Features: March 3rd, 2006

Getting Under The Hood

By Martyn Goodhand

 Media pundits and politicians have made much of the rise of anti-social behaviour, connecting it with everything from homelessness to hood wearing. Indeed, with so many ASBOs being issued for reasons as diverse as restricting rogue traders to answering the front door in undergarments, the phrase “ASBO creep” has been coined to highlight concerns over possible overuse of ASBOs.

Given the intense focus on the issue, it’s all the more important to take a careful, integrated and strategic approach to tackling anti-social behaviour rather than just meeting targets. There is a need to maintain public trust and confidence.

Getting to grips with and reducing anti-social behaviour within a region demands true multi-agency working, as enshrined in statute in The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 which details the concept of partnership working to prevent and reduce crime and disorder. This integrated approach can help use the skills and resources of a number of organisations to their full potential.

In turn, deploying these skills demands robust, yet straightforward information access and exchange between agencies including police, local authorities, health services, victim support teams and housing offices. This leads to proactive management of ASB, helping to identify local patterns and hotspots and not just reacting to events.

But how do the agencies involved develop the kind of information exchange needed? How do they share information, analyse patterns and report accurately on trends to ensure ASBOs are enforced and managed, and deliver better support to all parties involved? Let’s look at how to establish inter-agency information sharing, from communication protocols through to the solutions which enable sharing and deliver efficient ASB management.

Share and share alike

At present, there is typically very little formal information sharing between the agencies involved in managing ASB in any given region. Selected information about perpetrators and potential ASBO recipients may be provided to ASBO Coordinators, but this is primarily during the process of issuing ASBOs and usually on paper or orally. This “need to know” information exchange enables only reactive management, because the information is not readily available to other parties.

To focus on ASB prevention and reduction, the first step is to put in place a formal structure for intelligence-based information sharing. The guidelines for this should be set out in a Protocol which needs to be agreed by all parties. A model protocol that can be adapted for local needs is available from www.crimereduction.gov.uk

When the protocol is in place to define how information should be shared, the next stage is to look at the requirements of the ASB management system to deliver information sharing. How do all the parties access the system? What user interface should be used to input data, view reports and analyses? What form should the software application take, and how should it be managed?

System matters

There are two key prerequisites for an ASB management system. It should be based around a central, relational database which holds all information available on actual or potential incidents and events. This gives all parties secure access to the appropriate level of information, with a fully-searchable database enabling comprehensive, accurate analysis and trending of all events and risk factors according to users’ specific needs.

The core system should also include a full range of reporting facilities using predefined or ad-hoc report formats. A further benefit is the ability to audit transactions and usage – a vital consideration for compliance and accountability.

Equally important is the user interface, to ensure that all users can benefit from using the system via a familiar and widespread user interface. The web browser is the de-facto choice for this, as it offers easy navigation, simple point-and-click data entry and simultaneous display of documentation, pictures and other relevant information.

A browser interface is also flexible enough to enable customisation of features such as input forms to reflect existing procedures and shorten users’ training cycles. It also makes the ASB management system accessible from any Web-enabled PC providing the user has the appropriate authentication and permissions – typically administered by username and password.

Browser-based systems are also favoured from a budget and IT management viewpoint, because of the low impact on IT resources. What’s more, the system can even be delivered as a managed service, cutting start-up and management costs.

Reward points

So what benefits can an ASB management system deliver? The improved exchange of information between agencies means enhanced clarity of reporting and more accuracy in recording ASB incidents, as data is entered on a real-time basis. It also helps in assessing performance against KPIs.

It accelerates the obtaining of ASB orders and credits, through reduced duplication of processes and information. It also reduces staff time spent on processing paperwork, speeding up implementation of prevention and enforcement activities.

And critically, it helps agencies focus on those ASBOs that need active monitoring – the ’signal crimes’ such as abandoned vehicles, rubbish in the streets or graffiti, which have a disproportionate affect on people’s fear of crime. This proactive monitoring assists in building public confidence in agencies’ ability to manage ASB issues – helping to get under the hood and address the threat of anti-social behaviour.

Martyn Goodhand is CEO of Vantage Technologies www.vantage-technologies.co.uk