Saturday, April 16, 2011

Neighbourhood policing

There have been some minor instances of anti-social behaviour in our neighbourhood recently – nothing serious, just annoying stuff like graffiti, kids knocking on our windows, more litter in our drive, and in one case eggs thrown at the house. We were concerned that the latter might have been personal, because we are English, but we’ve been told it’s happened to other houses in the area as well.

The problem seems to be with two groups in society – young kids, and older teenagers/ young adults. The young kids are local and, in general, well brought up. I suspect they just don’t think there’s a problem with litter and window-knocking, or making a noise in the street or playing football mainly in the street, but straying into front gardens occasionally. And, indeed, if all the neighbours are happy with that, then it isn’t a problem.

The older group are more difficult to assess. They certainly appear more threatening. They seem to roam over a wider area, they drink, and I suspect they are completely aware that their behaviour is intimidating. A few weeks ago we had a call from a neighbour who wasn’t at home, but who had been phoned by his teenage children who were in the house on the own. An older group were playing football in their drive and the children were scared. He asked us to go and take a look but by the time we arrived they were gone.

The police have responded well, however compared to what they have to deal with elsewhere these are not major incidents. My concern is that nowadays society leaves too much of the responsibility for anti-social behaviour with the police and not enough with the citizen. Of course it could be argued that in Northern Ireland this is less the case than many other places, due to the residual vigilante practices of paramilitary organisations, but I’m talking about areas – such as my own – where this doesn’t happen. The police have told us not to confront anyone, and not even to take photos (they are concerned about child protection issues), but to call them whenever we see anything untoward, and not to worry about it seeming unimportant.

You couldn’t ask for more from your neighbourhood police, but I’m not afraid of these kids and I want to confront them. I want to say to them that certain types of behaviour are not acceptable in my neighbourhood and that it has to stop – and keep on saying it, if necessary. I think that by giving up the right to do this to the police, we as citizens are hiding too much behind the state and, in fact, that it means these young people have achieved the dominance of public space which they seek. Needless to say, both the younger and older groups are usually boys.

The received liberal wisdom is that children and young adults need to be provided with things to do, to stop this kind of behaviour. Well, I was brought up in a town with very few activities for young people and I didn’t end up hanging around on street corners. Much more to the point is whether parents know where their children are. If your children want to meet up with friends, let them do so in someone’s house and garden. If your children say they are going to visit a friend, phone to check they are actually there. Don’t let your few hours of peace and quiet be at the expense of somebody else’s. If your children are older, you can’t police them, of course. But let them know certain kinds of behaviour are not only despicable (which they probably won’t care about), but illegal, and it’ll be hard to get that first job or J1 visa with a criminal record.

I’m for zero tolerance when it comes to anti-social behaviour and I see no contradiction between that and being a socialist. I believe that if you allow incivility to take hold and boundaries to be crossed, then the problem escalates. Remove graffiti at once, clean up litter, and speak to people who may not understand that their behaviour is causing a nuisance. Socialism is about the collective, and anti-social behaviour is about the power of the (usually male) individual to cause distress to others. Citizens need to be able to make that clear.


Timothy Belmont said...

Interesting piece, Jenny, and I admire you for your stance. Personally, I'm ashamed to say that I'd be reluctant to "tackle" them, fearful as to the consequences or repercussions (and doubtless you've heard that lots of times).

Just a generation or two ago, neighbours and residents would certainly have dealt with anti-social behaviour themselves (grabbing youngsters, bundling them into the car and taking them down to the local constabulary, for instance).

Apart from the obvious clichés, I don't know the solution; though I agree largely with what you say.

Anonymous said...

No one in their right mind would not be concerned about child protection issues but the police should understand that taking a photograph or video film of a young person because they're invading your privacy and causing a nuisance is not unreasonable. Might be an idea to ask a solicitor's opinion about that aspect of this issue and not rely on the over cautious approach of the police.

Peter J

Jenny Muir said...

Timothy - I do think it's easier for women to confront bad behaviour, because it's unexpected and also, here, young men are still brought up not to hit women they don't know. And being bundled into a car and being taken to the local constabulary used to be the best outcome I imagine, as opposed to losing your knee or ankle joints in a back alley.

Peter - I think it depends on the age of the child and also I suspect on the degree of provocation, as I read about households with a severe problem having CCTV installed and no-one seems to complain about that. but I'll keep your suggestion in mind.

nick said...

I'm right behind you on this. Far better for the parents of the youths in question to know what they're doing, take some responsibility and nip hooliganism in the bud, than to rely on the police who're unlikely to be around when nuisance behaviour occurs and usually can do nothing but make an incident report.

Anonymous said...

Being able to confront them would be great, it would certainly make you feel like you had more control over how you could feel in your home area.

However as far as confrontation goes, I would say I've never had any bother when talking to the children, as long as I never tried to sound confrontational, and funnily enough they ended up just trying to show off.

I've never really gone near the older ones, they ARE intending to be intimidating, and the main reason I'd never go near them is purely because they are drinking, you've seen the posters around about safe nights out? Basically, where drink is involved tempers flare easily, I've also had a work colleague attacked and almost glassed by youths going round flouting this intimidation. And often I imagine there is one of the scary looking groups carrying a knife, this is why the police say don't confront them.

