Speeches recovered from the Conservative party‚Äôs online archive More…

Chris Grayling: Not enough being done to tackle anti-social behaviour

For most people in most areas of the country, anti-social behaviour is their No 1 law and order issue.

Abusive behaviour. Minor acts of vandalism. Grafitti. And generally disruptive behaviour that drives others away. Or disturbs what could be a peaceful community.

We have not done, and do not do enough to tackle anti-social behaviour.

If you visit a police call centre, it is by far the biggest concern raised by the public.

And too often attempts to deal with it are met with a brazen swagger, and the sense that "you can't touch me".

Well that's just not good enough.

We know the solutions aren't easy.

That's what the current Government has found.

The new Home Secretary, in his first speech in the job, admitted what we all knew - that this Government has been complacent about anti-social behaviour.

But I thought what was equally interesting about Alan Johnson's speech was how little attention it got. You would have expected the views of a new Home Secretary to command widespread interest. Instead it passed almost without notice.

I think that's because most people have given up on the current Government.

We've heard all the rhetoric so many times before.

Tough action against yobs.

New measures to tackle anti-social behaviour.

New law after new law.

Tony Blair's famous respect agenda.

And yet most people would say that it has made precious little difference.

That's because a strategy purely based on grabbing headlines is not enough to solve a deep rooted problem.

Complicated schemes like ASBOs don't deliver.....
Dispersal orders have a role to play, but they can discriminate against completely innocent young people.

And everything the Government has put in place takes time and multiple agency involvement to implement.

So if you kick over a fence, the chances are that nothing much will happen to you.

And so why would you worry about doing it again.

That has to change. And people up and down the country are desperate for it to change.

Anti-social behaviour isn't always a teenage problem.

Adults can be pretty anti-social as well these days.

But more often than not, it's groups of young people who are the ones who cause the most deep rooted problems.

I think we have to tackle anti-social behaviour on different levels.

Let's start with some absolutes.

The vast majority of the teenagers who hang around in our communities are decent law abiding young people who are doing nothing wrong.

Many acts which annoy are not acts of anti-social behaviour. Kicking a ball around in the street is not anti-social. Yet you'd be surprised how many calls police get for things like that.

Nor is it illegal or anti-social to hang around with a group of friends. There's a real danger that we perceive a risk from groups of perfectly decent young people who are doing nothing more than hanging around and chatting.

Then there is the low level anti-social behaviour which can be found in most areas. Where the perpetrators are a headache - but aren't criminals in the making.

We have to differentiate between the trouble caused by groups of teenagers who have had a bit too much to drink, and the systematic unrest caused by groups with a complete disdain for the interests and welfare of others.

There is a minority which causes real problems, stirs up fears of trouble and ends up tarring all young people with the same brush.

They disrupt our public places.

They commit acts of vandalism which disfigure our communities.

And in the worst cases they cause huge nuisance and disruption to entire areas and ruin the lives of the people who live there.

I met residents affected by a group like that earlier this year. An entire estate in the Midlands systematically disrupted every Friday and Saturday night by a young gang intent on causing mayhem.

These are not boisterous teenagers getting out of hand. They are from a generation coming from the most difficult of backgrounds, for whom the sense of what is right and wrong has become completely blurred.

Some have been brought up in care - as in the case of a small gang who spent an entire summer last year bringing misery to a part of my constituency.

Others come from a world of instability and failure.

Family breakdown.

Frustration and failure at school.

Addiction, disorder and abuse in the home.

Those involved in policing and the courts say that the most persistent of young troublemakers almost invariably come from a seriously disrupted background.

You can also map the incidence of anti-social behaviour and low level criminality with the incidence of social problems in this country.

Until recently the Government did not publish statistics for acts of anti-social behaviour. They began to do so last year.

That has enabled us to start mapping the incidence of such acts against other indices of deprivation in individual police force areas. The figures don't yet exist for us to drill right down to locality levels - but the indicators are clearly there and they reinforce what we already know.

We know that the areas most seriously affected by social problems are the areas most likely to experience serious anti-social behaviour - and to see significant levels of teenage crime.

The links between family breakdown, welfare dependency, addiction, educational failure, and minor and more serious disorder are absolute.

