Public Spaces Protection Orders; Good or bad?

A Public Space Protection Order prohibits specific things being done in a restricted area. For example, it can stop drunk anti-social behaviour in a certain area by making it an offence to not hand over alcohol when asked. The order can only be in place for a maximum of three years and unlike Community Protection Notices, local authorities must consult with the police before issuing them.

As with many powers introduced to combat anti-social behaviour, PSPOs have been subject to criticism.  With PSPOs, one of the criticisms is that the council can seemingly criminalise activities that are causing a disturbance when the activity in itself is not illegal. For example, the Manifesto Club reports that PSPO’s can ban “lying down, swearing and charity collecting”. Whilst some of the activities banned by local councils can be viewed as extreme and sometimes ridiculous, it is important to note that the media tends to focus on these small number of incidents, rather than the many times PSPOs have been effectively enforced to improve areas with high levels of anti-social behaviour.

Thanet council has decided to introduce several PSPOs to combat high levels of anti-social behaviour in their district. The PSPOs mean that £80 fines will be issued if officers believe people are behaving in a way likely to cause “harassment, alarm or distress to others”. Activities covered by this PSPO include using foul or abusive language, cycling on pavements and play fighting. Whilst criminalising foul language seems extreme and hard to police, criminalising excreting bodily fluids and mis-using public spaces can only be a benefit to local residents.

It is important to note that in this article from a local Thanet newspaper it says that the PSPO bans groups of two or more. This is only true if the group is causing anti-social behaviour and therefore breaching the terms of the PSPO. Misconceptions like this can portray anti-social behaviour reforms in a negative light and make the public lose confidence in PSPOs. In addition to this, the article also states that there were 4,000 reports of Anti-Social Behaviour in 9 months across Kent. Remember, if you have reported an incident more than three times in six months and you feel the police have not provided a satisfactory response, you can activate the Community Trigger in your local area. Despite the Community Trigger being available across the country, it is still an under-used resource, with a lack of advertising by local authorities a main contributor of this.

We are pleased to see Thanet council implement a measure from the Anti-Social Behaviour Crime and Policing Act 2014 as it is not fair on residents and businesses in the area to be suffering this ongoing anti-social behaviour and see nothing done about it. If the enforcement of PSPOs in Thanet is successful, it may encourage other authorities to bring in similar measures to tackle anti-social behaviour, which in turn raises public confidence and in turn, helps victims. We would love to see more examples of best practice of effectively tackling anti-social behaviour be shared across the country so that agencies can learn from one another.  A lack of data collection, as we examined last month, makes this difficult, as does the lack of opportunities to share best practice. The local community, police and council need to work together to ensure these reforms are successful. The more they can hear about places where the powers have been successful, the better.