As for parents, this will happen in most cases (and I've seen it first hand a couple of times, the parent down right refuses to acknowledge that their child has done anything wrong. In fact their child is an angel, and would never do anything like that. They are allowed to wander about, do whatever they want, amuse themselves as it were.

It's not fair, youths should not rule the streets, though I would say if they are to be confronted, then perhaps the best way to confront them may be with the community around you for support.


Jenny Muir said...

Nick - thanks for this. If parents took responsibility, I'd be find with taking errant children back home and explaining to their parents what they'd been doing. But I suspect I'd just get a punch on the nose, or at best told to mind my own business.

Heather - interesting that you comment about knives, not sure where you are from but I don't think that's such a problem here in NI. The tough nuts (not in evidence in our area) have guns, the rest I don't think have anything. But the glassing might be a possibility, and as you say drink makes people unpredictable.

Anonymous said...

No, I'm from Belfast, well, I live here now, from a more rural area until I came to Uni.

I only say about knives, because a few news stories stand out, and although it may not be youths that carry, it's often better to be safe than sorry. It is more likely tobe a bottle than a knife.

I think I'm just overly paranoid.


Peter Matthews said...

I'm really glad you posted this.

I live in a block that neighbours a block of flats in the bottom 5% of the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation and have had similar problems. The worst we've had was: somebody threatened with a knife when they asked the kids to leave a private garden; cars being vandalised; and a firework being shot at a window.

But, like you I feel uncomfortable in a myriad of ways. I get really angry when some of my fellow residents refer to them as "feral youths" when most of their behaviour is what I did 20 years ago.

I think we are in danger of succumbing to a very negative moral relativism on ASB - attacking it is seen as being part of the "neo-liberal state" attacking "working class culture". When homicide by sharp instruments is one of the biggest causes of death for young men in Scotland then I say we have a problem that needs to be tackled, whether that involves attacking some imagined community or not.

Jon Bannister at Glasgow Uni has done some work on this suggesting that you need two levels of community development and empowerment. The first level to encourage people to recognise that their fears have been stoked by social discourses and that 99.9% of the time this behaviour should be tolerated without fear. And the second level for what you suggest - the social condemnation of this behaviour by standing up to it.

Jenny Muir said...

Heather, a lot of the stories are about GB where I think things ae different. Here, especially in areas like mine, I think we have a lot of middle class kids pretending to be tough be they're not really.

Peter - thanks for getting at the complexity of what I'm saying, and it's interesting that Jon has done some work on theorising it. Problem is, that stance has to be explained to politicians and to the public. Perhaps a way in is to start asking when did society start to be afraid of kids - and why? And is it really just a way of not caring and taking responsibility?

Rab said...

'...when did society start to be afraid of kids?'

I think that's an excellent question Jenny.

A few years ago, when I lived elsewhere, I used to get really anxious about groups of young boys and men hanging around our street. Most of them lived in the area; others used to pass our house on their way home from a night out. We lived in a cul da sac, but a gap in the hedge provided a convenient short cut for some.

I would regularly stand at the front window, watching out on the street at night, worrying about people outside.

But a couple of things have happened that have kind of made me think differently.

First of all, I hung about on the street when I was a kid. i had no particularly malicious intentions but that is not say that my presence didn't make adults uncomfortable.

Secondly, I have two boys of my own - still young 5 and 8 - but I can see and recognise the anxiety in some of my neighbours when the two dunderheads are outside messing about.

But as a consequence of having kids I now know most the other kids in our street and area and they know me. This makes it easier for me to intervene outside when there's any arsing around or mischief.

But I think you put your finger on something important with this post Jenny, something that gets to the heart of 'communal' life in middle class areas. As we've become more privatised and atomised over the years, adults/home owners have sort of conceded public space to kids; we've retreated into our home and view the world anxiously through our living room windows and the media (the source of many of the discourses of ASB that I suspect Bannister is concerned about).

And our retreat from communal and public spaces has wider consequences, as far as I can see. The footpaths around our way are covered in dog shit. The little patches of common grassland and banks are neglected looking and strewn with rubbish. While everybody's garden is well kept and the houses neat as pins, the main thoroughfare is shabby looking.

This is the space that kids inherit.

Broken Britain? The Big Society? The Tories determination to privatise all before them will only alienate us and makes us more fearful of kids.

That's why I agree with you. This issue socialists have got to take up and speak to.

Jenny Muir said...

Thanks for this profound comment, Rab. I think you hit the nail on the head when talking about the difference between public and private space, and at some point a feeling setting in that individuals don't have any responsibility for the state of public spaces - both in terms of their condition and the behaviour within them. This lack of responsiblity isn't helped by policing of public spaces by the state, e.g. spot fines for drinking or dog shit, or calling the police whenever something didgy seems to be going on. We have to do it ourselves! But I think your point about understanding where the kids are coming from is important too.

Simon Oliver said...

Youths hanging around street corners in intimidation mode is not particularly new. It happened in the fifties - teddy boys - who used to hang around our neighbourhood and look, well, threatening. Where was this? Brighton? Brixton? No, Strandtown.