The COVID-19 outbreak has brought out the very best in human nature. I have been truly heartened to see the unyielding determination so many of you have shown to support friends, family and neighbours. However, as with all crises, it has sadly also brought out the worst in others.
Whilst national reports of criminal incidents have fallen sharply, there has been a significant increase in reports of antisocial behaviour across the regions. Between March and April, the number of cases skyrocketed by over 270%. Due to the improving weather, an increase at this time of year is expected, however a rise of this magnitude is unprecedented and widely seen by the National Police Chiefs’ Council to be a knock-on effect of the lockdown provisions put in place as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak.
Over the last three months, a similar rise in antisocial behaviour has also been seen in our community, which is borne out by the figures; antisocial behaviour across the Sevenoaks District (March-May) has increased by 95% when compared to last period year. In fact, in May alone, there was 348 incidents reported, a 116% increase on the same month in 2019. This is unacceptable.
I have been in constant communication with Kent Police and Sevenoaks District Council about tackling the recent rise in crime, but we need to do more than just address individual incidents. There are structural elements we need to address to help prevent future rises, and that is why today I am launching my four-point plan to help stop anti-social behaviour blighting our community:
- Increased police officers on our streets: This was part of my election pledge in December, and you have been clear in your correspondence that it’s exactly what you want to see too. Last month I raised the issue with the Prime Minister, and I am delighted improvements are being made. Across Kent the target is to recruit an additional 147 officers, these need to be focussed on the frontline, delivered on time and be accompanied by an increase in Police Community Support Officers (PCSO). I will work hard to ensure as many of these officers as possible are allocated to the Sevenoaks constituency, and are targeted at those areas most in need.
- Action on unauthorised traveller sites: As well as increasing police presence, we must ensure our local officers have the powers to act. As I explained in my last column, one area where this clarity is urgently required is in addressing unauthorised traveller sites. Currently to trespass is a civil offence. This means the police are unable to order people to move on without a crime being committed. This cannot continue. We must introduce laws which mean the police can challenge and remove such unauthorised sites as quickly as possible, and reduce the delays, disorder and stress that currently occur.
- Increased CCTV: We have a number of mobile CCTV cameras in our district, but we need more. They act as a crucial deterrent, provide reassurance to the community and help catch perpetrators. I will work with Kent Police, the Police and Crime Commissioner and both District and County councils to boost our numbers.
- Resuming evictions for bad behaviour: And finally, it is essential that those who are committing anti-social behaviour are punished. The recent COVID-19 outbreak saw tenant evictions, across both social and privately rented accommodation, suspended until 23 August. Whilst this was a launderable aim to protect those struggling economically, it has also prevented landlords evicting residents who are committing anti-social behaviour and making the lives of their neighbours a misery. This cannot continue and I will be speaking to the Home Office to explain why the necessary caveats must be introduced.
Over the next few weeks I will be sharing more details of the plan on my social media and website, however I wanted to take this opportunity to set out my rationale. The untold stress antisocial behaviour can bring cannot be underestimated, and it must, and will be addressed. Equally, if you witness antisocial behaviour, please do report it. If it’s not an emergency, notify the police by calling 101 or reporting the incident to the council. This can be done either online (using the below link) or by calling 01732 227000. Always call 999 in an emergency.
As a final note, with more restrictions lifting from Saturday, I urge you all to remain alert. The changes will bring the welcome reopening of much of our hospitality sector – including pubs and restaurants – but please be mindful of social distancing and hygiene rules. So far the infection rate in Sevenoaks is amongst the lowest in Kent, please let’s keep it that way.