Q&A: Tackling antisocial behaviour in Torry

We spoke to Inspector Jason Carrigan about the initiative to curb antisocial behaviour in one of Aberdeen's most deprived areas.

For many years antisocial behaviour had been a nightly scourge for residents in Torry, an area to the south of the city centre with the highest levels of youth antisocial behaviour in Aberdeen. 

Gangs of youths ran wild without consequence and to the terror of those in the community.

Evening after another, some 40 youths could be found misbehaving, with the dreaded longer summer days bringing out the worst in their conduct.

As this carried on summer after summer, it was decided that something needed to be done. Enough was enough. 

The answer was Operation Smallwood.

In 2016, the initiative, led by Inspector Jason Carrigan, came about to bring partners together to produce a long term strategy to defeat the antisocial behaviour dilemma.

Over the coming months, vandalisms, youth instances of misbehavior and fire-raising were targetted in Torry and over time were radically reduced.  Soon, Torry was beginning to feel like a safer place as local challenges were faced head on.

The operation was considered such a success that in January 2017, at the annual Police Scotland Excellence Awards, the Greatest Contribution Award (see above video which was made for the award ceremony) was awarded for the great work achieved.

We spoke to Inspector Jason Carrigan about Operation Smallwood and how the initiative had been successful in the battle against youth antisocial behaviour.

Hi Jason. How are you? Can you tell us who you are?

I’m great, thanks. I’m an Inspector for Community Safety Partnerships in the North East of Scotland and played a key role in bringing different partners together for the purpose of Operation Smallwood.

Can you tell us where the idea for Operation Smallwood came from?

Antisocial behaviour has been a problem in Torry for some time now and we felt that the trend needed tackling.

Graphic with quote Jason CarriganWe spoke to members of the public, elected members of the local council and key stakeholders who told us this issue was getting out of hand. Intelligence was gathered to paint a picture of this local headache.

The plan here was really designed around getting key partners together to create a strategy to provide longevity and legacy to solve the problems in the area.

What was it about Torry that resulted in it being singled out?

We actually analysed data gathered over the years and found that Torry was consistently the worst suffering area for youth antisocial behaviour.

The location of Torry, an area of Aberdeen to the south of the city centre.

It’s a part of Aberdeen in a state of deprivation and one where heavy numbers of youths would congregate to create a substantial number of problems. This always worsened at night, peaking during school holidays.

What were the youths getting upto?

Unfortunately for local residents, these youths had been vandalising property, acting aggressively, starting fires and generally being a public nuisance.

The ringleaders of the group were confrontational towards the Police, City Wardens, ASBIT (Antisocial Behaviour Investigation Team) members, street workers, and anyone else that got in their way.

In fact, fire-raising in Torry was five times more prevalent than other areas of the city. Something needed to be done to improve the situation and that is why the initiative has been implemented over the past two years.

Operation Smallwood youth imageWhat partners did you work with?

The Community Safety Partnership included City Wardens, Local Authority, Scottish Fire and Rescue, Education, Social Work, Barnardos, Streetsports, Streetworkers, and Priority Families Service.

We worked closely with Torry Academy to help identify youths involved in committing antisocial behaviour and also those who would benefit from receiving early intervention work with Police and other information support services.

We were able to establish what was happening in the development of a child’s life growing up and could then steer them into activities to keep them away from antisocial behaviour.

Streetsports were able to provide support to capture the culprits’ attention away from offending and into more creative activities. Alongside our local officers, they would go out and work in hotspot areas to divert the kids away from their past behaviour.

What impact did the operation have?

It had an extremely positive impact and resulting in a massive slump in antisocial behaviour incidents.

Prior to the operation, between January and March 2016, there were 127 incidents of youth annoyance and this was drastically cut to only 20 just after the operation.

Meanwhile, vandalism rapidly declined from 81, in the two months before the operation, to just 10, just after the operation.

What do you think the long term impact of the operation will be?

The long term impact will be that the partners continue to work together to improve the lives of the community as a whole.

Operation Smallwood graffitiA Torry Working Sub Group has been implemented with a range of partners across the City of Aberdeen including the Police, Aberdeen City Council and Scottish Fire and Rescue.

The Community Safety objectives they are looking to address are;

  • To reduce antisocial behaviour incidences including youth annoyance and vandalism,
  • Reduce wilful fires,
  • Increase residents stating they feel safe when walking alone in the local neighbourhood after dark.

Were you able to change the behaviour of any youths?

Yes, thankfully we were. One example comes to mind and that is the case of a 16-year-old who lives in local authority housing within Torry.

As an older member of a group of Torry youths, he was an influential member in getting a crowd involved in all sorts of antisocial behaviour. He had a history of minor criminality and was occasionally seen under the influence of drugs.

However, we were able to change this young man’s life for the better. Social Work supported him and his family with a fortnightly drop in session, and a summer programme was set up for him with a Family Resource Worker at the Westburn Educational Centre.

Operation Smallwood classroomHe was visited constantly by an Early Interventions Officer, Housing Officer and the Police who all provided support to him during this period.

In the following weeks there was a drastic decrease in his behaviour and by the end of the operation he was not involved in this sort of activity at all. Instead he was heavily involved with diversionary activities at The Foyer, allowing himself to be distanced away from his past conduct.

What can we learn from the Operation?

I think there’s quite a lot we can learn from this experience. It’s important that partners come together at any early stage for us to prepare for antisocial behaviour.

The work carried out built upon the successes of previous years and the evidence is able to display that positive interventions with organisations such as Streetsports is vital to ensure improvement moving forward.