Wigan Council officers fear babies crying, people gossiping and ‘dirty looks’ could all be classed as antisocial behaviour if they implement a ‘zero tolerance’ approach to the problem.
The council has been urged by opposition members to take a tougher stance on serious incidents by giving fewer chances to repeat offenders before they are punished.
One councillor claimed he was forced to move house because of antisocial behaviour, and said it could have a ‘devastating’ impact on residents.
But council officers fear a zero-tolerance approach conjures up an image of taking action against every occurance of alleged antisocial behaviour – no matter how trivial.
Cooking smells, people gossiping in the street, babies crying and dirty looks could all be interpreted as being antisocial behaviour, according to a report.
But Coun James Watson, of the Atherton Independent Network, told a council meeting that it was obvious which incidents should be punished and called for policies to be toughened up.
“It would be reasonable for more severe punishment to be applied to those generally causing harassment, alarm and distress,” he said.
“Common sense needs to be applied because dirty looks and babies crying don’t seem to be antisocial behaviour.”
Residents can currently request an antisocial behaviour case review, or a ‘community trigger’, if they report three separate incidents relating to the same issue within six months.
If criteria is met, a review panel will gather evidence and consider further action.
But Coun Watson argued that the ‘three-strike’ approach should be reduced to two to crackdown on serious offences – a recommendation based on a report by the victim commissioner Baroness Newlove.
He added: “The first time you break the rules it is a mistake, a second time is a conscious choice and, well, the third is just a slap in the face of the good, honest residents within our borough.”
More should be done to ‘empower’ victims of antisocial behaviour according to Coun Gerrard, also of the Atherton Independent Network,
He said: “When I was living in Leigh we had major issues with a certain family, so much so I had to leave my house and move to Atherton.
“That family was treated better than what my family were. I lost a lot of money and we can’t allow it to happen again.
“It’s not low level nuisance – it is crime, and should be treated as such. The result of antisocial behaviour can be devastating.”
The meeting heard that the council has a community resilience team, which manages cases from early intervention and prevention through to enforcement where necessary.
Coun Kevin Anderson, Wigan council’s portfolio holder for police, crime and civil contingencies, said ‘robust action’ would be taken when justified by evidence.
The Labour councillor added: “Zero-tolerance raises expectations of severe enforcement which can’t be implemented easily.
“We need to focus on the people and on interventions that work for everybody.”