Community safety and crime prevention

A critical reassessment

Authored by: Peter Squires

Handbook of Crime Prevention and Community Safety

Print publication date:  July  2017
Online publication date:  March  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138851054
eBook ISBN: 9781315724393
Adobe ISBN:




A great deal can happen in the career of a concept, and the 25-year story of ‘community safety policy’ is no exception. Many commentators identified the 1991 Morgan Report – entitled Safer Communities: The Local Delivery of Crime Prevention through the partnership approach (Home Office, 1991) – as the catalyst for the emergence of this new field of integrated and developed crime prevention activity in the UK (for example, Crawford, 1994a; Loveday, 1994; Squires, 1997; Hughes, 2002). At the outset, it was widely presumed that the new concept could not fail to fundamentally change British approaches to crime prevention, it announced the opening up of an entire new field of policy intervention and practice (Gilling and Barton, 1997; Gilling, 2007). But a lot can happen in 25 years. This discussion focuses primarily upon developments and changes in the UK, but there are certainly wider resonances. Although the chapter makes reference to relatively few non-British sources, similar changes have impacted in many other western neo-liberal societies. Through a more theoretical lens, these recent British experiences also echo some of the issues first outlined by Edwin Schur in Radical Non-Intervention (1973) and Stanley Cohen in Visions of Social Control (1985).

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Community safety and crime prevention

The career of a policy concept

A great deal can happen in the career of a concept, and the 25-year story of ‘community safety policy’ is no exception. Many commentators identified the 1991 Morgan Report – entitled Safer Communities: The Local Delivery of Crime Prevention through the partnership approach (Home Office, 1991) – as the catalyst for the emergence of this new field of integrated and developed crime prevention activity in the UK (for example, Crawford, 1994a; Loveday, 1994; Squires, 1997; Hughes, 2002). At the outset, it was widely presumed that the new concept could not fail to fundamentally change British approaches to crime prevention, it announced the opening up of an entire new field of policy intervention and practice (Gilling and Barton, 1997; Gilling, 2007). But a lot can happen in 25 years. This discussion focuses primarily upon developments and changes in the UK, but there are certainly wider resonances. Although the chapter makes reference to relatively few non-British sources, similar changes have impacted in many other western neo-liberal societies. Through a more theoretical lens, these recent British experiences also echo some of the issues first outlined by Edwin Schur in Radical Non-Intervention (1973) and Stanley Cohen in Visions of Social Control (1985).

To begin with, the very idea of community safety had a lot going for it. It drew upon several new approaches to questions of crime, risk and victimisation. For example, aspects of the ubiquitous ‘broken windows’ thinking (Wilson and Kelling, 1982), then very much on the ascendant in police and crime prevention policy and practice, held that it was very important to address the visible symbols of crime and disorder and to reassure communities that problems were not going to be allowed to escalate. Addressing such issues, it was hoped, might also help address the fear of crime which, research was suggesting, could itself contribute to undermining a community’s quality of life (Box et al., 1988; Hale, 1996). That crime problems were to be ‘nipped in the bud’, as it were, led to a particular focus upon ‘troubled’ – often deprived – communities and especially the young people within them (Squires and Stephen, 2005). In due course, the early interventionism which this set of concerns prompted, alongside the moral rearmament (Hughes, 1998) it often engendered – for which the notion of ‘zero tolerance’ is often a convenient shorthand – paved the way towards the new mid-1990s focus upon ‘incivilities’ and ‘anti-social behaviour’ (ASB). We will return to this theme and, as will be argued later, by the end of the 1990s, ASB as a policy priority ultimately came to eclipse important aspects of the wider focus upon community safety.

A second emerging aspect of crime prevention thinking feeding into the community safety agenda concerned the ‘left realist’ perspective within a sociologically informed British criminology (Lea and Young, 1984: 54) but also gathering strength and support especially amongst a number of Labour held local authorities. Coming together, left realism focused particular attention upon the structures of victimisation and especially the hidden victims (young people, women, victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse and members of black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) communities). Left realist criminologists were instrumental in implementing the first community-based crime surveys (Kinsey, 1984; Jones et al., 1986; Koffman, 1996) which interviewed representative samples of people to ascertain the real levels of crime experienced in localities, whether or not it was reported to the police. Such community crime surveys closely coincided with the beginning of the British Crime Survey (BCS, in 1981) – now the Crime Survey for England and Wales (CSEW) – long regarded as a more reliable, although still far from complete, picture of crime rates in contemporary Britain. A common finding was often that less than half the violence experienced by respondents (and especially violence against women and young people) was reported to the police (Mooney, 2000). Left realism explicitly acknowledged that patterns of inequality reflecting social class, gender and race discrimination were key aspects of what actively produced and sustained a persistent vulnerability to crime and disorder and made its consequences less easy to bear (for instance poorer households unable to afford home contents insurance, still less to move to a less crime prone area). In addition, a number of assumptions prevalent in police and crime prevention circles often conspired to give youth, women as victims of domestic violence and BAME groups some of the worst experiences of the police and the criminal justice system (CJS). In turn this served to deter them from reporting their experiences as victims to the police (Sampson and Phillips, 1992; Bowling, 1993; McLaughlin, 1991); and so a vicious cycle of under-reporting–low prioritisation is perpetuated. In the case of some ethnic minority communities it has been further suggested that ‘cultural sensitivities’ (a racism of neglect) have delayed effective interventions to address a range of issues such as female genital mutilation, coercive arranged marriages, child sexual exploitation, slavery and drug trafficking (Norfolk, 2011) although the risk of over-constructing racialised criminal perpetrators is also a consideration here, as Cockbain (2013) reminds us.

