Dispersal orders accelerating in Croydon

Photo: jetgerbil, flickr

The number of dispersal orders granted in Croydon has been accelerating in the last few weeks, as part of an initiative by the Safer Croydon Partnership.

From February 15, a six-month dispersal order came into effect at Merton Park.  This is in addition to a further two dispersal orders which were granted the previous day at Thornton Heath and Upper Norwood.

These orders follow the renewal last month of two further dispersal orders at New Addington and in the town centre.

The orders form part of a Safer Croydon initiative against anti-social behaviour.

Local  Croydon MP Gavin Barwell told ELL that: “Croydon is similar to most places in London and there is problems  with anti-social behavior in New Addington and the town center. Particularly as the town center has a night time economy, which results in a lot of drinking on the street. This can be a very problematic issue for local residents.  So the dispersal zones help to improve the situation.”

“There are a lot of cheap drink shops in New Addington area, in which youths are buying drink; this also leads to anti- social behavior on Croydon streets,” he went on to say.

Police have power to  grant dispersal orders through the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003.   This gives police a raft of powers which the government says are necessary to help councils and police crack down on nuisance behaviour, low-level but persistent crime such as graffiti, and everything in between.

Under the powers under-16s can be forcibly returned to their homes by the police if they are on the streets after nine at night and unaccompanied by an adult.

Inspector Chris Green of Sutton police said that: “there is a small group’s behaviour which is impacting upon other residents.”

“In order to deal with this effectively, a new order and its powers is needed,” he said.  “We will continue to use every power at our disposal to reduce the impact of crime and antisocial behaviour for the community.”

Councillor O’Connell, cabinet member for community safety, commented that: “we have had such success in reducing crime and anti-social behaviour in this area.  However, in the last few weeks a few individuals have been spoiling it for the other residents. We will not tolerate this and will continue to use all the powers we have, to make this area a place for everyone to use.”

This week Safer Croydon agreed to two new dispersal orders. As of 14 February, dispersal orders in Thornton Heath and Upper Norwood, which includes a small part of Norbury, will come in to effect and last for a period of six months.

The orders have always been controversial.  In a recent interview with the Kilburn Times, Liberty policy director Gareth Crossman recently warned that: “there is no need that any individual be suspected of involvement in criminal activity before being subjected to a dispersal order.”

“Breach of an order is a criminal offence,” he went on to say.  “Similar to an anti-social behaviour order, the behaviour leading to breach does not have to be criminal.”

Dr Alan Crawford, a lecturer in law at the University of Leeds, co-wrote a paper warning against the improper use of dispersal orders.  He told ELL that “young people much more likely to be victims of anti-social behaviour, and tend to find safety in groups, particularly groups of women,” and that dispersal orders “could be putting them at risk.”

He went on to say that, “Young people tend to congregate in quite safe areas, and the orders tend to disperse young people into darker, less-well surveilled spaces.”

He also warned that anti-social behaviour was “as much in the eye of the beholders,” and that “national data showed that the granting of dispersal orders is just as likely in an area where there is a perception of criminality, if not actual instances of criminality.”

He suggested that the problem was often one of intergenerational conflict, and the orders should be a “trigger for multi-agency problem-solving.”

Click here for a summary of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation report into dispersal orders.

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