Tackling Crime

Topics covered below:

Criminal Justice – support for witnesses
Youth Justice Plan
Ten Force Robbery Reduction Initiative
More effective policing
Preventing re-offending
Drug Interventions Programme
Intensive supervision in community programmes
Anti-Social Behaviour Orders
Partnerships

As someone whose own mother and teenage son were the victims of street muggings, I understand the concern of many of my constituents about the harm crime does to individuals and their communities.  In our area, crime continues to fall.   Street crime was rising until recently. The Police attributed this increase to young people carrying mobile phones being attacked and indeed this was the motivation for the attack on my son.  However, since then various initiatives (for example, see information on the Ten Force Robbery Reduction Initiative) have succeeded and street robbery is also now in decline.

Criminal Justice – support for witnesses

24 September 2003 - The Home Office published their witness intimidation strategy earlier this year which brings together a number of previously separate elements both within and outside the criminal justice system.  The work involves court based measures – such as facilitating witnesses giving evidence by means other than through attendance at Court (live TV links, pre-recorded evidence) and community based measures – such as rehousing those who are the subject of violence and threats.   You can access more details by clicking here.

Youth Justice Plan

January 2007 - Click here to read the Early Day Motion (EDM) I have signed supporting Smart Justice for Young People.

27 May 2003 - The Youth Justice Plan 2003-2004 has been produced by Birmingham City Council in partnership with West MIdlands Police, the Health Authority, West Midlands Probation Service and various voluntary organisations.  The Plan sets out how the Youth Offending Service intends to met the 13 Targets set by the Youth Justice Board and reports progress during 2002.  The full Youth Justice Plan should be available in due course on the Youth Offending Service's website:
www.birmingham-yot.org.uk

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Ten Force Robbery Reduction Initiative

In response to the public’s concern, the Government is conducting a cross-Government initiative to tackle street crime that started in April 2002. The Ten Force Robbery Reduction Initiative is focusing on the ten police forces worst affected by street crime in the UK. Street crime is concentrated on a few, largely urban areas, and the ten police forces targeted deal with 82 per cent of all robbery in England and Wales. Adopting a multi-agency approach, the initiative combines short-term initial enforcement with longer-term solutions to reduce robbery. The initiative aims to increase the detection rate for robbery cases and the number of offenders charged and brought to justice, speed up the process between arrest and sentence and ultimately reduce the number of robberies in the ten force areas. West Midlands Police Force is one of the ten forces involved in the initiative.

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More effective policing

Whilst I welcome the focus of the Ten Force Robbery Reduction Initiative on tackling crime on the front line, I was disappointed that, at a recent London conference on crime, Tony Blair made a speech that mainly focused on the short-comings of the courts, and neglected the more pressing need for effective policing. There is no doubt the courts are in need of reform; currently the use of information technology is patchy and co-ordination often poor between the police, the crown prosecution service and the courts. However, once charged, the chances of a suspect being convicted are in fact reletively high - 72 per cent of defendents are found guilty in magistrates courts and 76 per cent in crown courts. The real issue is that so few suspects are caught in the first place. Barely a quarter of crimes are now solved, compared with 45 per cent in the 1960s, and only 14 per cent of crimes lead to prosecutions. Apart from commending New York city's zero tolerance approach, the Prime Minister said little about the need for better policing. If the Government is serious about combatting crime, then it must not be diverted from the central issue of effective policing.

There has been a welcome effort by a number of police forces to turn around the low levels of prosecution by adopting  an ‘intelligence led’ approach to combating crime. For instance, West Midlands Police has developed the Force Linked Forensic-Led Intelligence System (FFLINTS) that has been designed to process information gathered in various forms such as handwriting, fingerprints, drugs, DNA and to produce links with Force information on crimes and other criminals. This system, together with the piloting of the National Crime Intelligence Model and improving processes in using the Police National Computer and the Integrated Custody Information System, is expected to make the Police Force more effective in tackling crime.

Birmingham City Council also recently announced that it has extended a Professional Witness Scheme to other parts of Birmingham, after it was successful piloted on the Egghill Estate in Northfield in December 2000. Under the scheme professional witnesses, including ex-SAS officers, stake out an area using sophisticated surveillance equipment, such as micro-cameras placed in beer cans, to target offenders. Schemes such as this reinforce the important message to offenders that there is a good chance they will be caught and punished.

