Anti-social behaviour has the potential to cause serious distress to people or even ruin lives. It also tends to create an environment in which more serious crime threatens to take hold if the sociopaths who cause trouble are not tackled firmly enough.

While anti-social behaviour has always existed, it appears to have reached alarming levels in certain areas of the country, posing a real threat to the physical and mental well-being of residents.

This newspaper has reported on incidents involving a group of youths who intimidated a family in Qawra. These young people were reportedly hooded and armed with knives. They attempted to break down the door of a family’s home. One person who witnessed this incident said that the gangs “seem to be untouchable and unafraid”.

This sort of incident calls for firm and effective action on the ground by law enforcement authorities. Citizens expect the police, local councils, social welfare and other agencies to make tackling anti-social behaviour a priority and to respond promptly and professionally to such situations.

The police, above all, need to react immediately and make sure to nip the problem in the bud. But the sobering reality is that the police force is already overstretched. Unless it is given more resources, it might not be able to curb unruly behaviour before it escalates into serious crime.

Anti-social behaviour is not associated only with younger people. However, the sad fact is that some younger people, especially those who indulge in substance abuse, are more likely to cause trouble of this kind in the community.

The long-term approach to curbing anti-social behaviour would be to identify symptoms like depression, anxiety and anger in young teenagers, as early as possible, and get them professional social and psychological help. However, much more can be done in the short term to discourage and address violent behaviour of this nature. Local councils could work with the community they serve and with the police to define strategies for the prevention of urban crime in all its forms.

The installation of more CCTV cameras is one way of exposing anti-social behaviour and helping to identify the perpetrators, thus serving as a deterrent.

Another effective strategy might be to set up a system where residents are given a dedicated phone number to report anti-social behaviour, enabling the police on patrol to take instant action. This system could be made even more effective through community-policing teams working in local areas directly with residents.

Again, this would depend on resources. The police commissioner last summer promised that officers on community beat will become a common sight all over Malta by 2023, after what he described as successful pilot projects in a number of localities. Police officers on foot patrols are able to create a stronger bond with people living and working in the locality.  

Causing damage to property is among the more severe forms of anti-social behaviour. But other forms are equally unacceptable, including threatening or abusing people, harassment; continued consumption of alcohol when asked to stop by an authorised officer and littering in public places.

This may be the right time to give the police and even, perhaps, officials from local councils, more power to move groups who are reported to be disturbing other people by their unruly behaviour and to fine them on the spot.

This may require changes in legislation. But such changes would, undoubtedly, be supported by law-abiding citizens who rightly expect law enforcement authorities to protect them from irresponsible minorities and allow them to continue living a peaceful existence free of fear.

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