So dealing with anti-social behaviour isn't simply a law and order challenge. It drives right to the heart of our Broken Society agenda.

It's about trying to rebuild the family, about trying to recreate a sense of responsibility inside and outside the home, about trying to create pride in communities and not alienation from them.

All of that will lie at the heart of what we seek to do in Government.

But we do also have to tackle anti-social behaviour at the sharp end.

I strongly believe that we need to intervene early. If we are to contain the problem of anti-social behaviour, and to rein back some who might go on to something more serious, then we need to catch the problem quickly.

If a young troublemaker gets away with it again and again, then any chance we might have of stopping them dissipates quickly.

We need to say no - and to do so when they first become a problem - not months or years later.

So we should start with a quick and simple response to minor misdemeanours - an approach that enables us to give occasional miscreants what I call the twenty first century version of a clip around the ear.

Beyond that we will need a more robust response to persistent troublemaking.

There have to be genuine consequences for wrongdoing - not the current situation where little happens to deter the troublemaker.

But we should also do our best - except in the most serious cases - to ensure that we do not leave those young troublemakers with a long term criminal record that will hamper those working to get them back onto the straight and narrow and into training and employment.

Because many of them are little more than groups of bored, sometimes drunk teenagers hanging around with nothing much better to do. Not necessarily from bad families. Not necessarily a major problem.

But like many teenagers, occasionally likely to get into a bit of trouble, and needing to be steered firmly back onto the straight and narrow.

This is where we need to restore discretion back to police officers, and where the restorative justice work that is being piloted by some forces needs to become normal practice as quickly as possible. In some cases a discussion with parents, an apology to the victim, a voluntary restitution like cleaning off the grafitti you sprayed last night, is enough to deal with an issue permanently.

We need to leave our police officers to take those decisions, and trust them to do so. We also need a system of crime and incident reporting that does not deter them from adopting an informal approach when it is the best way of doing things.

A number of police forces are doing good work in pioneering informal approaches to dealing with youth anti-social behaviour.

At the moment Ministers are "piloting" police discretion in four areas - prompted by intense pressure within the police world.

I think the idea of piloting discretion is nonsensical. We either trust our professionals. Or we don't. And the truth is that the current Government has not trusted them - and the result has been to create a system that is over prescriptive and over bureaucratic.

So that an officer who finds two teenage friends who have fallen out and are having a fight can't just break it up, and warn them not to do it again.
Instead he or she has to record the incident, and fill in endless forms to do so.

That just makes no sense.

So we will bring to a halt the "piloting" of discretion, and restore it to all officers right across the country.

But informality will not always work, and we want to see simple but more formal ways of dealing with youth anti-social behaviour being made available to front line officers as well.

That's why we are exploring another set of options for the police to enable them to deter those involved from doing the same thing again.

It's a power that exists in our schools. You can be put on detention. You can have property confiscated. But we do not offer any similar tools to those dealing with trouble outside school.

And we know that too many parents will not or cannot deal with problems themselves.

That's why back in February I floated the idea of grounding orders, which would allow police and the authorities the ability to ground young troublemakers for up to a month - except to go out to go to school.

An approach designed to be a simple deterrent to a young troublemaker - easy and quick to implement.

It's why I have also said that we need to be able to administer simple community punishments in cases of anti-social behaviour.

If you kick over the neighbour's fence, not only should you or your parents have to pay for it to be repaired, you should also face a simple punishment - like picking up litter for three Saturdays in the local park.

We're working on the right way to turn these ideas into reality.

Today I want to float another option which would go right to the heart of what matters to a Nokia generation of young people.

I'd like to see police given the power to confiscate temporarily a young troublemaker's mobile phone.

Removing their SIM card, with all their mobile numbers and text messages on it.

For a fortnight or a month.

Not permanently.

But long enough to make a point.

And to give a strong reminder that there are immediate consequences for - for example - verbally abusing a local shopkeeper - and that the police aren't afraid to take action if necessary.

The same principle could well be applied to some of the other things that are important to them.

Like their bikes.

Taking them away for a month would also be an irritation - but could also offer an additional benefit.