Reflecting the issues referred to already, central to the politics of left realism were two aspects of an idea of accountability. On the one hand this involved the idea that all of the victimisation experienced in a given community should be accounted for; on the other hand, in a strand of policy development tracing back to the Scarman Report (1981), it implied that the police, in responding to these crime and disorder issues, should be accountable to the communities that they served. Section 106 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (1984) had already imposed a duty on the police to consult with their local communities regarding policing, police priorities and the delivery of policing services. Developing this, some innovative local authorities, following a model established by the Labour-led Greater London Council (before it and the other, mostly Labour controlled, ‘Metropolitan’ local authorities were abolished in 1986), had established police monitoring groups, determined to subject local policing to a closer critical scrutiny (Hughes, 1994). Relations between the police and these groups were not always easy, but over time they undoubtedly helped contribute to a culture change in policing (Loveday, 2006; Jones and Newburn, 2001). In any event, by the early 1990s, after over a decade of Conservative national government, Labour’s political power base had been effectively confined to a number of larger, urban, local authorities, so that any alternative to the dominant Conservative ‘law and order’ politics had to be built from the bottom up – from a localist perspective. Accordingly, the new focus on local accountability, local policy interventions and addressing the inequality of victimisation in local communities was both a game changer for crime prevention and an opportunity for the Labour Party.

These strands of new policy thinking came together with left realism within a new locally oriented commitment to community safety and crime prevention planning. By the mid-1990s, these issues had been seized upon by Tony Blair, first as shadow Home Secretary and, later, as the Labour Party Leader. Labour’s ‘flagship’ Crime and Disorder Act (CDA: 1998) incorporated many of the issues and ideas by establishing local Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) which, in a commitment to ‘evidence-led’ local crime reduction and community safety planning, were required to undertake regular crime audits before setting their local policing priorities and targets. However, much as the CDA brought into being a new infrastructure for accountable community safety policy and practice at the local level, it also embraced many of the existing tensions and inherent limitations that were also features of community safety policy-making.

Community safety: tensions and limitations

Amongst the criticisms made of the community safety ‘project’, and especially of its implementation under the auspices of New Labour’s crime and disorder strategy, the following points, especially, stand out:

The ASBO cuckoo in the community safety nest

In the first place, the strategy might be accused of conflicted or ambiguous purposes. Tony Blair had captured the law and order issue from the Tories with his oft-repeated ‘tough on crime; tough on the causes of crime’ slogan. The slogan could be all things to all audiences, but which was it to be? Notwithstanding the left realist focus upon victims – especially the victimisation of the poorest in the most deprived communities – the promise of community safety policy lay in an enhanced understanding of the role of inequality and deprivation in the simultaneous production of both criminalisation and victimisation. Acknowledging the role of wider social and economic inequality and discrimination in the production of crime and disorder posed a real problem where tough criminalising responses were called for in the case of offenders, especially persistent and prolific young offenders, the causes of whose delinquency often lay in their disrupted and unforgiving environments, their serial disadvantage and their lack of mainstream opportunities (Bottoms and Wiles, 1997; Farrington, 2002; Pitts, 2003). Despite the infrastructure of support and early intervention and the youth offending teams, established by the CDA, the Act’s very first section, introducing the Anti-Social Behaviour Order (or ASBO), reflected the deep ambiguity at the heart of this legislation.

Very quickly, ‘ASBO’ became a by-word for unruly and troublesome (typically working class) youth, committing crime with apparent impunity, intimidating neighbours and terrorising whole communities (Squires and Stephen, 2005; Squires, 2008; Bottoms, 2006). ASB was especially seen as exacerbating local perceptions of crime and disorder and a related sense of community decline, even as crime itself may have been falling. Acts and behaviours that, in themselves, were unlikely to be regarded as serious or a priority for the police, when experienced day in day out for long periods, increased the local fear of crime, fundamentally undermining people’s quality of life. Hansen et al. (2003) suggested that such problems of routine and on-going incivility also exposed an ‘enforcement deficit’, where the most pressing daily routines of low level harassment and abuse, which had the greatest cumulative impact upon the fear and insecurity of local residents, appeared to be the very issues that police were most reluctant to address and, partly as a consequence, the least amenable to police action (Hansen et al., 2003: 81). 1

In due course, the hostile language of ‘demonisation’, ‘feral yobs’ and ‘neighbours from hell’ (Field, 2003; Nixon and Parr, 2006) – harking back to the media reaction to the James Bulger murder in 1993 and looking forwards to the press and public responses to the 2011 English riots – and encapsulated in the moral discourse of ‘Broken Britain’, unreservedly blamed crime and disorder upon a sub-class of criminal perpetrators constantly preying upon a silent and long-suffering majority of the ‘law abiding’ (Tyler, 2013). As Parr has noted, much academic work on ASB management was ‘highly critical of the dominant discourse of ASB particularly because of the way in which it demonized those accused of such conduct’ (Parr, 2009: 371).

This, essentially ‘us’ and ‘them’, conception of crime and disorder causation stood in marked contrast to the cohesive vision of deprived and vulnerable communities which lay at the heart of the community safety project. In time, as we shall see, the return to seeing crime as the property of a distinct class of ‘criminals’ ruining the lives of everyone else – the ‘decent and law-abiding’ – underpinned a final element of the Blairite criminal justice ‘modernisation’ project, the so-called ‘re-balancing of law and order’ (Tonry, 2010) intended to make the CJS ‘fit for purpose’ in the twenty-first century. However, the corollary of Parr’s (2009) earlier observation was that, whether chronically disadvantaged, the product of a dysfunctional family upbringing or victim of serial abuse, or not, there were still perpetrators of ASB making the lives of everyone around them a misery. As we shall see, recognising this, another distinct strand of policy-making centred upon family support and intervention paved a path towards the ‘Troubled Families’ agenda (Parr and Nixon, 2008; Parr, 2011, 2012; Gregg, 2010), to which we will later return.

