WIGAN was a safer place to live in during 2011.
Latest figures released by the police between April and mid-December show significant drops in several types of crime.
And the borough’s Building Stronger Communities Partnership was today credited with a big positive impact on crime and anti-social behaviour in communities across the borough.
Supt Andrea Jones of Wigan Police said: “Wigan borough is getting safer, and it’s all down to the way agencies work together.
“By working in partnership, we’ve reduced the damaging impact of crime and anti-social behaviour on our borough’s towns and neighbourhoods.”
Since the beginning of the financial year, crime across the borough has fallen by seven per cent compared to the same period last year. This equates to a reduction from 14,101 incidents in 2010 to 13,145 incidents in the same period in 2011.
A similar trend in anti-social behaviour over the same period has seen the same reduction of seven per cent from a reported 13,127 incidents in 2010 to 12,264 in 2011. Criminal Damage is also down, dropping from 3,096 incidents to 2,817 (a reduction of nine per cent).
Agencies have introduced a number of measures to combat anti-social behaviour over the past year, including a new boroughwide Designated Public Place Order (DPPO), a practical tool used by police and local authorities to help combat the issue of alcohol-related nuisance in public spaces.
Sally Wolstencroft, Head of Safer, Cleaner and Greener at Wigan Council, said: “Rowdy drunken groups can be very intimidating, so the DPPO aims to give local residents greater peace of mind. Our parks and public spaces are there for all the community to enjoy and should not become ‘No Go Zones’ as a result of the inconsiderate behaviour of a handful of persistent street drinkers.”
In 2001, another measure designed to tackle ASB in targeted hot spots was stepped up, and has been rolled out in various neighbourhoods to great effect. Section 30 Dispersal Zones give additional powers to police officers and PCSOs to disperse groups who are causing harassment, distress and annoyance.
A five-week Section 30 introduced in Wigan town centre over the Christmas and New Year period resulted in a drop in ASB by 28 per cent compared to the previous year. Across the borough in Atherton town centre, a six-month Section 30 was introduced on September 30, and up to November 30 there were just 16 incidents of ASB. This compares to 53 in the same period last year – a fall of 70 per cent.
Supt Jones said: “The Section 30s aren’t a miracle cure but they have proven to be an effective tool at a very local level.
“They’re not intended to demonise young people, who are often unfairly stigmatised. We use these powers to target all perpetrators, especially of behaviour which is alcohol-fuelled.”
But it isn’t just the boys and girls in blue who work on the frontline tackling crime. Officers from Wigan Council’s Trading Standards team have also been busy throughout 2011, doing their bit to protect the local community from the effects of illicit traders, bogus callers and dodgy scams.Chief Trading Standards Officer Julie Middlehurst said: “Throughout 2011, our officers have been pro-active in the community, educating consumers, advising businesses and enforcing the law.
“At the beginning of the year, we launched a high-profile campaign aimed at adults who buy alcohol for under-18s.
“This proxy sales campaign featured prominent billboard advertising and supported our wider efforts in preventing young people getting hold of alcohol, which includes carrying out regular test purchases in retail outlets suspected of selling alcohol to minors.
“In addition, we’ve worked hard to raise awareness of the issues around bogus callers who prey on our elderly and vulnerable residents, as well as those who use the internet to target unwary consumers.
“And following success of similar schemes across the borough, we also launched another ‘No Cold Calling Zone’ in Hindley in 2011, to deter opportunist thieves and rogue traders.
Sadly, some doorstep criminals are brazen. Loan sharks have been reported plying their evil trade in some of our more deprived neighbourhoods, where victims are being harassed, threatened and terrorised , and Trading Standards work with partners including the police to bring these people to justice.
Ms Middlehurst added: “We urge victims to seek support; nobody will judge you and there is help available. Partners have been running awareness campaigns to encourage those at risk to look at alternative financial options and avoid this terrifying debt trap. As to the offenders, our message is straight forward: it is a priority and you will be brought to justice.”
Greater Manchester Fire and Rescue Service has been helping to tackle youth-related anti-social behaviour.
Mr Sheridan said: “We have 24 cadets, including 15 girls, who we’ve recruited from West Leigh and Lowton High Schools.
“These young ambassadors are positive role models to other youths, they’re active in the community and they’re also working towards a BTEC qualification to enhance their skills - so it’s a win-win situation for everybody.”
Driving home positive messages about young people to the community is a cause close to the heart of the teams who work in Wigan Council’s 0-19 Gateway (formerly Children and Young People’s Services).
