Senior policeman hits back at ministers over ASBO use

ONE of Scotland's most senior police officers has hit back at ministers over the use of new powers to tackle antisocial behaviour, insisting they are not a panacea in fighting youth crime.

Dumfries and Galloway chief constable and ACPOS youth justice spokesman David Strang also says there is a "disproportionate fear" of young people.

In what appeared to be a thinly-veiled criticism of recent comments by the First Minister Jack McConnell, Mr Strang said powers such as ASBOs for unruly children should not be used as a measure of success against tackling youth offending.

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Mr McConnell and the Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson have been consistently critical of councils and police for not using measures such as ASBOs and dispersal orders.

Last month Mr McConnell accused authorities of an "inexcusable" failure to make full use of powers for tacking anti-social behaviour. He expressed "absolute dismay" that many were not using powers such as dispersal orders - which he said they had been pleading for - when "far too many" young people were still showing incorrigible behaviour.

Mr McConnell spoke out after it emerged that only half of Scotland's eight police forces have imposed dispersal orders for breaking up unruly crowds. Only four ASBOs were served on children in the year since the power was introduced in April 2005. But in an interview with The Scotsman, Mr Strang defended police and local authority efforts to tackle youth crime.

He insisted the "real answer" was not to deliver more ASBOs but to tackle a loss of trust between young people and the wider community by reaching out to youngsters.

He said: "The notion that we want to be taking out antisocial behaviour orders on lots of people is, I think, either a misunderstanding or a misrepresentation.

"I have sympathy with the view that the number of ASBOs you take out cannot be a measure of success. If you are not taking out any ASBOs, that could mean that you are dealing effectively with the problem."

Mr Strang agreed that tough measures were needed against the most unruly children, including locking the very worst offenders up in secure accommodation.

But he added: "The real answer is investing in young people's lives at a much earlier stage. By the time they are taking drugs, drinking - at the age of 13 or 14 - it is almost too late.

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"Every local authority and police force knows how important it is to tackle antisocial behaviour, but we are realistic. Part of young people growing up is hanging about together. The message we need to get over to older people is that they don't need to be frightened."

Last night the SNP said Mr McConnell should heed the words of senior police officers more closely.

Stewart Stevenson, the SNP's deputy justice spokesman, said: "David Strang's comments accords with what police up and down Scotland are saying. What may be necessary in Lanarkshire is not necessarily what police on the ground in the rest of the country determine is right."

A Scottish Executive spokesman said: "We are not in the business of setting specific targets but we do expect all of the various measures provided through the Anti-Social Behaviour Act to be used where appropriate to tackle local problems."

New report links crime to neglect and child poverty

TACKLING child poverty is key to reducing youth crime, Edinburgh's education leader, Ewan Aitken, said yesterday as a report revealed links between deprivation, parental neglect and delinquency.

A study by the Scottish Children's Reporter Administration examined the cases of nearly 1,000 troubled youngsters and showed how a small number are responsible for a huge amount of crime.

Six of the city's 58 wards contained nearly half the total number of children subject to a compulsory Supervision Requirement (SR), which can require them to be taken into care.

Craigmillar had 110 youngsters - 6.7 per cent of the under-16 population - subject to SRs, followed by Parkhead (70), Muirhouse/Drylaw (68), Kaimes (67), Murray Burn (62), and Pilton (48).

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The report found that the six wards were among the ten most deprived communities in the Capital.

Meanwhile, eight of the ten wards with the least proportion of children with SRs were among the wards with the lowest levels of deprivation.

Fairmilehead and Davidsons Mains, which had the least child deprivation, had no children subject to SRs.

The study found that nearly three-quarters of children were referred to the Reporter under care and protection grounds alone, while 26 per cent subject to an SR were referred on both offence and non-offence grounds.

But while only around 260 of the 949 children with SRs were referred for committing crimes, they were responsible for more than 2,300 offences - an average of nine each.

Children were also given SRs for being out of control, taking drugs, living with a paedophile and failing to attend school.

Councillor Aitken said the report underlined the need to tackle child poverty in Scotland.