Tackling anti-social behaviour in Gloucestershire

As the Police and Crime Commissioner for Gloucestershire, I deliberately take a low profile about my Conservative heritage. Many people (including many Conservatives) tell me they want their Commissioner to focus on what residents need to meet their law and order concerns, and do not want to see overt Party Politics in police matters. 

The job of a Police and Crime Commissioner is to be the public’s voice in policing, and hold the Chief Constable to account. That is what local people say they want me to focus on in Gloucestershire. But in doing that job, my strong Conservative values bring lots of natural benefits. 

I inherited from my Independent predecessor (now running as my Lib Dem opponent on 2May) a Constabulary that was falling into Special Measures. Budget planning was judged to be Inadequate, and the force area had a rate of Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) that was one of the worst in the country, and had been well above the national average since the day he was elected in 2012.

I immediately put a freeze on all uncommitted spending, reduced waste and inefficiencies, delivered value for money across the force and sorted out the budget. All good Conservative things. This allowed me to fund 400 extra police officers, Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs) and police staff. These extra personnel helped the force exit Special Measures and tackle ASB, taking a zero-tolerance approach to an insidious crime that has the potential to ruin lives and whole neighbourhoods, as well as escalate to more serious criminality.

You can see from the chart below how ASB in Gloucestershire rose above the national average in 2012, spiked during the years of Covid, then dropped dramatically so that it is now less than the national average. Since I was elected in 2021, I have reduced ASB across Gloucestershire by 59%, delivering on one of my manifesto promises to cut ASB by 50%. I believe this cut in ASB is the biggest county wide reduction for any police area, over the last 3 years. 

This did not happen by magic and was down to a concerted effort to add value and make a difference, as you would expect - modesty permitting - from any competent Conservative politician. 

ASB is best dealt with by Neighbourhood Police teams. I am a huge fan of our hard-working PCSOs who are the bedrock of any good Neighbourhood Team. Much is made by those on the sidelines that a PCSO cannot arrest, as if that was the only capability that mattered. But a PCSO’s main job is to build relationships in their community, getting to know all the ‘movers and shakers’ in the area, and who are the likely trouble makers. By building relationships, intelligence can be obtained about crime, which with the right planning, can then be used to prevent ASB from happening in the first place. That is why I have increased our PCSO numbers rather than cut them, as has happened in too many forces around the country. This allows a higher attendance rate for reports of ASB, which stops it getting out of hand.

When ASB is entrenched, different techniques are used. If the public feel nothing is being done, they can call for an ASB Case Review, once known as a Community Trigger. Using money from the excellent Safer Streets fund, set up by our Government – and I have secured more money from this fund per head of population than any other force – I created a dedicated post to coordinate ASB Case Reviews. This has encouraged the public to submit a fivefold increase in cases, with the main problems being noise, verbal abuse, drugs, and genuine hate crime. If a request passes the threshold we bring the victim and all the relevant bodies together, to put together a plan to solve it. Ideally, we shouldn’t need this process, but when bureaucracy gets in the way, this helps cut through it, solve the problem and improve communities.

In Gloucestershire, we also have our fabulous SOLACE team. This is a group of multi-agency experts from the local council, housing providers, and the police, who engage with offenders and try to find solutions, but also use all the different criminal and civil powers available to tackle persistent issues and culprits. We have now deployed a team to each of our six districts – another benefit of our Safer Streets funding – to ensure our rural and urban areas all have the same support in dealing with ASB. All of this comes together in tackling our most high-profile example of reducing ASB: the annual Cheltenham Races festival. Every March, the town doubles in size with around250,000 visitors, and too often, following high rates of alcohol consumption, drunken men would use people’s gardens and public parks as toilets. By focussing on this problem and bringing the council, police and Racecourse together to collectively ‘raise their game’, we achieved a major success and significantly reduced ASB this year.

From this month, we will be turbo charging this approach, thanks to another Conservative Government initiative; extra funding to deal with ASB Hotspots that will also tackle things like shoplifting. We have made an assessment of the whole County and we reckon we still have around 30 areas of persistent ASB, many of which I have regularly visited, that need specialist and focussed attention. We will use our extra funding to conduct high visibility and intensive foot patrols in those areas, to effectively reinforce our Neighbourhood Teams. As the money will be used to pay police overtime, rather than recruit new officers, who take time to train, we can deploy more resources immediately. We will also use our specialist and highly experienced Vanguard team for operations against serious offenders (including in criminally focused traveller sites) and use our Mounted Unit to engage with communities that are closed and mistrustful of the police. But of course, there is still more to do. Even though we have reduced ASB by 59% across Gloucestershire, I want us to tackle the rest, plus all the ASB that doesn’t get reported in the first place (assessed by some to be half as much again of all reported ASB). To do that, the public need to be able to get through to report those incidents, and that is why I have made substantial investments to improve the performance of our 101 non-emergency service, ensuring that most calls are now answered within two minutes. A lot less than other call centres! We have also switched on the ability to report ASB on our website, sadly one of the last forces to do so, and another legacy of my predecessor’s lack of focus on the day job.

This is just one example of what a Conservative Police and Crime Commissioner can deliver for their community – reduced crime, fewer victims, an effective and efficient police force, and value for money.

This article originally appeared on the Conservative Home website.