Disorderly Conduct

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Disorderly Conduct

Introduction to Protext and Disorderly Conduct

Disorderly Conduct may be defined as “disturbance of the public peace and decency.” [1]

Involvement in the management of protest and disorder is a rapidly developing field. It not only affects public sector policing agencies, but also has an impact on security companies, corporations and organisations in the private sector, as well as potential protest groups. Public disorder attracts wide interest from the media, and is often in the public eye. When planned or spontaneous disorder occurs it affects all elements of society

This entry provides some information about the fundamentals of national and international public order policing command, and national and international response methodology; it also aims to provide the knowledge necessary to manage a broad range of public order threats, both planned and spontaneously emerging. The entry will also develop an understanding of the available responses to identified threats, of both a human and physical nature.

Ignoring low-level disorder encourages crime

Ever since Wilson and Kelling produced their now famous article in Atlantic Monthly (1982) there has been a certain seduction to the notion that tackling low-level disorder would have the knock-on effect of lowering more serious crime (see also Skogan, 1990). It has been argued that the reductions in crime in New York are evidence of this. The New York experience is, however, rather more complex, and admits to the possibility that the reductions are a combination of less use of crack cocaine, a far more accountable and outcome-oriented police force, a reduction in the number of young people likely to be involved in criminal activity for demographic reasons and a wide range of other tactics adopted by the New York Police in addition to dealing with disorder (Kelling and Coles, 1996; Blumstein and Rosenfeld, 1998; Kelling and Bratton, 1998; Fagan, Zimring and Kim, 1998; Bowling, 1999; Eck and Maguire, 2000).
Nevertheless, there are reasonable theoretical grounds for thinking that a reduction in disorder may ‘nip crime in the bud’ and deter vulnerable young people from getting involved in more serious offending, or may send ‘signals’ to potential offenders that crime is not tolerated here. Although Sherman (1 997) regards the research evidence as only moderately strong, he does conclude that a police focus on street activity can help reduce serious crime.

This implies a causal relationship between anti-social behavior and later, more serious offending, while at present we can only be sure of a correlation. Table 3 shows the 2000 British Crime Survey (BCS) findings about risks of domestic burglary, vehiclerelated crime and violent crime in areas with high physical disorder compared to the national rates (Kershaw et a/, 2000). It is clear that residence in areas with high physical disorder is associated with a substantially higher that average crime rate for a range of offence types. The BCS finds similar disparities between perceived risk of violent and property crime between those living in areas of physical disorder and those not doing so. Not surprisingly it also shows differences in fear of crime according to local levels of physical disorder. So we can be fairly confident that there is a positive association between signs of disorder and more serious offending.

Low-level disorder, like crime, tends to cluster in hot spots, which makes it a convenient focus for action. Read et a/ (1 999) found that calls in the hot spot residential beats were almost twice those for urban beats, almost four times those for market towns and 10 times those for rural areas. Moreover, calls were concentrated within each area type. Within the hot spot area 15 per cent of the callers called three or more times and were responsible for 39 per cent of the calls. Within the urban area 12 per cent of callers called three or more times and were responsible for 33 per cent of the calls. In the market town 10 per cent of callers made three or more calls and were responsible for 34 per cent of the calls. Within the rural beat three per cent of the callers called three or more times and were responsible for eight per cent of the calls. As with crime, calls relating to disorder are concentrated by area and within areas.

There are two further reasons for addressing low-level disorder specifically. One is that disorder itself is a concern of local communities, and thus a legitimate target for police attention – as many as 70 per cent of calls for service ta the police are not directly related to crime, but most are concerned one way or another with disorder. The second reason is that, as was noted above, low-level disorder may be a precursor to more serious offending. The argument runs that the signal sent to potential offenders in areas where incidents of disorder are ignored, is that ‘nobody cares’, and that crime therefore will also be ignored. This second reason remains a matter of academic debate and the jury is still out. But there is no doubt that communities care about these lower-level incidents and want them dealt with. Dealing with them effectively can, however, be more difficult than it may appear because one person’s incident of disorder is another person’s idea of a good time. The definition of disorder is thus problematic. This means that police and partnerships need to be clear on their powers when intervening and also that they might sensibly engage with the community to ensure that local people, particularly the community leaders, understand (and endorse) what is being proposed and why. This is all the more important in areas of high cultural diversity where police action can be interpreted as aggressive or divisive and where the ‘disorder’ itself may not be universally unacceptable (Bland and Read, 2000). [2]

Crime and disorder cluster in ‘hot spots’

There is substantial evidence that crime and disorder tend to cluster in certain places or at certain times. Some housing areas are more likely than others to suffer domestic burglary; and disorder associated with pubs and clubs, perhaps not surprisingly, tends to occur in city centers on Friday and Saturday nights at closing time.


Notes and References

  1. Information about Disorderly Conduct in the Encarta Online Encyclopedia
  2. Tilley, N., & Laycock, G. (2002). Working out what to do: Evidence-based crime reduction. Crime Reduction Research Series paper 11, London: HMSO. ISBN 1-84082-792-0

Further Reading

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