One of the biggest challenges I face as the Community Safety Engager will be reassuring people that for most of the time, they are safe and to reduce their anxiety and fear about crime and who is considered to be responsible for causing crime within the local community. The community safety survey found that 64% of respondents felt that the fear of crime and the need for reassurance was a noticeable and fairly significant problem in the local areas.
In November 2020 the Scottish Community Safety Network, published a significant piece of research. ‘The Scottish Picture of Antisocial Behaviour (ASB)’ report, produced by Robyn Bailey, Social Researcher for the Scottish Government, who was commissioned to research into ASB in terms of how common it is, which types are most common, who is engaging in it and what is driving it. I know many people cannot be bothered with facts and figures; but it is in my view worth pondering over some of Robyn Baileys findings, as they are revealing and, in some respects, consistent with many local peoples experiences. However, when we look at the national picture this is suggesting that problems with ASB are actually falling.
The research found that Levels of ASB have decreased over the past 10 years and the public have noticed this decline in their areas, nevertheless, those living in the most deprived areas, in socially rented housing and in large urban areas, as well as younger people, are more likely to perceive ASB issues in their area. The consultation work I carried out in 2020 echoed these concerns and I noted a high level of concern about the connection between poverty, lack of opportunities and the very local levels of ASB. It would therefore not be unreasonable to conclude that if we do not address poverty and inequality then the same local neighbourhoods will continue to suffer from disproportionately higher levels of ASB
The next observation is that although youth crime rates in Scotland are falling, the percentage of people who view young people hanging around on the streets as ‘problematic’ has continued to grow (Neary et al 2013) This seems to be due to stereotyping of young people congregating in public, which leaves them in a difficult position: just being young and hanging about can make these youngsters seem to be unfairly criminalised and often treated like modern day folk devils. This process over time leads people to think that groups of young people hanging about is in itself a form off ASB. If the levels of ASB are actually decreasing as the research is suggesting then a significant part of feeling safe has to be about changing some peoples perceptions of what young people are actually doing when they hang about in groups. They are often just socialising and not actually involved with ASB and the research would seem to support this observation.
As always, the challenge is in responding to these circumstances in ways that are effective, and which bring about change for the better. The research finds that in reality ASB is more often caused by people in their thirties and not teenagers, and the most common ASB is unwanted and intrusive noise. The best course of action that is suggested will require the community and agencies to try and correct these false historic perceptions. The recommendation is that we need to adopt community-led approaches to tackling ASB. My role therefore as community safety engager should be key and central to facilitating, engaging, and supporting the community to develop responses and opportunities which will have the best chance of success. Firstly, we need to understand the causes of ASB and then we will have a far better chance of successfully reducing that negative behaviour. The solutions might be practical, for example excessive noise might be remedied through improving wall insulation and having more effective sound proofing in the housing stock. Another pertinent example might be about developing new local youth services that are appropriate to their needs and interests. In areas of low income and with high incidence of poverty and deprivation then access to local sports and leisure facilities may need to improve and the barrier of cost be removed. Similarly unresolved mental health issues and ongoing substance dependency need to be tacked at their route causes as opposed to tackling their symptoms and the social and criminal consequences of these addictions and negative behaviours.
Finally, we need to address the perceptions of ASB and who engages in it and acknowledge that this is often influenced by stereotypes and reinforced through the media and the creation of moral panics. The responses to the local community safety priorities will require us to get behind these stereotyped labels, better understand the causes of people’s behaviours and attitudes and then as a community work together to facilitate successful sustainable solutions. One of the strap lines of Neighbourhood Watch Scotland is “We all need to look out for each other” and in that statement lies the core of an effective community safety strategy
The Picture of Anti-Social Behaviour in Scotland can be found at:https://www.safercommunitiesscotland.org/new-research-the-scottish-picture-of-anti-social-behaviour/