The broad ambition of advocates of the community safety paradigm had embraced the idea of a wider discourse on preventing harm, risk and crime and disorder; tackling the causes of crime and supporting both those at risk of criminal victimisation and those at risk of criminalisation, even by wider precautionary interventions, family support and behavioural compliance orders. However, reflecting the intolerant cultural turn against dysfunctional families and disorderly young people and, later, ‘gangs’, it became the enforcement aspects of ASB management which came to the fore. The ASB ‘egg’ had been nurtured in the community safety ‘nest’ and, over time, in a process not unlike the wider ‘criminalisation of social policy’ (Rodger, 2008), community safety priorities (housing, social care, street lighting, youth services) became subordinated to those of crime control and disorder management. The ASBO cuckoo was displacing community safety policy from the nest. These developments might even be reflected in the institutional arrangements adopted in different local authority areas. Depending upon the political priorities set locally, ASB management might be a specific component within a broader and more widely conceived community safety department, or a housing department (Jacobson et al., 2005); in other areas a much reduced and relegated community safety unit dealing with more vulnerable victims or ‘problem families’ might offer elements of community support within the context of a larger ASB management department (Edwards and Hughes, 2008). As Hughes and Rowe, writing in 2007, noted:

just as we saw the emergence of the new occupation of the community safety officer in the 1990s, so we are now witnessing the rise of the ASB officer as a potentially new career path in the local governance of ‘problematic’ behaviour.

(p. 325)

Democracy, accountability or local corporatism

Continuing with the structural or institutional theme referred to above, a second area of tension within community safety policy concerned the forms in which the various interventions were delivered and the strings attached. As we have noted, the ‘progressive/optimistic’ strand of community safety thinking anticipated a substantial broadening of the older agendas of ‘social crime prevention’, such that wider questions of harm, disadvantage, discrimination and abuse – the hidden harms and victimisations – might be addressed. As Crawford noted in 1999, ‘the ultimate aim’ of community safety policy-making was intended to be social and restorative, ‘the revival of the communal bonds of informal control, the reintegration of the offender and victim within the moral community, and the restoration of communal order’ (p. 509). Yet in some cases the new policy regime appeared to discipline, divide and exclude. This was especially the case in policies concerning racial tension, radicalisation and counter-terrorism where community cohesion itself become expressly the goal of the policy interventions. As we shall see, measures to prevent ‘radicalisation’ could often prove quite counter-productive (Spalek and Lambert, 2008; Husband and Alam, 2011).

Furthermore, better evidence of local crime and disorder patterns and enhanced local consultation were expected to bring greater (police) accountability. As we shall see, in a rather selective sense, this might have been achieved although there is also evidence of something akin to the ‘inverse care law’ in health policy, in operation; those communities with the greatest need for crime prevention and community safety dialogue, investment and support, received the least of it. In fact they had social and collective resources withdrawn, services closed, reinforcing a growing distinction between communities in which forms of partnership persisted (town centre partnerships, chambers of commerce, CDRPs) (Hope, 2001; Coleman, 2004), and other communities seen as chaotic, irresponsible and lawless, for whom rather tougher policing and disciplining measures were required (Crawford, 1998; Lacey and Zedner, 2000).

Research pointed to the establishment of more corporate processes of crime and disorder management (Crawford, 1994b, 1997; Edwards, 2002). The ‘community safety’ project, coincided to some extent with a number of developing ideas about the delivery of police and preventive services (Pratt, 1989). Notions such as ‘multi-agency’, ‘joined-up’ or ‘partnership’ policing – amongst others – entered the contemporary policy lexicon alongside the recurring rediscovery of ‘community policing’ (Sampson et al., 1988; Liddle and Gelsthorpe, 1994; McCarthy and O’Neill, 2014). Yet the critical issue about multi-agency or partnership policing was that it was, in an important sense, always more about the agencies, and community governance, than about the community itself (Gilling, 1997). An often cited anecdote about community safety planning might illustrate the dilemma: the university researcher might turn up at the ‘community crime prevention’ meeting, being held in the ‘community centre’. Around the large table would be arranged a series of representatives from local partner agencies – or stakeholders – police officers, probation officers, social workers, people from housing, the youth service, education, public health and so on. Entirely absent were any members of the community – the people who lived there. Rather, the meeting was populated with people for whom ‘the community’ was their job. As Lacey and Zedner (2000) have argued, ‘community’ became both a place (or context) and an ideology for the development of crime and disorder governance rather more than an active partner in the process of safety management. And, as other researchers have noted, agency representatives interviewed often claimed that one of the real benefits of community safety partnerships lay in the impetus they gave to closer inter-agency working. One of Millie et al.’s (2005) respondents remarked that their work was ‘really bearing fruit in terms of building more effective inter-agency working’. The partnership benefits of certain types of community work were often mentioned, for example, one police superintendent interviewed argued that, if the police wanted to work more closely with other agencies in addressing crime problems of all kinds, a useful first step, presumably because it typically commanded widespread support, was to undertake joint work on youth nuisance behaviour (Millie et al., 2005). So, far from community safety implying an exclusively integrative rationale, the symbolic targeting of certain groups, and young ‘unattached’ black and working class males were never far from the top of the list, could often be the catalyst for community partnership making. As we shall see later, such symbolic targeting and criminalising exclusion became an even stronger aspect of later ASB and crime and disorder management.

Perhaps this tension between inclusion (‘us’) and exclusion (‘them’) was always inevitable given that the very appeal to the reintegrative qualities of ‘community’ in a wide range of service delivery areas was often predicated upon widespread acceptance of the decline or fragmentation of residential communities as a meaningful conception of urban and suburban belonging (Bauman, 2001). As Lacey and Zedner (1995: 301) put it, the question concerns ‘the disjuncture between the demise of community and the growth of its rhetorical appeal’. The wider dilemma here is reflected in the way that, in Rose’s words, community became, ‘both the object and target for the exercise of political power, whilst remaining, somehow, external to politics and a counterweight to it’ (Rose, 1999: 168). In this sense, although in the short term, appeals to partnership in policing and crime prevention were initially understood as a potentially political and collective sharing of the burden of responsibility for crime and disorder management, in practice they tended to translate into rather more disciplinary forms of individual and family responsibilisation. The collective foundations of community cohesion have been undermined as a matter of political choice ‘by successive governments who have taken away power and resources from local communities’ such that now, ‘facing the seemingly unmanageable consequences of social policies which celebrate the individual and denigrate the social’ they find it necessary to constantly invoke the rhetoric of community (Lacey and Zedner, 2000: 158).