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Preventing re-offending

However, we also need to be more effective at preventing crime by preventing re-offending. Most current prison regimes have been shown to be ineffective at reducing re-offending rates. According to the Birmingham Youth Offending Service, 50 per cent of a sample of young people who received a custodial sentence in 2000 went on to re-offend, with offences that were the same or more serious, and either as frequently or more frequently than before.  According to the National Audit Commission's Youth Justice 2004 report, early support and intervention to prevent young people offending could save public services more than 80m a year.  The report calls for more use of community sentences instead of custody, "which is expensive and inefictive in reducing offending".

Although I believe that imprisonment is necessary for persistent and violent offenders, prison regimes should provide work and education in basic skills, and allow people to be both punished and properly equipped for a more constructive role in the community.

A significant barrier to successful reintegration is the low levels of educational attainment amongst the prison population, meaning that, on release, inmates are unqualified for the majority of jobs. According to a survey of inmates conducted by the Market Research Society in 2000, almost half had finished their formal education before their sixteenth birthday, while only five percent continued their education past the age of eighteen. A small proportion of two percent claimed they had received no secondary education at all, having left school by the age of eleven. To address this, I would like to see the education arm of the probation service strengthened and expanded so that offenders are given the opportunity to become involved in legitimate activities. Robust supervision should also continue to be provided on release.

It is also the case that a large number of acquisitive crimes are committed to fund drug addiction (in particular, addiction to opiates such as heroin) and prison has been shown to be ineffective at tackling this type of offending.  I believe it is time for the Government to review its policy on illegal drug use (for more information read my article Illegal Drug Policy) and to vastly expand treatment programmes so that young people can be helped kick the habit before they get into crime.  Whilst there is a long way to go, some good work has already started in Birmingham, under the Drug Interventions Programme as described in the next section.

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Drug Interventions Programme

In April 2004 Birmingham was awarded 3.9 million from the Home Office to launch the City's Drug Interventions Programme - the biggest programme of its kind in the country.

The programme - which is a critical part of the Government's strategy for tackling drugs and reducing crime by breaking the cycle in which many drug users commit offences to fund their habits - started on 1 January 2005.  The DIP involves close liaison between West Midlands Police, the Probation Service, Courts Prison and Birmingham City Council to engage with offenders and motivate them to address their drug use and link them into existing services.

For more information, please call 0121 523 9550.

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Intensive supervision in community programmes

There has been a welcome effort in recent years to augment traditional methods of tackling crime such as prison, with more effective community-based solutions. The government has recently announced that it plans to extend the Intermediate Supervision and Surveillance Programme (ISSP), which was set up by the Home Office to deal with the 3 per cent of young people who commit 26 per cent of all youth crime. The aim of the programme is to prevent youth offending through intensive community based programmes for young people who would otherwise receive a custodial sentence due to the seriousness of their offending. Those on the programme are subject to intensive surveillance in the community and have individually tailored packages of ‘reparation’ such as cleaning up graffiti or vandalised estates. Training and education is also a key part of the scheme and packages include structured literacy or numeracy programmes, and drug rehabilitation where appropriate. Birmingham has been successful with three bids to the Youth Justice Board for Intermediate Supervision and Surveillance Programmes. The ISSP scheme was launched in Birmingham on 14 August 2001 and the aim is that, by 2003/4, the overall re-offending rate will be reduced by 5 per cent and the seriousness of that offending will also be reduced.

An approach that has been shown to work extremely effectively is the use of restorative justice to confront young offenders with the effect of their crime on the victim and the consequences for themselves of a custodial sentence. An experimental project took place in the Thames Valley area and resulted in a much lower rate of re-offending than traditional forms of punishment. Under the project, known as the ‘Caution Plus’ scheme, the young offenders have a one to one interview with a police officer about the consequences of their action. If the victim agrees, an offender will apologise face to face, be asked to explain the reasons for the crime and hear from the victim about its effects. There is also a youth service and counselling option, a workshop on bullying and peer pressure and a discussion with two prison officers from a young offenders' institution who can explain what it is like to be imprisoned. This approach has been adopted by the Birmingham ISSP, which will employ a restorative justice worker as part of the scheme.

