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Last Updated: Thursday, 14 April, 2005, 06:07 GMT 07:07 UK
Election battles fought on crime
Female police officers on the beat

Crime and the fear of crime figure highly in the priorities of both voters and political parties in Wales in the build-up to the general election.

Unlike health and education, which are devolved to the Welsh assembly, policy on crime and policing remains fully in the hands of the UK Government.

However, the four main Welsh parties have issued their own policies on law and order.

It means that crime remains a key Welsh electoral battleground ahead of 5 May.

According to the latest figures, crime in Wales is generally lower than in England as a whole, with only drugs offences at higher levels in Wales than across the border.

Total offences - 71,699
Offences per 1,000 population - 24.5
Offences per 1,000 England/Wales population - 27.8
Source: Home Office, Jan-March 2004

The latest Home Office figures, published in July 2004, combine police-recorded crime with people's experiences of crime collected by the British Crime Survey, and claim to be an accurate reflection of true crime levels.

While burglary, robbery and vehicle crime occur less in Wales, there has, in common with other areas of the UK, been a perceived rise in anti-social behaviour.

The UK Government introduced Anti Social Behaviour Orders (Asbos) in 1999 to tackle persistent nuisance behaviour, with further powers introduced under the 2003 Anti-social Behaviour Act.

Asbos were not widely used at first, but in some areas, they have become a popular means of tackling problems such as drunkenness, intimidation, verbal abuse and nuisance neighbours.

Total offences - 8,204
Offences per 1,000 population - 2.8
Offences per 1,000 England/Wales population - 3.7
Source: Home Office, Jan-March 2004

However, the four Welsh police force areas have seen the use of Asbos more sparingly than some of their counterparts in England.

Across Wales, just 67 Asbos were issued during the first nine months of 2004 compared to 279 in the Greater Manchester force area alone.

In cases which have resulted in Asbos being issued, victims of anti-social behaviour said the legislation had helped end disorder in their communities.

Gangs of youths

In 2004, Cardiff's Bayside estate saw an order issued to disperse gangs of youths who had caused problems for residents.

June Johnson, who lives on the estate, said this week: "For 16 months we had gangs of youths just running rampant, causing a lot of harassment and displaying a heck of a lot of anti-social behaviour.

Burglar breaking into house
Fewer burglaries take place in Wales according to official figures

"They smashed streetlights, smashed water mains, burned out cars, wrecked the children's play area and made sure that no-one could go out of their homes after 8pm because of fear of harassment, intimidation and even violence.

"We fought to get this anti-social behaviour terminated.

"Asbos are totally beneficial to us. Without that order, a lot more damage would have been done on Bayside."

But not all agencies involved in tackling crime in Wales believe using Asbos represent the answer to all nuisance behaviour.

In Swansea, the city's youth offending team favour early intervention in youth offending, rather than the final resort of an Asbo.

Inspector Bryan Heard, of South Wales Police's community safety department, said: "Where we've taken the system in Swansea is looking at the underlying problems and trying to eradicate them.

Total offences - 13,028
Offences per 1,000 population - 4.5
Offences per 1,000 England/Wales population - 4.5
Source: Home Office, Jan-March 2004

"It may be domestic violence, it may be involving drugs, it may be truancy."

Eddie Isles, the city's youth offending team manager, added: "We've been very careful about the use of Asbos in Wales.

"An example would be Leeds where 50 Asbos were imposed in one day in the youth courts.

"Realistically this could be just a badge to a youngster. This could be just a statement that they've made it."

In Wales, Labour, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems have all pledged to continue the use of Asbos, while Plaid Cymru added the problem of anti-social behaviour should be tackled by tackling the wider causes of nuisance behaviour.