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Ignorance isn't bliss as pubic prove clueless about reporting crime

Two forces are grappling with how to help people understand what the police can do and even if their stations are open.

The public don’t know who to call regarding antisocial behaviour while others are blissfully unaware if they even have a police station nearby, according to research carried out on behalf of two forces.

Dorset’s residents have told researchers for Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill that they were confused over who to contact to deal with antisocial behaviour involving noisy neighbours.

Half said they would call the police despite the fact that unless criminal activity was also taking place – currently breaking lockdown rules – it would be an issue for council environmental health officers. Of the rest, 45% correctly said they would contact their local authority and the rest didn’t know.

When it came to street begging, 45% said they would call their local authority while just 39% knew it was a police issue as an offence was being committed.

The survey on antisocial behaviour got almost 4,000 responses with people raising concern over long standing frustrations such as car parking, dog fouling, noise complaints and littering – which are challenges for local authorities.

Dorset Police and Crime Commissioner Martyn Underhill said: “While many anti social behaviour problems are the responsibility of the police, we know from national statistics that environmental issues such as noise and litter are a particular concern for Dorset residents.

“These of course are important issues which can have a terrible impact on people’s lives, but this survey shows residents are understandably confused by the mass of agencies dealing with antisocial behaviour.”

Officers from the frontline up to chief constable level have consistently raised concerns that they are more often forced to deal with a long list of community issues that they have no responsibility over.

From noisy pub discos to helping people dealing with mental health issues, police forces say they have become the first responders mainly because they will turn up, despite having neither the experience nor powers to intervene.

Hertfordshire’s Police and Crime Commissioner has also begun a fact-finding exercise to work out whether local people know if they live near one of the force’s 20 police stations.

With more people going online or using the 101 service to report crimes, which has increased during the COVID-19 outbreak, the force has begun a survey asking how the public thinks its local bases should be used.

Police and Crime Commissioner David Lloyd also wants to gauge the awareness of what types of cases frontline officers can get involved in, so that his force can work out how to explain responsibilities to the public.

As part of its efficiency savings, Hertfordshire has relocated several police stations – including joint bases with fire services – and closed some of its front counter services. Closing the counters is an emotive issue but a study by Hertfordshire found they were under-used with eight members of staff being employed per counter for just two visits a day.

But officers have reported back that although some local people are aware of the 20 bases in the county, they believe they are closed because of the security measures put in place to protect them.

A spokesman for the force told Police Oracle: “There was guidance that security shutters had to be put in place to protect staff. They’ve done the job but people don’t realise the station is fully operational and can be used as a contact point.”

The force believes there is also a bigger perception challenge.

“People think they haven’t got a police station but every district has one. The issue is that no-one uses a front counter. It’s a national issue and we’ve decided to take the initiative,” the spokesman said.

But there is a further challenge for police because if they do not intervene, antisocial incidents can escalate or create hotspots where other offending takes place.

Dorset’s Chief Constable James Vaughan said: “There is not one simple solution to all anti-social behaviour problems. Each area across the county has its own individual plan that works closely with the respective local authority to reduce ASB.”

Working together to solve community problems will also have to include educating residents about who and where to go in the first instance, they said.

Results from Hertfordshire’s online survey, which closes next month, will feed into a communications and marketing plan to help people understand the options available to them.

Dorset is also considering how to solve the same problem.

Mr Underhill said: “There’s a huge challenge now for a wide range of organisations to work together and make sure we provide clear communication about who’s responsible for what.”

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