In areas where there is a genuine gang culture, such a step could also give police an additional tool to disrupt gang activity and make it practically more difficult for teenage gangs from different areas to confront each other.

The name of the game has to be simplicity and speed.

Not a response that takes months of complex bureaucracy - like getting an ASBO.

Not a response that puts a teenage troublemaker before the courts for a minor offence.

But a consequence that impacts on their lives and makes them think again.

If we're to deter potential troublemakers, the consequences they face have to be relevant to the lives they lead, and to be immediate.

Otherwise why would they stop doing what they were doing.

But there's a deeper reason why this is so important.

These problems can in some cases lead to something altogether more serious.

More often than not the young offender aged sixteen or seventeen, committing knife offences, was a few years earlier committing acts of anti-social behaviour in his local community.

Two weeks ago I spent time with the specialist squad in Manchester's Moss Side area that is dedicated entirely to the problem of gang warfare in the areas.

Literally warfare.

We saw the bullet hole in the window of one house where a leading gang member had been shot the previous weekend.

And the two smashed up houses that had been invaded in attempted revenge for what had happened.

And I was particularly struck by the stories of some of the most serious perpetrators.

Many had begun on the fringes of the gangs.

As bit part players.

And then had suddenly gone on to something much more serious.

We need to peel away more of those fringe players before they go on to something much worse.

I am in no doubt that the 16 or 17-year-old found carrying a knife in a City Centre was committing acts of anti-social behaviour two or three years earlier.

Anti-social behaviour does not always lead to serious crime - but serious crime certainly has its roots in anti-social behaviour.

And peeling the fringe players away before they get to that point means both carrots and sticks.

It means introducing simple but clear penalties for those acts of anti-social behaviour.

It also means local government, the voluntary sector and local communities working together to give those young troublemakers something more positive to do as well.

There are some great local projects, up and down the country, working to engage the actual and potential troublemakers in constructive activity.

And for those coming from the most difficult of backgrounds giving them a real sense of a more positive way to spend their time.

Like Friday Night Football.

Martial Arts Clubs.

And excellent work being done by the Fire Brigade in many parts of the country to involve young people in positive activity.

In difficult times financially, we have to be extremely careful not to forget the value of inexpensive community projects to society as a whole.

And of course the other piece that can make a difference is the restoration of a culture of discipline in our schools. If young people are brought up to be used to an environment of respect and good behaviour, then the job of tackling anti-social behaviour outside schools becomes so much easier.

That's why the work being done by my colleague Michael Gove to ensure we bring back a greater degree of discipline to many of our schools is so important.

Anti-social behaviour is not a problem that will be solved overnight.

But its pervasiveness undermines the spirit of community, as well as sowing the seeds for more serious troubles in our society.

The wanton abuse of a local shopkeeper

The mindless vandalism of the childrens' playground.

The grafitti on the wall.

The disorder after closing time in the town centre.

Or the drunken group of under age drinkers in the park - or out in the street - causing a nuisance night after night.

The stones thrown at the house of an elderly person.

These aren't rarities in Britain today.

In too many places, no, in most places they are the norm.

Acts like these remain the work of the minority.

But they do as much damage to quality of life in our communities as anything.

And they are a consequence of a society that does not say "no" until it is too late.

That does not intervene early and demonstrate to a first time troublemaker that there are consequences for that first misdemeanour.

That is too soft with young offenders in the mistaken view that being sympathetic is more important than being firm.

There is an old saying for parents - never reward bad behaviour.

Good parenting means punishment - followed by love and interest.

There is no reason for society to be any different.

Sticks, then carrots.

Simple punishments to deal with acts of anti-social behaviour, followed by thoughtful engagement of the culprits, either to give them something to do, or to address more deep rooted problems.

It won't work for everyone.

But if it peels away some of those who might go on to something more serious, then it will have been well worthwhile.

And if it helps restore calm to some of the blighted communities, it will have been doubly so.

That's my hope for a Conservative Government.

Firmer action.

And a clear sign that we will no longer tolerate anti-social behaviour and the disruption of our communities.

Nothing else will do.

Not a website.

Not another initiative.

But a sense that we are really starting to make a difference.

Keyboard shortcuts

j previous speech k next speech