Unpacked: The government’s last police reforms

It has been described as the most significant programme of change in policing since the days of Sir Robert Peel – and the government has certainly shown no sign of being deflected from its agenda, which has been relentless since the 2010 general election.

The past four years have seen the introduction of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act – underpinning the creation of the new law enforcement governance regime – while the National Crime Agency was enshrined in the Crime and Courts Act.

Now the final stage of the reform programme has been reinforced with the Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act – a wide ranging piece of legislation bolstering areas including professional standards, remuneration and education.

The Act – which received Royal Assent on March 14 – primarily introduces new powers for tackling antisocial behaviour with the introduction of new measures to enable victims to trigger a police investigation as well as tightening up a raft of other areas.

Crucially for law enforcement, the Act underpins the role of the College of Policing, ratifying its powers in training and integrity, as well as beefing up the powers of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, compelling officers to attend interviews.

It also spells a change in the way remuneration is determined – enshrining in law the Winsor proposal to scrap the Police Negotiating Board and replace it with a review body.

Legislation programme

“In effect, this Act is another example of legislation catching up with the programme of reform the government was been pursuing since its election in 2010,” academic and former Gloucestershire chief constable Tim Brain told PoliceOracle.com.

“The Act confirms, for example, the diminished role that will now be played by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) and confirms the College of Policing in the new landscape.”

“We also see in the Act the end of the Police Negotiating Board – replaced by a pay review body,” Dr Brain said. “In effect, this is a comprehensive affirmation of the government’s reform programme which ministers have pursued for better or worse.”

By all accounts, the latest piece of legislation is broad and encompasses a range of areas. Split into 13 parts, the first half of the Act covers issues around antisocial behaviour while the remainder addresses reforms to the law around dangerous dogs, firearms, protection for sexual harm, forced marriage, policing, extradition and – finally – a raft of issues around the wider criminal justice system.

Perfect preparation

The antisocial behaviour section introduces new powers, designed encourage more rapid and comprehensive intervention, under which a victim can effectively compel the police to investigate if they suffer persistent abuse.

Already piloted in a number of force areas, the Community Trigger is designed to ensure that a Community Safety Partnership – made up of organisations including the police and local authorities, effectively review responses to reports of antisocial behaviour in a timely manner.

The Trigger can be used if an individual believes there has been a failure to respond to a report – and if antisocial activity has been reported three times about separate incidents within a six-month period – and a victim considers no action has been taken.

Alternatively, the new measure can be brought into play if five individuals within a community have reported activity separately within the same timeframe.

Alex Wrigley, Antisocial Behaviour Investigation Manager at Oxford City Council – one of the pilot areas – said that Thames Valley Police and its partner agencies had benefited “from a good learning curve” in the build up to the latest bill becoming law.

“In terms of the community trigger, we have already done a soft launch of the initiative and we will shortly be publicising it to the media,” he told PoliceOracle.com. “Our initiative is being run jointly between our authority and the local police force.

“If somebody wants to activate the trigger, it will come before our trigger panel where the request can be considered along with partner agencies. A decision is then made – effectively the process is designed to make sure that complaints do not slip through the net.”

But Mr Wrigley highlighted that making sure processes were in put place in good time, as well as ensuring staff had the relevant training for the new regime, was crucial.

“Clearly partnership working is going to become more and more important,” he added. “Making sure that our staff and our partners are fully up-to-speed is top of the agenda.”

Mr Wrigley also said that preparation for the new civil injunction – the replacement for the Antisocial Behaviour Order (ASBO) – had also been thorough.

“We have to make sure that the way the new system is run is appropriate to our area and that we are fully prepared for it as it comes fully online in October this year,” he added. “We have been thorough in our approach, certainly in terms of our training.”

Thoroughness is certainly vital. As well as being controversial, the government’s reform agenda is radical and requires those at the sharp end to change their thinking and act differently.

The Antisocial Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act might be the final piece of the law enforcement policy jigsaw for the current government before the 2015 election but it is unlikely to see be end of the appetite for reform. Change is likely to be an ongoing theme, whatever party ultimately triumphs at the ballot box.

Speaking of the new ASB tools and powers, Jon Kennett Heading of Learning for Red Snapper Group said:

“These changes will clearly present new learning and resourcing requirements to those who tackle anti-social behaviour in our communities. Our work with the CSP Academy (www.cspacademy.ac.uk) and the thousands of organisations and practitioners who have engaged with its qualifications, have shown what remains constant is the need for effective case building, multi-agency partnership working, information sharing and a sound operational understanding of the tools and powers.

Whether working for the police, a housing provider, a local authority or any other stakeholder it is these areas that are important and where practitioners must be confident to provide better service for the communities they serve.”

The CSP Academy are holding a series of briefing and training events around the new tools and powers, both in house and at open programme events around the country. To find out more please visit – http://www.cspacademy.ac.uk/NewASBToolsandPowers.htm