A RECENT spike in anti-social behaviour in a Newport neighbourhood cannot be tackled through enforcement alone, the local police inspector has said.

Martin Cawley said officers and the community in Alway needed to work together to not just identify those responsible, but to divert young people away from getting involved in criminality.

Alway has hit national headline in recent weeks over concerns around criminal damage and anti-social behaviour caused by groups of young people.

At a recent community meeting, residents complained about a spate of incidents in the neighbourhood, and there are concerns that this behaviour could escalate over the coming weeks – Hallowe'en and Bonfire Night tend to bring a rise in such complaints for Gwent Police across the force area, Insp Cawley told the Argus.

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Insp Cawley acknowledged the recent spike in trouble and said "we get a lot of anti-social behaviour with youths".

After the recent community meeting, he spoke with some local teenagers to find out what was causing their disaffection and driving them to hang around in the streets.

"Their view was that there was nothing to do," he said. "For us it’s about trying to engage partners for diversions… and using facilities so that the community feels safe and engaged.

"The police would always support any activities that young people can get engaged with, because it gives them an outlet. We’re from the community, we want to reflect the community, and I think it’s important that everyone is positively engaged."

The inspector said there was "a small core" of young people "who are intent on causing anti-social behaviour", and "some of the others will be swept along with it and get involved vicariously".

Parents of these youngsters who are "swept along" have been "generally really positive", he adds.

"Of late posts have been going out on social media in the community to say there’s anti-social behaviour or these issues are happening, and then parents are taking it upon themselves to come out and take their children away from the area," he said. "That’s been really positive for us."

And to identify the "cohort" at the centre of the recent incidents, the police have been working with local schools and have been encouraging residents to collect their own evidence as such behaviour occurs, which the police can then use as evidence against the perpetrators.

When flashpoints have occurred, such as the mobbing of a supermarket delivery van in March while the driver made his rounds, the police have turned to enforcement instead of outreach work.

"We identified a number of individuals involved," Insp Cawley said. "They were referred by the anti-social behaviour process, their parents were informed and they were dealt with – some were referred to the youth offender system.

"We were able to get some positive results, and that was a direct result of the information being shared from the community; the footage that was given to us and the conversations we had with the community."

Officers have stepped up "high-visibility patrols" in response to the recent anti-social behaviour.

"We would never want residents to feel like it’s a no-go area or to feel unsafe in their own environment, which is why we’ve done the high-visibility patrols. It’s a very close knit community in Alway," Insp Cawley said. "If there are concerns that we can address, we’ll do our best to address those and work with partners to find those solutions."

And while dispersal orders have been used, at times, to clear hotspots of such behaviour, he acknowledges this is a "short-term enforcement tactic" that does not get to the root of the problem.

Alway has been described by some as a "no go area", but Insp Cawley said this simply isn't the case, with large amounts of outreach work going on in the neighbourhood.

He said the police's role is as much about finding "interventions" and "diversions" for local teenagers as it was about enforcement.

Youth workers from Newport Live are running weekly sports sessions for young people, and he said Newport City Homes and the Alway ward's councillors were also working hard to improve the community. The area's police community support officers are also planning to set up activities that appeal to the area's teenage girls.

Lucy Donovan, the senior positive futures development officer at Newport Live, said 20 to 30 young people attend the weekly community sport sessions, which are funded by the Gwent Police and Crime Commissioner's office.

"Young people that work with staff on a one-to-one basis regularly engage with staff and are happy to meet up and have a chat about what is going on for them, and seek support or advice from people they trust," she said. "Importantly, we are regular faces that are consistent in our approach and always try and explain to young people impact their behaviours may have on others."

She added: "The work is so important as it gives children and young people the opportunity to take part in positive activities free of charge and reduces any barriers around transport or access.

"Staff are fully trained in sports coaching, first aid and safeguarding and understand the emotional needs the young people may have. Young people should have the chance to gather with their friends in a safe environment and take part in activities that are led by relatable adults."

The community approach will instead give young people the opportunity to stay away from trouble-makers, and will also create a network in which residents act as the eyes and ears, supporting policing in Alway and, as Insp Cawley described it , "build a better area for everyone".