Further evidence of the corporate dimension to many of the new crime and disorder governance interventions concerned the extensive audit and performance management targets often attached to this new area of work (Maguire and John, 2006). We noted earlier that an important feature of the new approaches to community safety policy development were ‘evidential’ – specifically, evidence of the hidden risks, harms and crime victimisation that existing interventions failed to prioritise. New Labour’s culture of performance management was armed with new tools and technologies (audits, local crime analysis techniques, crime mapping, intelligence packages and the like) while embracing ‘modernisation’ and the ‘new public management’ philosophy (Hope, 2005; Stoker, 2004). Policy development was frequently defined as ‘evidence led’ (Tilley, 2001), even though this was much contested in practice (see Naughton, 2005). The creation of such new performance targets entailed, according to Hughes and Rowe (2007), a number of cross-cutting tensions within the idea of community safety, not least because these ‘targets’ were often specifically crafted around numbers of arrests, charges brought, ‘sanction-detections’, ‘offences brought to justice’, disorder notices dispensed or ASBOs awarded.

The performance target culture became subject to increasing criticism in its most institutionalised sense, but not in its more ‘strategic’ implications. A variety of commentators (Morgan, 2007; Farrington-Douglas, 2009) came to criticise the police propensity to respond to the target-driven culture by going after the quickest and easiest ‘wins’, the ‘lowest-hanging fruit’ which led, in particular, to ‘fast-tracking’ and significant increases in the numbers of young people experiencing the newer entry-level measures deployed by the CJS (reprimands, final warnings, cautions, Acceptable Behaviour Contracts (ABCs), dispersal orders and ASBOs) (see Newburn, 2011). After 2008, neatly coinciding with the post ‘credit-crunch’ austerity politics, numbers of young people entering the CJS fell sharply (Squires, 2014b). As we will discuss later, following the election of the Conservative-led Coalition government in 2010, the precise series of youth and family interventions and ASB powers were reviewed and revised, although a new priority, targeting marginalised and ‘at risk’ BAME and working class youth became even more focused, especially following the Ending Gang and Youth Violence programme (Home Office, 2011) and through the Troubled Families initiative (Levitas, 2012; Hayden and Jenkins, 2014).

Discipline, surveillance and selectivity

A number of the remaining tensions and limitations inherent in emerging community safety strategies have already surfaced. To a large degree many of these issues became increasingly apparent as the community safety policy field grew and developed and not just because, as we have noted, it came to be eclipsed by the newer ASB management agenda. Tensions were involved from the outset, while ‘community safety’ was a broad church, the single largest crime prevention intervention of the mid to late 1990s comprised town centre CCTV installation. During the late 1990s, approaching four-fifths of the entire Home Office crime prevention budget was allocated to match-fund CCTV development (Armitage, 2002; Goold, 2004: 40). Between 1999 and 2003 alone, a total of £170 million CCTV funding was made available to local authorities installing over 680 CCTV schemes in town centres and other public spaces (Home Office/ACPO, 2007: 7). The way in which the money was allocated, match-funded grants to local authorities which had established town centre, police and business partnership schemes, in order to raise their own share of the project costs, pretty much guaranteed that the majority of the schemes would be located in town centres where the highest property values, largest retail outlets, financial institutions and prominent business premises – and therefore the resources – were situated. These were, after all, the most likely sources of investment for the camera schemes and, in turn, their interests, the creation of safe spaces for business, leisure, tourism and consumption (‘safer shopping’) largely prevailed (Coleman, 2004). Whether such priorities (compared with safer neighbourhoods, safer schools or children’s play areas) would ever score highest in any open public consultation about safety priorities is a rather moot point: those who paid the piper, called the tune. In any event, the central government CCTV funding, worked effectively, dangled as a carrot to incentivise the creation of public/private crime prevention partnerships in many towns and cities around the country and reinforcing the corporatist aspects of community safety.

CCTV schemes shared an important characteristic with many other essentially ‘situational’ crime prevention initiatives in that the benefits they offered were often selectively targeted and selectively experienced. As we have seen the beneficiaries of town centre CCTV were primarily the town centre business interests within the ‘camera surveillance area’ who had sponsored the schemes (Norris et al., 1998). Like many private crime prevention initiatives (burglar alarms on private houses, enhanced vehicle security) the crime reduction advantages primarily accrue to those who make the security investment. Market-led security investment chiefly benefits those able to afford the initial investment and thereby widen the victimisation gap between the best protected and the unprotected. In fact, the evidence on crime displacement (the shift in crime and disorder victimisation from protected areas to unprotected areas) in regard to CCTV was never very clear cut (Gill and Spriggs, 2005; Waples et al., 2009) but, in part, this was because the evidence about the effectiveness of CCTV was not especially compelling either. Complicating the picture, some CCTV evaluations found evidence of a so-called ‘halo effect’, the diffusion of crime reduction benefits beyond the area within range of the cameras, but perhaps the most comprehensive meta survey exploring CCTV impacts concluded that (except in enclosed locations, such as car parks: Tilley, 1993) public space surveillance cameras had relatively limited impacts on overall crime and disorder levels, needed complementing by other measures (police patrols and better street lighting) and were sometimes outperformed by improved street-lighting which carried the further advantage of appearing to reduce levels of fear of crime (Welsh and Farrington, 2006, 2008; Painter and Tilley, 1999).

