higher levels of victim satisfaction. These questions provide important information enabling forces to establish if, for instance, the victim has suffered repeatedly, but has only just plucked up the courage to phone the police; or if a change in circumstances means they should now be considered vulnerable. Some of the callers who most need the police’s help are simply not getting the support they need. For this to improve, forces must ensure that call-handlers consistently check for repeat victimisation and vulnerability; and more widely, that their technology, systems and people all work together seamlessly.

Forces have recently (01 April 2011) adopted three simpler ASB definitions to categorise calls – personal, nuisance and environmental. These replace the 14 codes used before. However, HMIC found that 30 forces still didn’t consistently categorise the calls properly. This can mean that forces do not have a full and accurate picture of local ASB problems and patterns; and more importantly, victims may not get the service they need (since forces use the categories to help them decide how best to respond to a call).

Finally, although HMIC found improvements across all of England and Wales, not all forces are performing to consistently high standards: some were much weaker at tackling ASB to start with, and the pace and extent of progress since 2010 also varied.

HM Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Sir Denis O’Connor, said:

“Police have generally improved their responsiveness to ASB and victim satisfaction has improved. This is to be commended especially as it has been achieved while budgets have been cut. The next step in reducing risk to the public is for forces to consistently apply practices that identify repeat victimisation and those that suffer from it.”

Source: HMIC