Throughout the year, youth workers have been out in the community, offering advice to young people, encouraging them to find their voice and engaging them in positive activities. Working alongside partners in police, housing and leisure, the council’s youth workers support all the multi-agency operations and have contributed to the significant reduction in anti-social behaviour incidents.
Provisions for young people are set to improve in 2012 following the approval this year of plans for a new Youth Zone on Mesnes playing field.
There has been a 31 per cent reduction in serious violent crime this year, from 153 incidents across the borough in 2010 (April-December) compared to 106 this year. Assaults with injury has dropped by 18 per cent; from 1,129 incidents in 2010 to 930 in 2011. Whilst Violence Against The Person is down 19 per cent - from 1,282 to 1,036 incidents.
These reductions are in no small part down to the high profile campaigns that partners have invested time and resources in. Earlier this year, the partnership launched Operation Lockdown to encourage young adults to think twice before getting involved in serious violent crime. As part of the campaign, a crime prevention day was organised at Wigan and Leigh College .
All students, staff and visitors entering the main campus building on Parsons Walk were made to pass through a knife arch, and subjected to random mock searches.
Students also engaged with agencies in roadshows and tutorials, giving them a chance to learn about issues as diverse as domestic abuse, proxy sales of alcohol to under-age drinkers, plus the risks associated with drugs and alcohol consumption.
The campaign even attracted the support of Wigan Athletic FC boss Roberto Martinez who said at the time: “The entire Wigan Athletic team, both on the field and off, is behind this campaign. We are committed to working with all partners across the community to tackle the issue of serious violent crime among young people, through intervention, education and prevention and we hope this campaign saves lives and makes a real difference.”
Students from the college subsequently produced a film aimed at their peers, urging them to consider the consequences of getting caught up in alcohol-fuelled violence.
Similarly, the emotional impact that drama can have on an audience was used to great affect in the autumn, when agencies commissioned the production of a play to explore the consequence of alcohol-fuelled anti-social behaviour. The play, Just One Night, which was funded by the Tackling Knives Action Programme and Ashton, Wigan and Leigh Primary Care Trust, and was performed in front of 2,000 mesmerised year 8s in high schools across the borough.
The young characters in this play were made to face up to the consequences of their actions – as indeed are our own young people who get caught up in anti-social or offending behaviour.
However, the good news is that there are far fewer young people entering the criminal justice system - and more often than not, those who do appear on our radar never offend again.
Over the course of the past twelve months, Wigan’s approach to youth justice has again been held up as an example of best practice by the Youth Justice Board, in particular our commitment to a system of restorative justice which encourages young offenders to make amends to their victims and to the wider community as a whole.
The Youth Offending Team also added more awards to the mantelpiece this year. 2011 saw them receive a sixth Green Apple award in recognition of local environmental reparation projects – adding to the previous five they’ve already won.
Acquisitive crime is down across the borough, with a six per cent fall in theft and handling stolen goods, as well as a similar reduction in theft from motor vehicles. Serious Acquisitive Crime is also down by almost three per cent.
Supt Jones said: “We’ve campaigned really hard this year to encourage motorists to secure their valuables and not leave property on display in their vehicles.
“There has been a small rise in incidents of theft of motor vehicles, and burglary dwelling is showing a similar rise of two per cent. So clearly, we aren’t complacent and we will continue to prioritise these areas. However, we do urge people to play their part, too. Don’t give opportunist criminals an inch – otherwise they’ll take the lot!”
While the overall reductions in crime across Wigan borough are cause for celebration, every single officer who works on the front line is forever conscious that crime creates victims.
Partners have also piloted a way of working which helps to identify those victims who are at most risk or are particularly vulnerable. “ASBRAC works like a traffic light system, with the most vulnerable victims appearing as RED, those at lower risk AMBER and least risk, GREEN,” said Insp Ian Kennedy from Leigh Neighbourhood Policing team, who helped develop the system for the whole of Greater Manchester Police.
“It’s a type of short-hand which alerts agencies to those victims who are in need of more intensive help. This could take a variety of forms - for instance, personal safety measures or referral to specialist health services.”
There are still a number of major challenges for partners, not least the issue of domestic abuse which costs Wigan Borough nearly £30m a year across public services.
Coun Kevin Anderson, Wigan Council’s champion for safer neighbourhoods and the environment, said:
“The people who form the Building Stronger Communities Partnership know full well that they don’t work in isolation, and that their strength lies in the co-ordinated way in which they combine resources to tackle the major risks to the safety of our neighbourhoods.
“As a result, we’re proud to still be the safest borough in Greater Manchester. For the year ahead, we want to continue to work together to make Wigan borough even safer.”