When CCTV first appeared as a potential crime prevention technology in the early 1990s extravagant claims had been made representing it as a virtual panacea for preventing urban crime and disorder, but as the evaluations rolled out, and there were many of them (CCTV triggered a new fascination with surveillance in the social sciences in general), the initial optimism was punctured and a more qualified and considered understanding began to emerge regarding how CCTV worked, when – and if – it worked. In particular CCTV was seldom effective in isolation, it needed complementing by intelligent policing; in due course, CCTV appeared to offer more to the police as an investigation and evidence gathering tool than as a prevention tool (although effective investigation, and prosecution, could also be a means of prevention). In many areas new CCTV camera schemes were also established as part of a wider package of urban redevelopment initiatives designed to promote consumption, leisure and tourism, attracting potential high-spending visitors and deterring others (street drinkers, beggars, the homeless, prostitutes, groups of young men) (Coleman, 2009). This market-led and socially targeted facet of urban safety management led some to accuse city planners and crime prevention consultants of engaging in a de facto form of ‘social cleansing’ (Coleman, 2002, 2004; Hubbard, 2004). More generically, urban redevelopment, surveillance and securitisation were described as part of a ‘revanchist city’ movement (Smith, 1996) which involved the winning back of city space from the poorest, the marginal and socially excluded. The movement itself was global in character but had its ‘domestic’ examples; at its softest it might take the form of incremental gentrification, gradually pricing out the poorest, more abruptly it could take the form, described by Mike Davis (in Los Angeles), of ‘fortress cities’ collectively ‘hardening the surface of the city against the poor’ (1990) and panoptic shopping malls (McCahill, 2002) screening out the poor, the suspicious and the youthful – especially those wearing ‘hoodies’ (BBC News 11 May 2005; Derbyshire, 2005).

Us and them

The wider movement, of which market-led securitisation, CCTV installation and corporate community safety policy development were but parts, contributed, according to Hope (2001), to a marked redistribution in the experience of victimisation. Analysed over the two decades since the first BCS in 1982, Hope concluded that the burden of routine victimisation (violent crime and property crime) had shifted significantly on to the poorest during this time. In itself, this might not appear too surprising given widening inequalities in income and wealth in Britain during the 1980s and 1990s (Rentoul, 1987; Blundell and Etheridge, 2010), and subsequently (Dorling, 2014), but it pointed to the dual failing of the left realist crime prevention agenda. In the first place, although left realism had been predicated upon the recognition that the poorest and most marginal endured a disproportionate share of known victimisation (to say nothing of the hidden victimisations being exposed), they were often the least able to deal with this partly because crime victimisation often compounded an existing sense of vulnerability and social exclusion – such groups tended to receive the poorest service from the police and CJS. And now the evidence was pointing to an even greater and growing share of crime and victimisation falling upon their shoulders. In the second place, many of the interventions – crime reduction strategies, programmes, technologies (such as CCTV), rationales, policing practices and legal changes – which had blossomed and flourished under the community safety banner were most intensively applied in targeting the poorest and most socially excluded: BAME groups and ‘unattached’ working class youth, residents of sink estates and various ‘street populations’.

The initial vehicle for this shift of enforcement emphasis was, as we have already seen, the New Labour ASB strategy (Tonry, 2004), although this strand of policy-making was itself decisively influenced by the post-Bulger ‘punitive turn’ (Haydon and Scraton, 2000) which saw an expansion in processes of youth criminalisation (increased numbers of arrests, offences brought to justice and custodial sentencing) and fuelling what Kelly has termed an ‘institutionalised mistrust’ of youth and young people in contemporary Britain (2003; Stephen and Squires, 2004). Very quickly ASB acquired a central focus upon youth and young people (ASBO youth; ASBO ‘yobs’), and although in large part this had always been fairly predictable (Squires, 2008), the substantial exercise in net-widening 2 which followed, amounted to a major case study in the ‘dispersal of discipline’ (Cohen, 1985; Squires and Stephen, 2005). In turn, the new powers and innovative police and CJS working practices created under the auspices of the ASB management agenda helped develop the Blairite CJS ‘modernisation’ agenda and the associated ‘rebalancing’ of criminal justice to which we have already referred. An intriguing example of these processes can be found in Osmond’s (2010) discussion of ASB and its ‘surveillant inter-assemblage’. Although Osmond is describing institutionalised ASB management practices in NSW, Australia, the processes described are directly comparable to similar information sharing and case management procedures, risk assessment protocols, the systems for accelerated intervention and the sidelining of ‘due process’, and ‘extra legal’, even ‘precautionary’, forms of regulation found in Britain. As Crawford (2009) has likewise concluded of a range of ASB studies in Britain, new regulatory ideas, including ‘pre-crime’ and precautionary interventions, are being used either to circumvent or undermine established precepts of criminal justice, in particular those of due process, proportionality and the special protections (anonymity, non-reporting) traditionally afforded to young people within the CJS. As a consequence, new and innovative technologies of social control, enforcement and, ultimately, criminalisation, have resulted in more intensive, earlier and even arguably premature interventions (see also Squires and Stephen, 2010; Zedner, 2009; Creaney, 2013). And as we shall see in the final section, youth justice has not been the only area to be influenced by these hybrid socio-legal regulatory powers.

After community safety?