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Anti-Social Behaviour Orders

Anti-Social Behaviour Orders have also been effective in tackling anti-social behaviour, with 466 orders being granted since their inception in 1999. The Police and local authorities have the power to impose an order on anyone over the age of ten who has acted in an anti-social manner, and whose behaviour is of ongoing concern to the community. An order can be imposed indefinitely for a minimum of two years, and anyone who breaks an order is liable to imprisonment and/or a heavy fine. In 2000, of those sentenced for the breaching the conditions of their antisocial behaviour, more than half received a custodial sentence.  Further measures to deal with anti-social behaviour are currently before Parliament in the form of the Anti-Social Behaviour Bill.  An Action Plan has also now been published which will pilot a number of projects throughout the UK to deal with such problems as nuisance neighbours, begging and a wide variety of environmental problems including the removal of abandoned cars and graffiti.  You can read the Action Plan in full by clicking here or, if you would prefer a shorter summary on the proposed initiatives, click here.

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Partnerships

Ultimately, successful crime fighting requires the co-operation of people and their communities with the law enforcers. There is a growing realisation of the need for a joined up approach to tackling crime, involving the police working in partnership with schools and the local community to tackle early on the roots of offending behaviour, before it becomes a matter for the criminal courts. Truancy is often associated with youth offending, and I welcome the 66 million made available to Local Education Authorities as part of the Ten Force Robbery Reduction Initiative to fund Behaviour Improvement Programmes in schools to improve the attendance and behaviour of pupils. Under the programme Behaviour and Education Support Teams will draw together the full range of specialist support for pupils at risk of developing behavioural problems and their families, and may include the presence of specialists including police officers on the school site.

Parents must also play their part in reducing the levels of youth offending. Since June 2000 the courts have had the powers to impose parenting orders on the parents of anti-social children, to help them bring up their child in a way that minimises anti-social or offending behaviour. This is not solely about punishing parents. It is also to ensure that parents have the skills they need to keep their children out of trouble.

Click here for an article giving my views regarding the proposal to withold child benefit from parents whose children persistently truant and or commit crime.

There is no easy solution to tackling crime, and we need to ensure that the measures we employ are appropriate and effective. Prison will and should remain a vital weapon in the fight against crime, but it will prove a blunt and ineffective instrument unless it is used discriminately, and regimes are reformed to reduce the rates of re-offending. It is also vital that the police have the resources and know-how to effectively target offenders, and that provision is made for early intervention and community-based strategies for tackling the root causes of offending behaviour.

If you would like further information about what the Government is doing to combat crime, you can visit the Home Office "Crime Reduction" web site at www.crimereduction.gov.uk. If you would like further information about Birmingham City Council's Crime and Disorder Strategy, you can visit the Birmingham Community Safety Partnership web site at http://www.birmingham-csp.org.uk.

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Do you suffer from noise nuisance?

A related issue that I receive a lot of correspondence on from constituents is that of noise nuisance. Noise nuisance is a growing problem in our communities and noisy neighbours in particular have received a lot of attention recently in light of the government’s crackdown on anti-social behaviour. According to a recent survey by the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, 81 per cent of respondents heard noise from neighbours and/or other people nearby and 37 per cent were bothered, annoyed or disturbed to some extent. In response the Environment Minister Michael Meacher has said that the Government will "continue to try and find ways to address particular problems created by noise".

In view of this I have been disappointed to receive a number of complaints from constituents about the service provided by Birmingham City Council’s Environmental and Consumer Services Department in respect of noise nuisance problems. I have found that the service is generally inadequate to deal with the type of domestic noise problems experienced and there are inadequate liaison arrangements between Environmental Service officials and the Police and vice versa. If the police are called out to a late night disturbance, unless there is a criminal offence they can only request that the noise is reduced. Environmental Services have the power to prosecute but the police do not seem to automatically report the events they witness for appropriate action.

My attention was recently drawn to a joint initiative by the University of Leicester, Leicester City Council, the Police and Students’ Union, which offers a straightforward, integrated approach for dealing with noise problems. The University of Leicester have also published a leaflet to accompany the initiative which gives a step by step guide of what to do if you are a victim of noise nuisance, and below I have provided some information of the action you should take if you live in Birmingham. I have also provided a copy of a letter I have written to Cllr Tahir Ali, Chair of Local Services and Community Safety Advisory Team, requesting that Birmingham adopts a similar policy to Leicester for dealing with noise disturbance. The reply I have received from Cllr Ali is unsatisfactory and I will therefore continue to press the Council to improve its services for dealing with noise nuisance problems.

