THINK anti-social behaviour and you imagine teenage yobs drinking on street corners, tearaway children throwing stones at buildings or hurling abuse at local pensioners. Right?
The Home Office’s new crime map website certainly paints a bleak picture for Blackpool, recording 558 incidents of anti-social behaviour – or ASB – in December alone.
Take a look at details for the Police and Communities Together (PACT) meetings and it’s a similar story – ASB is listed as a PACT priority in almost every ward.
So, jumping into the dedicated ASB car for Blackpool North on Saturday night with PC Neil Cooper and his right-hand lady, PCSO Jill Bond, I imagined a night of booze-fuelled teenage brawls and chasing children away from graffiti hotspots.
But covering the vast area from Anchorsholme to Blackpool Victoria Hospital, it was clear it’s not all about nuisance youths.
PC Cooper, community beat manager for Park ward, said: “The vast majority of people, when they think of ASB, think of gangs of youths. But it can be anything from kids in the street to noise issues like loud parties, rubbish being thrown in someone’s garden, dogs being off leads, snowball fights, sledging, drinking or begging.
“And the majority of calls are about neighbour disputes.
“You can’t underestimate ASB. It can be detrimental to people’s lives because it’s a repeat thing for them. It’s something they feel they are living with on a daily basis. You really empathise with people.”
This is where the ASB cars – one each to cover Blackpool north, central, south and Fylde – and teams of neighbourhood police officers who drive them really come into their own.
They are out in force every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights between 4pm until 11pm, when there is traditionally a rise in reports of anti-social behaviour.
And cover is generally increased during school holidays.
The car is equipped with a dedicated ASB mobile phone so victims can have direct contact with officers who respond to reports of anti-social behaviour, allowing an improved response time.
Within minutes of getting into the car, a call came in from an employee from Spar, on Kincraig Road in Bispham, who reported a teenage girl – who had been barred – hanging around the foyer.
She’d gone by the time we’d got there – probably because of the threat the police were on their way. But the log will be passed on to the local neighbourhood policing team who can then deal with the problem in the long-term.
And that was the only call the officers received about youth nuisance in the three hours I was patrolling with them. Maybe there just happened to be something good on the telly that night... Or maybe this ASB car really is starting to work.
While the officers agree hotspots still exist – Spar on Kincraig Road for one, Tesco on All Hallows Road in Bispham, East Pines Drive park in Anchorsholme, The Gynn gardens and Kinscote Park in Layton – they’re keen to point to the success stories.
Passing the Rock Gardens, Bispham, and Easington Crescent, Grange Park, which were historically plagued by teenage ASB, PC Cooper explained there had been a dramatic reduction.
He said: “We used to get calls all the time to the Rock Gardens, but never now. The gangs and big groups don’t gather any more. The shops are tightening up and we are on top of it – it’s a lot of money to lose if the police take your booze off you.
“There used to be 30 or 40 kids hanging around Easington Crescent, but you don’t see it now. Neighbourhood policing and multi-agency work, giving young people diversionary activities definitely works here.”
The police also have a raft of measures to bring people into line, from youth referral orders to exclusion notices to acceptable behaviour contracts (ABCs), which could lead to a tenant being evicted from their house if they breach conditions.
PCSO Bond said: “The ASB car also makes a difference. They have a dedicated number to ring, which comes through to us. It puts people’s minds at rest. It’s reassurance, they see the car driving up and down and know if they ring we’ll be there in 10 to 15 minutes.”
And it’s clear many young people have a great relationship with their local bobbies.
“All right Mr Cooper!” shouted one streetwise looking youngster in Grange Park, and there were thumbs up from another as he walked by the ASB car doing its rounds.
Gwen King, chairman of Queens Park Residents Association, said the car played a vital role in community policing.
She said: “It is not just a number that people can call, it’s something out and about in the community and often just the sight of it is enough to resolve a situation.
“They can be there and on the scene instantly and it really does make a difference.
“They are out in the streets and know who is causing the anti-social behaviour and which are the worst areas. People have said it is a really good thing and hopefully it is something funding can be retained for.”