The community safety policy field initially opened up whole new fields of community life to the processes of crime and disorder management. Later ASB policy gave a stronger focus and direction to this new field of governance, ‘turning public policy into pest control’ (Squires, 2014b; see also Squires, 2006). The range of new interventions rolled out under the auspices of the newly modernised and fast-tracked procedures of crime and disorder management: the ASBO, the Criminal ASBO (or CrASBO, awarded in conjunction with a conviction for a criminal offence), Penalty Notices for Disorder, Acceptable Behaviour Contracts, Closure notices, Gang injunctions (sometimes called GangBos), Dispersal Orders, Parenting Orders and the like, substantially changed the landscape of routine crime and disorder management. The highly flexible regime of ASB interventions has produced a pattern of enforcement action strongly oriented around broader and more fundamental inequalities and driven often by ideological judgements reflecting social divisions of class, ethnicity and identity. Such tensions became even more acute in the context of post-2008 ‘austerity’ politics especially combined with the various crime, disorder and ASB strategies of the Conservative-led Coalition government elected in 2010. Such developments underpin Millie’s (2008) astute observation regarding the shifting aesthetics of ‘civilized and respectable behaviour’, of tolerance levels and contested behavioural standards, at a time of fractured and fast changing social expectations. The ‘austerity’ context brought unwelcome demonising attention to a host of these ‘usual suspects’: the poorest, the unemployed and (‘undeserving’) claimants, dysfunctional families (‘neighbours from hell’) and their offspring, unattached BAME and working class youth (the ‘chav’ and the ‘gangster’) – and, more recently, refugees and migrants (see, inter alia, Jones, 2011; Tyler, 2013; Hancock and Mooney, 2012; Hallsworth, 2013; Anderson, 2013).

A series of policy measures, evolving from the Conservative leadership’s ‘Broken Britain’ discourse (Travis and Stratton, 2011; Flint and Powell, 2012; Hayton, 2012; Slater, 2014) and a sequence of policy reviews undertaken by Iain Duncan Smith’s Centre for Social Justice (CSJ) think tank, profoundly framed the crime and disorder strategy of the Coalition government. Three policy developments stood out: the much heralded reform of ASB management powers (Home Office, 2012), the strategy to end gang and youth violence (Home Office, 2011) and the Troubled Families Programme (TFP) (DCLG, 2012). The 2011 English riots were certainly an important accelerant to this trio of strategies, and while there were certainly important continuities with the ASB, early intervention and tackling gangs strategies of the outgoing Blair/Brown Labour governments, the Coalition’s proposals added emphasis, intensity and a sharper, new, political direction.

Recognising that the ASB agenda always had two quite distinct aspects – in the first place acknowledging the cumulative harmful impact of relentless low level/pre-criminal and sub-criminal 3 harassment and, second, streamlining the due process constraints facing police response, a case occurred – a ‘signal crime’ (Innes, 2004) – which profoundly influenced the Coalition ASB reforms. After over of a decade of abuse and harassment endured by her family (including disability hate crime), during which time she had complained to the police on at least 30 occasions, Fiona Pilkington killed herself and her disabled daughter in 2007 (Britten and Rayner, 2009). The case had loomed large in Conservative criticisms of the delivery of anti-social management support to the most vulnerable victims and, launching the Coalition government’s White Paper Putting Victims First in 2012 (Home Office, 2012), Theresa May spoke of the need for swift and effective remedies, long-term solutions and the need for responsive and community accountable policing.

In due course, the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 replaced the existing ASB provisions with a more flexible series of powers and orders designed to exercise greater control of a wider range of criminal and pre-criminal behaviours. The new criminal behaviour order, for example, not unlike the preceding ASBO ‘on conviction’ (the CrASBO), issued following conviction for a criminal offence could add banning conditions (avoiding certain people, places, times and activities) and treatment conditions (accessing drug and alcohol treatment services). The order comprises a principle of ‘two-step criminalisation’ (the first step attaches the conditions; the second step applies enhanced punishment: see Simester and von Hirsch, 2006) or what Ashworth and Zedner (2014) have lately described as ‘preventive justice’, breaching the attached conditions could result in a prison sentence of up to five years. The proposals conferred new powers upon the police to ‘disperse’ (temporarily) anti-social individuals and, in conjunction with local authorities, to close premises (homes or businesses) where ASB has been – or is likely to be – committed, while procedures for seeking possession of troublesome premises have been streamlined. Injunctions can be issued to prevent future misuse of public and residential areas (much like the preceding ASBO) while the public space protection order (PSPO) can impose behavioural conditions upon anyone using a designated area (behaviour that is ‘unreasonable’ (rather than illegal), continuing and having ‘or be likely to have, a detrimental effect on the quality of life of others in the locality’ (Home Office, 2014)). Breach of a PSPO is a criminal offence punishable by a £100 fixed penalty notice or a fine. Liberty, amongst other critics, have complained that the PSPO is too vaguely drawn and open-ended while the grounds for appeal are particularly narrow, and the penalties for breach can be issued by either the police or designated local authority officials (Liberty, 2015). There seems every indication that the marginalised ‘usual suspects’, especially unattached young men, will continue to bear the brunt of the new legislation, just as they had of what preceded it (Bottoms, 2006; Bannister and Kearns, 2012).

Two further features of the new ASB processes, intended to re-insert the ‘community’ and accountability back at the centre of ASB management, included the ‘community trigger’, designed to require an official response when three or more similar and related complaints had been received over the course of a six-month period, and the ‘community remedy’, designed to give victims a say in community resolutions or offender reparation. It may be that these latter measures, the precise arrangements for which remain to be seen, serve a more ideological function within the policy, by reiterating the supposed community centredness of the overall package of proposals.

As regards the ‘longer term’ measures announced by the Home Secretary, the proposals for tackling gangs and youth violence and for developing the TFP both developed and supplemented initiatives from the preceding Labour government (Squires, 2014a: 114; Bond-Taylor, 2014): respectively the Tackling Gangs Action Programme (TGAP) and the Family Intervention Projects (Gregg, 2010). Both sets of proposals shared a fundamentally individualistic perception of the roots of family failure and youth violence, reflected, above all, in a report on gangs and gang culture – Dying to Belong – from the Centre for Social Justice. According to Iain Duncan Smith’s preface, the report was centrally concerned with how another generation of young people ‘plunged through violence and criminality to hopelessness and despair’ – rather than the other way around, from hopelessness and despair (poverty, disadvantage and lack of opportunities, sometimes also racism) to violence and crime. The report developed a narrative of individual pathways to criminal careers, and then violent gang lifestyles, noting that ‘the modern gang is perhaps the best illustration of how broken Britain’s society is’ (CSJ, 2009: 9).

