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Saturday, 9 October 2010

Anti-social behaviour

Anti-social behaviour can make a community unpleasant to live in and can cause huge stress to those affected by it. The problem is now recognised by a number of laws and powers, designed to stamp it out.

What is anti-social behaviour?

The term anti-social behaviour is used to describe things that cause damage to a community or affect the lives of people that live there. Common examples are:

  • vandalism
  • graffiti
  • nuisance neighbours
  • intimidating behaviour

To make neighbourhoods safer, the police, local authorities and housing associations have been given new powers to stamp out anti-social behaviour. These powers haven’t been created to stop you having fun or hanging out with your friends. They’re used to keep your area safe and pleasant to live in for you and your family.

Acceptable behaviour contracts (ABCs)

An acceptable behaviour contract (ABC) is given to someone if the police or local authority has evidence that their behaviour is damaging their community. It can be given to anyone, no matter how old they are.

It is a voluntary, written agreement, which means that it's not given out by the courts and it won't appear on a criminal record. It lists a number of things that the person in question can no longer do, such as spending time in certain areas with certain people.

By signing it, the person agrees to stop the anti-social behaviour and to follow any other requirements in the contract. They may have to go to school or college more regularly or have counselling sessions to control their behaviour.

The agreement is also signed by the local organisation that wants to stop the behaviour. This may be the police, a local authority or a youth offending team. If the contract involves someone under 18, their parent or carer will also sign it.

ABCs usually last for six months and the local organisation will monitor the person who signed the contract to ensure the agreement isn't broken. If someone does break their agreement, the organisation will decide what action will be taken. This could mean extending the contract, the use of an anti-social behaviour order (ASBO), or other measures depending on the circumstances.

Anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs)

An anti-social behaviour order (ASBO) can be given to anyone over the age of 10 who has committed a number of anti-social offences. They are orders from the court that ban an offender from doing threatening things, hanging out in certain areas or spending time with certain people.

A few organisations can apply for an ASBO for someone, including the police, local authorities and the British Transport Police.

If an ASBO is issued, it will last for at least two years but it is reviewed on a regular basis. This means that if someone's behaviour shows improvement, then certain conditions of the ASBO may be removed or changed.

If you receive an ASBO, you will not get a criminal record unless a court finds you guilty of breaking the order.

Breaking the terms of an order

If someone breaks the terms of an ASBO, they are breaking the law. The will most likely be arrested and the case will be heard in court. If they’re found guilty, the punishment will depend on the age of the person and how serious the offence was. They may get a fine, a community sentence or spend time in custody.

Dispersal notices

Another way that anti-social behaviour is being tackled is by using dispersal orders. These are restrictions put by a chief police officer on places where anti-social behaviour is particularly high.

Once an area becomes a dispersal zone, the police and community safety officers have the power to order groups of people to leave after a certain time. If they suspect that anti-social behaviour has happened or may happen, they can ban people from the area for up to 24 hours.

An officer can also ask anyone under 16 to go home after 9.00 pm. Even though under-16s cannot be forced to return home, refusing to leave an area is an offence.

If you're just passing through a dispersal area on your way home, or if the police feel you're unlikely to cause trouble, you should not be affected by a dispersal order.

Penalty notices

The police are also allowed to give you an on-the-spot fine if your behaviour is judged to be anti-social. Fixed penalty notices can be given to anyone over the age of ten for environmental offences like graffiti or litter.

Penalty notices for disorder can be given to people over the age of 16 for more serious offences like throwing fireworks or damaging property.

Neither will appear on your police record, but your fine will increase if you don’t pay it. You can also time in custody if you don’t pay your fine.

Reporting anti-social behaviour

You should report any anti-social behaviour in your neighbourhood to your local authority.

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