If you live in my constituency and you have a complaint about noise nuisance, you should contact the District Environmental Health Officer at Birmingham City Council on 0121 303 5544, or write to:

Ms Catherine Reay
Environmental and Consumer Services Department
Four Dwellings
Quinton Road West
Birmingham
B32 1PJ

Once you have contacted the Environmental Services Department, they will send you noise log sheets that should be completed and returned. At the same time a letter is sent to the noise source outlining the nature of the complaint. If this fails to provide an improvement to the situation, then on the return of completed noise log sheets, arrangements can be made for noise monitoring to be installed in your property.

If the noise monitoring equipment demonstrates that a noise nuisance exists, a Noise Abatement Notice can be served upon the source. If the nuisance continues after the notice has been served, then the courts can confiscate the noise source. If noise occurs out of hours and you need to call the police, make sure that they report the incident to Environmental Services. If regular out-of-hours disturbances occur you should be offered support from the Rapid Response Noise Service. This service is currently under threat and in my letter to Cllr Tahir Ali below I have urged that the service should be maintained as part of a multi-agency approach to the problem of noise nuisance behaviour, instead of being scrapped altogether.

If you are a constituent, please let me know if you are not satisfied with the service you receive when reporting noise or neighbour nuisance click here to contact me.

Letter to the Chair of the Local Services and Community Safety Advisory Team, Cllr Tahir Ali

28 March 2002

Dear Tahir

Environmental Health problems

I am writing to you in respect of your position as Chair of the Local Services and Community Safety Advisory Team concerning the services offered by the Environmental and Consumer Services Department in respect of noise nuisance problems.

Complaints have been drawn to my attention about the way the service operates, more specifically, that the service is generally inadequate to deal with the type of domestic noise problems experienced and that there are inadequate liaison arrangements between Environmental Service officials and the Police and vice versa. The noise nuisance legislation was originally designed with problems from commercial noise in mind rather than domestic noise, which can be sporadic and, particularly in the case of houses in multiple occupation (HMO), difficult to identify the person causing the noise. Other aspects of the legislation which are more burdensome on the complainant are the fact that, with respect to HMOs again, if the Environmental and Consumer Services Department tries to include all members of a HMO in a case, but someone moves in between the warning letter and the case going to court, the case will collapse. Furthermore, if the noise should be something like, say, hammering, the person making the noise can argue that they were simply going about their day-to-day business.

Following on from these complaints, a constituent has drawn my attention to the enclosed leaflet, which was produced by the University of Leicester in conjunction with Leicester City Council, the Police and Students’ Union, which offers a straightforward, integrated approach for dealing with noise problems. I have sent a copy of this to the Police, University of Birmingham (and the Students’ Union) and Environmental and Consumer Services Department to ask for a similar scheme to be implemented in Birmingham. The interim replies I have received from the Police and University have both been positive.

In view of the particular complaints that have been raised, I feel that such practical arrangements for dealing with noise issues are necessary and should be put in place as soon as possible (and not just in ’student’ areas, though the involvement of the university would not be relevant elsewhere).

I would appreciate any input the Advisory Team could make to this proposal. Political leadership is needed but the involvement, at a sufficiently senior level, of all the relevant agencies will be essential. I am concerned that police officers do not appear to be adequately briefed in their role in forwarding information about any nuisance and disturbance they witness to other relevant authorities. This must be put right.

It has also been drawn to my attention that the Rapid Response Noise Service, which is currently being provided by the Environmental and Consumer Services Department and allows complainants to access Environmental Health Officers outside office hours may be stopped. Though this service may not be operating to its full potential because of the reasons I have outlined, the answer is not to withdraw the service but to make it more effective. Stopping this service will surely make it even more difficult to ensure action is taken to curb the growing problem of noise nuisance behaviour and I should therefore appreciate it if you could let me know whether such a proposal has been put forward and, if so, why. It seems to me that the way forward is to improve the efficiency of the service by ensuring a multi-agency approach is taken along the lines operating in Leicester.

Yours sincerely,

LYNNE JONES MP

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Topical issues...

Topical issue archive


Assets recovery

For more information about how the assets from criminal activities are being recovered since the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002: click here


Noise nuisance

click here for information


Local crime statistics

to find out about the fight against crime in your area:  clik here


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