This same ‘gang discourse’ received a profound fillip following the English riots of 2011 with government ministers initially claiming that ‘gangs’ were the cause of the riots (May, 2011), a claim that was subsequently modified in the absence of convincing evidence, to claim that ‘gang culture’ was a cause of the riots. In any event, the riot experiences acted as a catalyst for the new governmental programmes: more effective police enforcement interventions (such as gang injunctions, the joint-enterprise prosecution strategy and (in London) Project Shield, holding every gang member responsible for the crimes of the one: see Squires, 2016; Williams and Clarke, 2016) to address gangs and gang culture and interventions into the country’s most chaotic and dysfunctional 120,000 ‘troubled families’.

The TFP, drawing significantly upon the successful Dundee families project (Nixon et al., 2010), has become the principal means through which the criminogenic circumstances of a chaotic family life were to be addressed and dysfunctional families ‘turned around’. Critics (Levitas, 2012) have argued that the TFP conflates poor families facing difficulty and disadvantage and families causing trouble; under the programme, 120,000 subject families were defined by reference to four criteria: households with no adults in work, where children were not in school, where profoundly chaotic and dysfunctional family dynamics prevailed and where family members were often involved in crime and ASB. The programme provides all local authorities with intervention targets based upon the estimated number of designated ‘troubled families’ – the worst of the worst – in their areas, which, in the language of the TFP have to be ‘turned around’. As Nixon and her colleagues (2010: 308) acknowledged, family intervention projects (like social work itself) have always involved an element of care and control, support and sanctions, even though the success of the Dundee project was said to derive from its supportive ethos. However, translated to England, the TFP is not primarily designed to meet the needs of these often multiply deprived households (except so far as their needs are thought to primarily involve the work ethic and self-discipline). Rather than address social welfare needs, the TFP is primarily intended to incentivise local authorities to get a grip upon these difficult families through a three-year tapered regime of payment by results (Crossley, 2015). As Levitas has argued (2012: 12), ‘government policy, has been demonstrated to entail rising unemployment, reductions and restrictions in benefits and, in particular, an assault on the living standards of families with children’, this is the social context in which families encounter ‘troubles’. Furthermore, the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) predicted in 2012 that, as a result of recent government policies, the numbers of children living in households in absolute poverty would increase while those in relative poverty would increase after 2013 (Joyce, 2012). Yet, despite this broader policy context, as Bond-Taylor has noted, ‘concerns about criminality and ASB’ rather than poverty and disadvantage came increasingly to shape the emerging governmental agenda (2014: 143).

For each ‘troubled family’ identified and successfully engaged with, the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) makes available a fee of £4,000. Part of this would be paid in advance, the rest subject to achievement of successful family outcomes, for example, targets such as reduced rates of offending, a 60 per cent drop in reported ASB, a reduced frequency of school exclusions, members of the household gaining employment or ‘satisfactory progress’ towards work or, finally, ‘at least one adult in the family moving off out-of-work benefits into continuous employment in the last 6 months’ (DCLG, 2012: 9). Under the TFP, family intervention and management have become the defining focus of neo-liberal social welfare strategy. Bell (2014) has described these policies as embodying their own ‘anti-social’ principles. In like fashion, Phoenix (2009) has described the new measures as a kind of parsimonious and ‘repressive welfare’. Parallels with Piven and Cloward’s classic study, Regulating the Poor (1972), Donzelot’s Policing of Families (1979) and Wacquant’s more recent Punishing the Poor (2009) are especially striking.

In 2013 the government announced a substantial expansion of the TFP, adding 400,000 further families to the original cohort being worked with, even though the House of Commons Public Account Committee noted that, by early 2014, only some 20 per cent of the original number had been, in the terminology of the programme ‘turned around’ (Public Accounts Committee, 2014). Yet only a year later, May 2015, the DCLG claimed that fully 99 per cent of those families engaged with had been successfully ‘turned’. As the independent programme evaluation had not yet reported, no evidence was provided to support this remarkable claim, leading commentators (Butler, 2015; Crossley, 2016) to argue that the extraordinary success claims were ‘unbelievable’ (Crossley, 2016: 6).


Individual commentators have described distinct aspects of different crime and disorder management programmes; the punishing, disciplining, regulating or policing of the poorest; the targeting of disadvantaged or ‘disconnected’ young people, those at risk of either radicalisation or ‘gangsterisation’, ethnic minorities and problem families ostensibly being ‘turned around’, by particular policy interventions. Yet we began this discussion with the intention of reflecting critically upon a more, apparently coherent, vision of a new strategy for community safety development. Along the way, something rather more fundamental has been achieved, a profound refashioning of criminal justice interventions and processes.

As was suggested at the outset, the idea of ‘community safety’ always involved rather more than just crime reduction but, as we draw towards the end of a 30-year policy cycle for the concept, it has become pretty clear that large areas of a broad range of socially inclusive and universal social crime prevention policies upon which community safety strategies rested, have been stripped away. In their place a series of more selective, conditional and targeted interventions have been introduced. In place of a dualism, perhaps simply expressed, between care (or support) and control, or the meeting of needs and the imposition of discipline, interventions pulling in somewhat different directions, all the various intervention measures are now more directly aligned around behavioural compliance, moral reform and responsibility and labour market re-entry. Earlier commentators (Levitas, 1996; Rodger, 2008) who identified the shifts occurring in the organising discourses behind public policy, perhaps most specifically arguments about the ‘criminalisation of social policy’, were amongst the first to acknowledge this.

