From dog fouling to graffiti, drinking in town centres to illegal eScooter riding, towns and cities across the UK are blighted by the anti-social behaviour of a small minority. Left unchecked, problems can spiral, undermining confidence in the safety of community spaces and escalating demands on the police for crimes that are, in the main, the remit of local authorities to enforce.
Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) are a positive approach – but they should not be considered in isolation. Effective enforcement is proven to reduce repeat offending, but it is the way in which enforcement officers can collaborate with other agencies, including the police, charities and social services, that can deliver tangible benefits to a wider community.
PSPOs offer so much more than a local authority’s chance to ensure responsible dog ownership, they can significantly reduce the day to day burden on the police. With the right approach and close multi-agency collaboration, effective PSPO enforcement can rapidly transform a community, rebuilding trust and reinvigorating local economies.
Introduced in 2014, Public Spaces Protection Orders (PSPOs) are one of a number of options for combating anti-social behaviour. Designed to ensure the community can safely enjoy public spaces. PSPOs are created, under consultation, by local authorities to target problem areas. Failure to comply is a criminal offence, leading to either a Fixed Penalty Notice (FPN) of £100 or a conviction with a fine up to £1,000.
The plus side of the PSPO is the flexibility these orders offer local authorities to address specific areas of anti-social behaviour – prohibiting dogs without leads in certain parks, for example, restricting bike and skateboard riding in highly populated areas or banning alcohol in town centres. With enforcement the duty of local authority officers – or outsourced enforcement officers – PSPOs take pressure away from stretched police resources and can deliver tangible improvements in community behaviour.
The problem is that PSPOs have been adopted and enforced inconsistently across the UK and, as a result, understanding of their role and the remit of enforcement officers is mixed. From the public to police and community safety officers, a lack of education is not only undermining the value of PSPOs but also potentially creating conflict between agencies that should be working together to improve community well-being.
As communities look to rebuild and reinvigorate devastated town centre economies, PSPOs are playing an ever more significant role within local authority strategies. Ensuring consistency in enforcement is key to building trust and educating the public into the criminal nature of these offences. Good signage combined with effective enforcement, with an emphasis on education, leads to very low levels of repeat offending.
Individuals value the presence of a dedicated team focusing on the small numbers of people typically responsible for these problems – such as the handful of dog owners who fail to pick up after their dogs or are reckless about leaving their dogs off the lead. Enforcement officers also have the time to clarify the reason behind a PSPO – for example, explaining to individuals who do not realise that cycling in a high use pedestrian area is dangerous. Adding the context, that even the most cycle friendly cities in Europe have bike free zones, also helps to improve behaviour without demonising individuals.
Effective PSPO management and enforcement offers immediate benefits to local police forces by reducing the number of calls to the control room or complaints to beat officers about anti-social behaviour. That is just the start: enforcement officers spend all day patrolling local parks and streets. They get to know the problem areas and build relationships with people throughout the community – from shop owners and Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) to community safety officers and Police Community Support Officers (PCSO). Forces that are proactively collaborating with these teams, valuing their ‘feet on the ground’ experience, are gaining vital insight into the community.
Feet on the ground
A lot of antisocial behaviour and low level crimes, such as shoplifting, are opportunistic. With stretched resources, deploying a beat officer to stand in a local park all day, looking for individuals drinking alcohol in public, dog fouling or littering makes zero sense – but any uniformed individual, including security guards, PCSOs and enforcement officers provides a strong deterrent, reducing the number of routine call outs.
As a dedicated resource with a clear objective, it is much more effective for enforcement officers to identify and / or be tasked with addressing specific problem areas than the police. PSPOs are an ideal solution to crack down on dangerous skateboarding or scootering, for example, with a rapid issuing of FPNs, achieving immediate behaviour change. The enforcement team can also focus its time on the specific problem in a way that is simply not an option for the police, ensuring the emerging anti-social behaviour can be very quickly reversed.
Experienced enforcement officers very quickly become familiar both with and to the local community, and can become the ‘eyes and ears’ of desk bound police forces. They are well placed to undertake joint operations with the police, using their local knowledge to locate people wanted on court warrants and enable police Officers to rapidly locate and execute those warrants. They can also work with local authority partners and charities to identify vulnerable individuals – for whom an FPN is not an appropriate response - including those with addiction issues, homeless or under age, and ensure these individuals are referred to the correct support.
Proactive intervention on antisocial behaviour is proven to deliver wide community benefits – something that should be prioritised within the Levelling Up agenda. In Barnsley for example, regeneration investment includes a specific focus on individuals who may be part of the antisocial behaviour problem. Community safety wardens providing support, education and advice and work alongside enforcement officers; dedicated funding is provided to get repeat offenders and those not in education, employment or training back into work. And the result is that anti-social behaviour figures in Barnsley are much, much lower than other areas.
The value to the broader community is significant: while bad behaviour can rapidly spiral out of control, good behaviour will also reinforce attitudes throughout society. Educating people that failing to clear up after their dogs or riding their eScooters through a park full of toddlers is a criminal offence has a tangible impact: it stops repeat offending.
PSPOs can be a positive force for change – if enforcement is effective and consistent. Building on the reduction of anti-social behaviour through collaboration across the wider social and justice community will be an important aspect in rebuilding communities, giving individuals confidence in their local areas and reinvigorating town centre economies.
Dyl Kurpil is managing director of District Enforcement