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Thursday, September 23, 2010

My solution to anti-social behaviour

A couple of mornings ago I was on my way up Pentonville Road when I saw a cyclist coming down the hill on the pavement towards me at some speed. This in itself isn't surprising. The local yobs believe it's their right to cycle down the pavement. As he got closer I could see he was going very fast, looking unusually wild-eyed. As he flew past me I heard the three separate sirens of three separate police motorbikes tearing down the hill after him. Since they were understandably traveling by road rather than pavement they were a bit slow in following him as he took the inevitable right alongside Grimaldi Park (recently restored at some expense) into a warren of housing developments.

The sight of this pursuit seemed like the classic illustration of modern law enforcement: disproportionate effort being expended to no great effect. I can't imagine they caught him. It seems particularly timely this week. Everybody who depends on public money is making their pre-emptive strike to protect themselves against spending cuts. Today it's the police saying that if they get cut back then anti social behaviour will get worse.

Not sure if it's entirely a good idea to say this because people might point out that over the last twenty years, when we've been mainly governed by lawyers and policy wonks, we've been making new things illegal at a staggering rate and increasing police numbers along with them but our streets don't feel significantly safer. The other night I took a short cut through Somers Town, the area round the back of Euston station where some of Dickens's most deprived characters lodged. Clearly I don't expect it to be like St John's Wood but I was staggered by how threatening it felt, largely because of the number of attack dogs that were tugging their owners (male, female, old, young) around the area on the end of chains. Some of these creatures had clearly been in fights. They had all been picked for their terrorising qualities. I can't imagine how terrifying it must be to raise children around such animals.

In 1991 we had the Dangerous Dogs act, which no doubt cost a fortune from some budget somewhere. Since then we seem to have, if anything, more dangerous dogs. Is that right? I've long been a believer that governments generally manage to achieve the opposite of what they set out to do. If there was a reliable relationship between money spent and result achieved, then the amount spent on "combating anti-social behaviour" would have ensured that the local delinquents would all be lacing daisies in each other's hair by now.

Surely riding bikes down pavements belongs alongside keeping dangerous dogs in confined spaces and using your phone while driving a car in the category of behaviour that might be best addressed by some massive public awareness campaign on the scale of the AIDS campaign of the past to put over one simple, resounding message - stop behaving like a tit.

Slogan could do with some work, obviously.