Fighting anti-social behaviour in Three Rivers – the view from the front line
20th July 2022
This week (18 July to 24 July) is Anti-Social Behaviour Awareness Week, a national campaign to highlight the impact of ASB on local communities. The Three Rivers Community Safety Partnership works together to prevent and reduce anti-social behaviour – and this week a series of events are being hosted across the district to help engage communities with the support that is available (scroll down for details).
Michelle Wright, a Community Safety Intervention Officer, shares a view from the inside of the partnership and its work.
What is anti-social behaviour? Unless you have experienced it – and hopefully you never will – it may be something you only ever hear other people talk, or more likely, complain about.
But what if it if does happen to you – how will you know what it is and where to turn?
Anti-social behaviour (ASB) is defined as “conduct that has caused, or is likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person” – an extensive list of examples can be found here. The truth is that this behaviour can make the lives of those who experience it a living nightmare. But help is at hand. Here in Three Rivers there is a dedicated team who work hard to make sure that whenever a resident does have any experience which could be linked to ASB, a fast and effective solution can be found.
Michelle Wright has been working as a Community Safety Intervention Officer at Three Rivers District Council for 12 years. She knows a thing or two about both victims and perpetrators of ASB. And although no two cases are ever exactly the same, she has learned that in almost every case the best way to solve the problem is, like a skilled surgeon, to treat the cause not just the symptoms.
“My job is to investigate, monitor and combat anti-social behaviour across the district,” explained Michelle, in the middle of another busy week, which just happens to be ASB Awareness Week. She continues: “I perform my job working closely with our community safety partner agencies – these include a wealth of support agencies, including the police, fire service, drug and alcohol services, mental health services and housing providers. Together we work to make a difference to all those affected by ASB.”
Michelle is rightly proud of the work she and her colleagues in the community partnership do to tackle ASB. During the past five years no-one has activated the Community Trigger (also known as ASB Case Review). This is a system designed to give victims the right to demand that agencies deal with persistent anti-social behaviour. Some councils see 30 triggers activated against them a year. The fact that Three Rivers has had none in five years suggests that victims seem to be receiving the response that they want and need from Three Rivers District Council and its partners.
So how is the council helping victims of ASB?
Michelle said: “We take into account a number of aspects from prevention to rehabilitation. As each case of ASB is unique, so is the way in which we handle each complaint, and our actions will depend upon the nature, frequency and severity of each case.
“We will always engage at the earliest point we can. We believe that from day one of the initial complaint being received in the office, we will wrap around the support needed. It is proven to work well and we take all calls and complaints seriously.
“There are times when we don’t hear about a case until it is at crisis point – which is very, very rare. This is because we are such a tight partnership, and continuously in touch with what is going on across the district. On the odd occasion that does happen, we have had to go straight to ASB enforcement. That can be emotional for me, and very emotional for that vulnerable person too.”
Closure Orders are one of the tools used in the fight against ASB. They can be used to close a premises that is at the centre of an ASB case, such as a resident’s house being used for drug dealing, or a resident of a house who is the cause of serious anti-social behaviour (e.g. frequent loud parties, drunk and disorderly behaviour, harassment and intimidation of neighbours).
Like every public service, the community safety team does face challenges and criticism. Such criticism can sometimes be around the amount of time officers spend focusing on the perpetrators of ASB – rather than just the victims.
Michelle added: “In the life of a perpetrator of ASB, we have to peel back the layers, like an onion. If someone is assaulting their partner whether verbally or physically, it is about them. Police will take enforcement if the victim wishes to support the behaviours. But until we support the perpetrator and get the right help and treatment for them – that violence is never going away.”
Much ASB is a consequence of mental ill-health. It is with that in mind that Michelle approaches many of the complaints that come in.
She said: “We will get a call and sometime it will emerge that someone is suffering from mental health issues, or they are drunk, or being abused – and we need to get to the bottom of the behaviour.
“We are victim focused; and have an amazing service provision and wellbeing team that support our residents. Agencies will come out and support you at home or meet you at a convenient space, interview you, listen to you, support you in recording your issue, offer diversionary projects, including mediation. It’s about bringing and using all the tools in the box to help combat the behaviour.”
Sometimes reports of ASB can arise from relatively straight forward issues such as neighbours working at different times of the day, differing lifestyles or playing loud music. These issues can often be solved by offering simple advice and support.
“Sometimes it can be solved with just a little conversation,” Michelle adds. “Or you might get someone who calls up and reports themselves, fearing that they are being a nuisance to their neighbour because they are drinking too much, because they are in debt or in a bad place. We will offer advice and support to them, visit them and see what service we can provide to help. There is always something we can do as a partnership – we never draw a blank.”
Thanks to her years of experience, Michelle knows exactly which levers to pull to get the solutions residents need quickly. She also recognises that what is happening in the wider world has a big impact on people’s behaviour. The coronavirus lockdowns had a huge impact on mental health, and the current economic pressures will, Michelle predicts, have their own effects on society.
But through it all, the key to helping residents – whether they are victims or perpetrators – is a local authority and a wider community partnership that is responsive. That is something which Michelle understands and that is what she is determined will always happen across Three Rivers.
Whilst ASB Awareness Week runs from 18 to 24 July 2022, for Michelle and her colleagues, awareness of anti-social behaviour is essential every day of the year.
More information about anti-social behaviour and how to report it can be found here.
Community Engagement Events:
- South Oxley SNT engagement - Thursday 21 July - Market square by 222 coffee and the parade of shops next to Carpenders Park station, South Oxhey - 1pm to 3pm.
- Rickmansworth SNT engagement – Friday 22 July – Rickmansworth High Street, about halfway down, set up outside Starbucks – 1.30pm to 3pm.