Dispersal powers are only "sticking plasters"

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LONDON, Oct 18 (Reuters) Dispersal powers, brought in to tackle antisocial behaviour, merely act as ''sticking plasters'', shifting the problem to other areas and in some cases increasing crime levels, a report said today.

Police were given powers three years ago to break up intimidating groups of people and move anyone under the age of 16 in designated areas, known as dispersal zones, to other areas after nine o'clock at night.

But researchers said the displacement provides only temporary respite for residents, and merely shifts the problem to other areas.

A report by the Centre for Criminal Justice Studies at the University of Leeds found that although crime fell by 39 per cent in one area, it rose by 150 per cent in an area which neighboured a dispersal zone.

The research, which focused on Leeds and Sheffield, found that the type of offence most commonly displaced was criminal amage.

Co-author of the report Professor Adam Crawford called for a broader strategy, warning that dispersal zones could alienate youngsters if not handled sensitively.

He said: ''Unless dispersal orders are part of a wider, multi-agency strategy to provide alternative activities and venues for young people, the powers merely put a sticking plaster over local problems of order and invariably fail to address the wider causes of perceived antisocial behaviour.'' Crawford urged the government not to extend the zones.

More than 1,000 of them were created across Britain under the Anti-Social Behaviour Act 2003.

Police can designate an area as a dispersal zone, with the agreement of a local authority, for up to six months in England and Wales or three months in Scotland.

The government said the policy should not be taken in isolation and should be part of an integrated approach at clamping down on disorder and antisocial behaviour.

A Home Office spokesman said: ''They are only one of a wide range of tools and powers the government has made available to police and local authorities, which include written warnings, home visits, acceptable behaviour contracts, parenting order and premises closures.'' REUTERS SKB MIR KP1436

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