A second aspect, more clearly reflected in the diagram of ‘overlapping spheres’ (Figure 3.1), concerns the multiplication of layers of policy intervention. Many of these new layers have formed since the emergence of community safety, although there is a case to make that ‘community safety’ is where they flourished. These new spheres of intervention include: much of the ‘pre-crime compliance’ measures, behaviour contracts and early interventions; the marked ramping up of welfare conditionality and benefit sanctions (although there are certainly many precedents for this (Squires, 1990)); the ‘troubled families’ programme itself; the entire ASB agenda; the hybridisation of civil/criminal enforcement; the surveillance ‘explosion’; the new collective-responsibility gang initiatives (such as Operation Shield and ‘joint-enterprise’ prosecutions); and the ‘Prevent’ strategy and counter-terrorism measures.

Overlapping spheres of discipline, surveillance, targeting and justice.

Figure 3.1   Overlapping spheres of discipline, surveillance, targeting and justice.

Blairite aspirations towards a ‘rebalancing’ and ‘modernisation’ of criminal justice went part of the way to achieving some of these changes; the Coalition’s reforms have reinforced and extended these innovations. Figure 3.1 attempts to capture something of the interlaced spheres of crime control, justice and injustice, compliance, conditionality, administrative targeting, surveillance, pre-criminal ‘precautionary’ intervention, hybrid-legality, prevention oriented early intervention, collective responsibilisation, enforcement selectivity and streamlined due process presently characterising the ‘new’ criminal justice and, therefore, how multi-level governance through crime is now delivered.

A third feature of the new criminal justice, reflected in Figure 3.1, is that, just as there are several new layers of criminal justice intervention, so each of these layers has produced some distinctly new techniques of intervening, disciplining, surveilling which, having proved effective, have also found their applications in other areas. The two-step criminalisation provisions, as described by Simester and von Hirsch (2006) are a particular case in point. They had their origin 4 in the ASBO, where the first step entailed the attachment of a behaviour order; the second step, exposure to a much enhanced range of penalties, would follow any breach of that order. This principle has now been extended in respect of dangerous offenders, gang-involved offenders, violent, organised and terrorist offenders. A range of pre-criminal or ‘precautionary’ interventions find their application from behaviour compliance measures through to the new ASB controls, although styled as ‘preventive justice’ by Ashworth and Zedner (2014). Finally, while forms of network surveillance and specialist targeting find applications across the several layers of criminal justice, the utility of hybrid civil/legal procedures and streamlined due process in, for example, criminal asset recovery or terrorism, prevention and investigation measures (TPIMs) remains.

The argument is not that this recently transformed field of criminal justice activities was a direct and inevitable result of the original, localised, ‘joined up’ and ‘left-realist’ informed community safety strategies of the early 1990s. Rather it is suggested that the development path to the new criminal justice reflects certain internal weaknesses and ambiguities of the community safety discourse itself and, subsequently, the ways in which this policy was rather eclipsed by an all-conquering ASB agenda. That these changes also reflected the changing ideological tenor of ‘law and order’ and the reprioritisation of crime victims during a period in which efficient, target-driven, crime and disorder management became the sine qua non of good governance and popular neo-liberal politics, only added to the transformation. Politicians of both parties referred to these processes in positive terms as promoting the needs of victims and favouring the law abiding majority: speeding up justice, ensuring more offenders were brought to justice and ‘rebalancing’ the system as a whole. In Wacquant’s (2009) terms, as the welfare arm of the state underwent a marked neo-liberal retrenchment, and a number of the more punitive features of social policy came to the fore, so the dispersed disciplinary potential of early interventionist and ‘pre-criminal’ targeting also expanded. At the same time hybrid legal principles, streamlined due process and ‘two-step’ targeted interventions also began to feature more significantly in higher end police and prosecutorial systems. The final dimensions of the segmented system of justice represented in Figure 3.1 were only completed in 2015 by the passage of the Serious Crime Act (2015) which marked a further synthesis of aspects of the Ending Gang and Youth Violence (Home Office, 2011), the Serious and Organised Crime Strategy (HM Government, 2013) and the government’s evolving Counter-Terrorism Strategy (McCulloch and Pickering, 2009), all of which adopt and adapt aspects of the ‘community safety’ and ASB strategies of earlier years. In a sense these various strategies are still centred around an idea of ‘community safety’, but this policy concept has undoubtedly changed and how these measures achieve it, how well they achieve it and, perhaps above all, for whom they achieve it – the questions with which we opened this discussion – have changed as well.


As our later discussion of the Pilkington case (2009) makes clear, it seems fair to note that these problems were not ‘solved’ by the first phase of ASB policy-making.

The notion of net-widening, essentially a ‘fishing’ metaphor, reflects the simple idea that a larger net would catch more fish; likewise widened social control would discipline more people. The idea was most extensively developed by Cohen (1985) but applied by Squires and Stephen (2005) to ASB management. Cohen’s first use of the idea involved a critique of the ‘alternatives to custody’ discourse. Alternatives he argued were, in reality, disciplinary extensions affecting more people. Other commentators (Austin and Krisberg, 2002) have argued that nets might have a variety of differing qualities, such as a tighter, finer mesh, capable of catching even the smallest ‘fish’ for the smallest of transgressions.

Pre-criminal behaviours might include behaviour by children under the age of criminal responsibility, an age group now subject to ABCs; sub-criminal behaviours might include forms of low-level nuisance behaviour (now called ‘anti-social’ behaviour) such as noise nuisance, neighbour disputes and begging which, even if they were covered by the criminal law, were seldom, if ever, prosecuted.

Perhaps recent origin would be a fairer reflection given that English law, in previous times, has applied a certain category status to various kinds of offender – vagrant, beggar, ‘common prostitute’ – as a prelude to more punitive treatment. The 1908 Prevention of Crime Act, likewise, could see ‘incorrigible’ or ‘habitual’ offenders subject to additional longer sentences in order to ‘prevent’ future crime.


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