One aspect of the Stephen Lawrence judgement that raised a question with me is whether issues of crime and anti-social behaviour have actually changed in the intervening years since Stephen was murdered. The callous murder of Anuj Bidve in the early hours of boxing day, together with a number of other murders in the street which still make the news with a monotonous regularity, would indicate that street violence and knife and gun crime are still serious issues. Although there is an argument to say that these incidents are much more frequently drug and gang related, rather than the sort of hideous random racist attacks carried out on Stephen and Anuj.
I do think there has been progress, certainly in these parts, in dealing with the more low level anti-social behaviour incidents. I think both the police and the local authorities are more responsive and treat complaints of ASB much more seriously than had previously been the case. I’m not talking about anti-social behaviour orders, because they are only the tip of an iceberg, but about intervention on behalf of people whose neighbours only want to make other people’s lives a misery. What we have seen in recent years has been a willingness by the authorities to deal swiftly with low level ASB. The hideous case of Fiona Pilkington who killed herself and her daughter five years ago after a decade of harassment has helped to focus minds.
I was struck reading a passage from Chris Mullin’s latest diaries when he was returning home late one night in 1995…
About a quarter to midnight I came across two separate parties of villains at work on cars in the terrace. Outside number 3, a group of youths were attempting to batter their way into a car. I walked past and they ignored me. Outside number 8 I came across a pasty-faced yob attempting to chisel his way into our neighbour’s car. When challenged he claimed to be looking for coins which he had dropped. Whereupon he emerged, beer bottle in hand, screaming that he was going to ‘snap my fucking jaw off’. I scuttled quickly indoors and he made off down the street’.
That sort of behaviour, it seems to me, was much more prevalent when I was elected 13 years ago than it is now. In my Ward, and on a Town level as well as at Borough level there are ‘tasking’ meetings where the police, councillors, officers, police community support officers, wardens and other partner organisations, share information about hot spots for minor crime and ASB incidents, with action plans, timescales and measurable outcomes. It was a difficult concept for the police to deal with at first – they are suspicious of external communication – but with some good leadership it has worked fine. Blair’s pledge to deal with “crime and the causes of crime” wasn’t just a fancy soundbite.
My fear is that the cutbacks to local government and frontline police services – no matter how much the coalition try to was their hands of it, it is happening - will set the whole process back. Together with mass unemployment, particularly amongst young people (although in my experience ASB isn’t just young people) the danger is the whole thing spirals downwards and the ‘pasty-faced yobs’ will once again rule the neighbourhoods.