Hands up, I’d never at any point given a second thought to what an anti-social behaviour officer is or what they do.
“Has your life become unbearable because the person living above you has a fondness for crack cocaine, the company of strangers and dance music? Or maybe you’re a social worker, mental health nurse, police officer, firefighter, dog warden or vicar and you’ve been landed with someone who’s a pain in the arse. Who are you going to call? That would be me: an anti-social behaviour officer”.
So that’s a really limited flavour of what it is anti-social behaviour officers do, because this book really does see Nick Pettigrew deal with a whole plethora of scenarios and problems.
I heard part of an interview with Nick on the radio, he was discussing mental health provision in the UK – or lack thereof, that interview and this book raised an interesting debate.
Nick Pettigrew lasted 18 years as an anti-social behaviour officer, he says himself it nearly broke him, this is a year’s diary of that job and it is eye opening.
Written with wit, Nick details life on the edges of society. Poverty, loneliness, addiction and mental health problems; it’s more than just a diary, it’s a take on how some of the most vulnerable people are let down time and time again, it’s people like Nick who are on the frontline trying to do what they can to help in some impossible circumstances.
He’d deal with hundreds and hundreds of cases, even the most straight-forward, seemingly open and shut cases come with pressure, knowing that nothing can be assumed.
“Let’s say someone ends up injured or worse, and a public inquiry is called to find out how the tragedy was allowed to happen and to avoid such a tragedy happening ever again. You’re called to give evidence about your involvement and the actions you took or failed to take. There’s the possibility of the sack, or public vilification, or prison for negligence. The nation’s press is waiting to hear what you have say. So…..what will you tell the inquiry?
And that’s every single case you ever deal with, every single day.” Nick Pettigrew
It’s a job he saw become more and more difficult following years of austerity, more services disappearing, cuts to vital facilities that offered a lifeline to families and communities. The safety nets that caught people and helped keep kids away from crime and drugs. It shows how wide the gap between the haves and have nots has become, it’s a reminder that we can’t get rid of services and think people won’t fall through the cracks.
“Also missing from society are the dozens of little knots that held the safety net together but have been austerity-ed out of existence: libraires, Sure Start schemes, youth centres, and hundreds of other services that couldn’t turn a profit and didn’t look good on a whizzy PowerPoint presentation, but helped to stop people falling through the net, and helped to keep this country as a cohesive society rather than a collective of terrified individuals wondering when their world is going to collapse and who they can blame when it does”. Nick Pettigrew
It’s a story of dead tenants, harassment, crack dens, drugs raids, eviction notices, court cases and breaches of injunctions. There were some incredibly sad stories like the woman being abused by her drug addicted son, the woman who has to leave her home because it’s been taken over by a couple who are abusing her and using her as a meal ticket.
It’s a job that affected Nick’s own mental health, that sees him pushed to the limit, on anti-depressants and turning to alcohol. It’s filled with sarcasm and black humour, there are certain jobs were a dark sense of humour is needed to get through the days – this is one of them.
It’s depressing and bleak and sparks an interesting debate in how we deal with mental health and addiction in this country. They’re chronically underfunded, the conversation around mental health has changed, we talk about it more as a society, talking is not enough services need to be accessible to all, services need funding. We’re in a situation where takes months to get an NHS referral for counselling, if you can afford to go private we can get an appointment in days, which, again shows the disparity within society. In the majority of the cases Nick dealt, mental health was a factor.
His thoughts on drugs and dealing with it is really thought provoking:
“I understand people’s twitchiness towards legalising all drugs, but all I can say, based on my professional experience, is that some people want to take drugs, and their legality has never and never will be an issue for them – in much the same way that I’ve never wanted to smoke crack, and the fact it’s illegal has always been a footnote in that decision”. Nick Pettigrew.
I’d never thought of it that way before. He’s got a good point, I don’t take drugs because I don’t want to, the legality isn’t what stops me, it’s the thought of dying that stops me. There are still not enough services to help people with addiction. He details how it drives crime because we aren’t looking at the route problem and dealing with that, could a different approach result in different outcomes? Who knows?
It’s the sad death of Carla, alone in hospital from an inoperable brain tumour – I won’t give all the details away – that convinces him to quit.
You’d be forgiven for thinking that in almost twenty years of the job may have left him thinking humanity is pretty screwed. He sees some of the worst of people, but he still has some hope.
“Despite all of this, I still believe the overwhelming majority of people are fundamentally good. I’ve spent more hours than I care to recall dealing with the worst excesses of human behaviour, but this never made me lose hope that given the right opportunities and treated with respect, your average person is inclined towards benevolence and decency”. Nick Pettigrew
Maybe that’s a lesson for us all.
Journalist, writer, traveller, music lover, collector of hats, news addict, bookworm