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From Bangor to North Korea: Curfew orders in North Wales

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Not a lot of criminological interest occurs in the small town (city actually) of Bangor on the North Wales coast. True, a decade or more ago cannibalism was noted in a witchcraft case across the Menai Straits. Very occasional pub fights are the meat of local headlines. Summary justice of ASBOs is the normal practice of the North Wales Police (NWP). A spate of thefts of from yachts in the harbour has inflated the minimal burglary figures.

The County of Gwynedd survived the practices of the former Chief Constable, Richard Brunstrom (known nationally in the recent past, as the ‘Traffic Taliban’). Holstrom had other well-reported crime priorities, typically declaring on one occasion that the major local offence was the disturbance of ‘bats’. But after taking a large bonus for his success (for being, well, successful), he failed to obtain a retirement post in a tax-haven and is now blogging happily from somewhere in the South Atlantic.

Professionally, the University once hosted the BSC Annual Conference during which a coterie of Open University academics were last seen scrambling up nearby Snowdon (the site – the events are not believed to be connected – of the macabre death of the previous Chief Constable of Greater Manchester). Crime, social harm, and incivilities, are not readily apparent in Bangor.

But times have suddenly changed. In early June, 2012, journalists across the country rejoiced in the above hyperbole. North Wales had apparently become a police state.

North Korea or Bangor? City centre curfew on all under-16s

Overnight, on the NWP’s website, had appeared a statement that a nightime Curfew Order was to be imposed over a large swathe of Bangor for all young people under the age of sixteen years. For six months, potential felons could face summary arrest and be fined up to £350 for daring to flaunt the curfew without the attendance of an ‘appropriate adult’. Consternation was reported in secondary schools. No more ‘chip butties’ in the evening!

Unfortunately, the NWP had blundered: in many ways. Critically, the force had intended a Dispersal Order not a Curfew Order. In practice, of course, the two have many similarities, especially in their reversal of the requirements of due process, but the Curfew Order is more punitive. The consequent outcry unveiled more substantive problems. Enforcement of Curfew Orders (section 30 ) depend on many criteria: wide public consultation (including multi-agency involvement); evidence of a significant and persistent rise in anti-social behaviour in the previous six months; demonstration that existing powers were insufficient; a statement of the specific objectives of the Order; and limitation to a minimum area.

The NWP had also failed to conduct these procedures professionally, in any meaningful sense, or effectively. Typically, the level of minor anti-social behaviour was little different than previously in the limited, methodologically comical, postcode crime maps (although covering helpfully the road adjacent to the University, Love Lane, which unfortunately appears to harbour much less deviance than historically). Few Crime Partners had heard of the process – Bangor’s outraged City Mayor learnt of the Order from the media. The spokesperson for the Gwynedd Council evinced no knowledge of any inter-partner discussions; of the existence of the relevant committee’s Minutes; or even who had chaired or been present at the enabling session. Specific guidance from ACPO of the process is notable only by its absence.

The Rowntree Foundation’s study (2007) of two relatively high crime areas under the Dispersal powers, after emphasising a rigorous process of consultation and requirement of extended police resources, found a marginal decrease in local anti-social behaviour, a massive displacement effect, and the potential for antagonising young people. Such evidential material appears to be absent from any ‘decision-making’ process in North Wales (again not yet, if ever, available for overview). Such required procedures like ACPO’s guidance, are notable only by their absence in the sudden implementation of the Dispersal Order.

Meanwhile Bangor enjoys its new Pyongyang notoriety. No resultant riots have been yet reported – the ‘Bangor Spring’ remains nascent. Vetted Chinese tourists have appeared. But the Mayor and others have established their own Facebook campaigns to respond. North Wales is after all a relatively benign place, but one apparently bereft of pressures on police resources.

Mike Brogden recently retired as Professor of Criminal Justice at Queen’s University, Belfast. He is co-author with Graham Ellison of Policing in an Age of Austerity: a post-colonial perspective, Routledge, August, 2012. As a sociologist, he has published extensively, inter alia, on colonial and ‘modern’ policing and justice systems. He has been an adviser to many post-colonial police forces. His major (fleeting) claim to fame was as the European Union Security Adviser for the 1994 first South African democratic Election.

 

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