Interview: CPNs are being ‘given out like confetti’

Jim Nixon was a police officer for 20 years and has since worked as an ASB manager and consultant for councils. He discusses his experience of Community Protection Notices (CPNs) – why they are a problem, and how they might be improved.

What is your experience of CPNs?

I have seen CPNs being given out without a lot of thought to the evidence. I found that housing officers and ASB officers were giving them out like confetti, and police officers were doing the same. Officers have been given very little training around ASB in general, and there is a wide range of understanding about how to issue CPWs and CPNs.

What sort of CPN cases have you come across?

There was one 75-year-old lady in Staffordshire who was threatened with a CPW for singing to herself in her garden each day during lockdown. One of her neighbours was complaining to the police about it 2 or 3 times a day. Only when I intervened did we put a stop to the planned CPW – we went down the route of mediation and that resolved it. I have also come across a lot of cases of CPNs being used for homeless people, such as in Stoke, and I stopped that too. In some cases I have seen officers use CPNs to target individuals with mental health problems, who need support rather than criminalisation. In one case, officers issued 13 CPWs to the same person.

What are the procedural problems with the ways CPNs are issued?

A lot of people receive CPNs in the post, they haven’t got a clue what they are on about. I made sure officers issued CPNs face to face, so they could explain it to the recipient. There is also a lot of bad practice where officers don’t specify what the evidence is against someone, they just say ‘we have evidence against you’. We would specify in detail what the allegations are, so people know what has been said about them and they have the opportunity to challenge it. Also, a lot of CPNs are very generic, for example they ban someone from causing ‘harassment, alarm and distress’, which is not effective and doesn’t solve the problem. Or sometimes CPNs are issued to a group of people thought to be causing problems, without drilling down to the evidence in each case.

Are councils being badly advised?

There is a problem with some of the advice councils are receiving. There are barristers training councils who are stretching the use of the CPW and CPN to the maximum, for example telling councils that a ‘community’ can be one person, and that behaviour only has to negatively affect one person for it to qualify for a CPN. These barristers are also advising that CPNs should be used for all ASB scenarios, whereas my view is that they should only be used for serious environmental issues.

Why are officers giving out CPNs ‘like confetti’?

Officers like them because there is no real redress. An officer can issue a CPW and there are no real consequences if they get it wrong. That is why CPNs are being issued without real evidence, because there is no recourse and no scrutiny. When I was supervising officers, I employed my scrutiny – I would ask for CPNs and CPWs to come through me, and I would review the evidence. If I wasn’t happy I would drop the case and look at alternative options. In many cases you don’t have that internal scrutiny – a lot of managers let their officers get on with it.

Would a tribunal system for CPNs help provide more scrutiny?

If there was a tribunal to appeal CPNs, the people issuing them would realise that there is a recourse, and they would be more careful. A tribunal system would be a good idea. Right now, I would advise people who have received a CPN from the police, that it is worth submitting a complaint. If the police feel that there is a chink in the evidence then they would be likely to withdraw it. You ring up the police station and lodge a complaint – make a complaint at a local level first, then they would refer it to professional standards.

What are you doing in the area right now?

I’m working with the ASB consultant Janine Green to train councils and housing associations in how to use these tools and powers more fairly and effectively. But it’s difficult – once officers are given powers, it is difficult to take them away.