A Review of Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs) for Antisocial Behaviour - Research Findings

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Fixed Penalty Notices ( FPNs) for Antisocial Behaviour were introduced in Part 11 of the Antisocial Behaviour etc (Scotland) Act 2004. They allow the police to offer 'on the spot' fines of £40 for a list of ten specified offences. If the offender accepts and pays the fine no further action is taken and it is not recorded as a criminal conviction. The individual can however challenge the offer and request a court hearing for the offence.

The research looked at the use and impact of fixed penalty notices and recommendations for future changes to FPN systems. The analysis included official data from the Police, the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service and the Scottish Court Service, an e-survey of 'front line' police officers across Scotland and a series of in-depth interviews with police officers and local authority 'community safety' managers.

Main Findings

  • 65,490 FPNs have been issued in Scotland between April 2007 and March 2009.
  • They have mainly been used for 3 offence categories: 'breach of the peace', 'drinking in public' and 'urinating/defecating in public.' These 3 offences accounted for 94% of all tickets issued. Two of the offence categories represented 5% of all tickets and 5 of the offence categories together represented only 1% of all FPNs issued.
  • The number of FPNs that have been challenged is small, representing just 0.5% of FPNs issued in the last financial year. The payment rate for the last financial year, in the areas where sheriff and district court unification had taken place, was 69% (as at July 2009). There are however, variations in the payment rates among court areas.
  • FPNs led to greater opportunities for police to deal more formally with antisocial behaviour. This was suggested to be associated with a range of factors including their greater proportionality for the specified offences, the reduction in report-writing which lead to opportunities for greater police coverage of 'hotspot' areas, and, the potential deterrent effect associated with greater police visibility.
  • There is some evidence of 'net widening' in circumstances where FPNs may have been used where offenders may previously have not been subject to formal action.
  • Time saving effects of FPNs were felt strongly. FPNs are estimated to have saved almost 22,000 hours a year of police time. COPFS have also received far fewer Standard Prosecution Reports since the introduction of the scheme but it is not possible to know precisely the extent to which this is due to the use of FPNs.
  • There was support from research subjects for the expansion of the FPN scheme to include other offences, particularly, possession of personal amounts of cannabis, minor theft, and minor assault. These suggestions require further consultation with other stakeholders.

Research Questions

The research looked at the processes of FPNs and how successfully they have been introduced across Scotland as a means of addressing antisocial behaviour whilst saving police and other authorities' time.

The research also looked at the perceived impact of FPNs on the presence and management of antisocial behaviour, the perceptions of time savings associated with FPN procedures, issues around the administration of FPN procedures e.g. training and guidance. It also considered practitioners' recommendations for how the systems may be improved.

Research Method

The research was largely based on analyses of official data and the views of front line officers and senior officers. The research included:

  • Police administrative data on the number of FPNs issued, challenged and cancelled;
  • Scottish Court Service data on payment rates;
  • Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal ( COPFS) case management data;
  • An e-survey with 247 'front line' police officers;
  • In-depth interviews with 22 senior police officers from 8 Scottish police forces, the British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence police;
  • In-depth interviews with 8 local authority representatives; and,
  • Secondary data from the evaluation of the FPN pilot in Tayside police force.

The survey and interviews were carried out by Ben Cavanagh, a social researcher in Scottish Government Justice Analytical Services.

FPNs issued

65,490 FPNs have been issued in Scotland between April 2007 and March 2009. Strathclyde, Tayside and Central police forces have used them most often.

They have mainly been used for 3 offence categories: 'breach of the peace', 'drinking in public' and 'urinating/defecating in public.' These 3 offences accounted for 94% of all tickets issued.

FPNs were used to a much lesser extent for 'vandalism' and 'drunk and incapable' offences. These together accounted for 5% of the total number of tickets issued.

They were rarely used for the remaining 5 offence categories: 'riotous behaviour whilst drunk in licensed premises', 'refusing to leave licensed premises', 'being drunk in charge of a child', 'persisting in playing music on being required to stop' and 'malicious mischief.' These 5 offences together represented only 1% of all of the FPNs issued.

The high use of FPNs for some offence categories was said to reflect police priorities around antisocial behaviour, a great proportion of which is connected to the night time economy.

The low use of FPNs for some offences was said to be connected to the perceived severity of the offence: 'riotous behaviour', 'drunk in charge of a child' and 'malicious mischief' were all perceived as too serious to be dealt with by a £40 fine. Other offences e.g. 'playing loud music' are commonly dealt with by other means such as the confiscation of equipment or the use of local authority enforcement methods. 'Refusal to leave licensed premises' is a relatively uncommon offence and these may often be dealt with as breaches of the peace.

Challenges/Payment

The number of FPNs that have been challenged is small, representing just 0.5% of FPNs issued in the last financial year.

The payment rate for the last financial year, in the areas where sheriff and district court unification had taken place, was 69% (as at July 2009). There are however, variations in the payment rates among court areas.

Antisocial Behaviour

FPNs led to greater opportunities for police to deal formally with a greater number of antisocial behaviour-related offences.

The survey and interviews with police suggested that FPNs were used on occasions when police officers would have previously reported an offence to the Procurator Fiscal, but also used on occasions when police would have previously dealt with the offence informally, by warning the offender.

Evidence from research interviews with senior police officers suggest the reasons why FPNs may have led to increased opportunities for tackling antisocial behaviour may have included:

  • Proportionality: Police felt that FPN fines were more proportionate penalties for certain offences which might have previously been dealt with informally.
  • Time-savings: The time saved by reduced numbers of prosecution reports and the flexibility of offering FPNs on the street provided for greater police coverage of 'hotspot' locations and greater opportunities for detection and action to tackle antisocial behaviour.
  • Visibility: FPNs may have introduced a deterrent effect. FPNs can be issued in the street and the presence of the police and the visibility of FPN enforcement may have deterred others from offending.

Police, in the survey and interviews, reported that FPNs may have been issued to people who they would have previously warned or ignored and may have led to a 'net widening' effect. Evidence also from COPFS suggests that FPNs are a likely contributor to the fall in the number of 'no action' markings in the last two years.

Against these notions of 'net widening' some police officers pointed out that FPNs do not result in criminal convictions and do not have the same potentially long-lasting effects on offenders' personal lives as if their offending had been prosecuted and had resulted in a criminal conviction.

Time Savings

The time-savings effects of FPNs were felt strongly. Eighty-three percent of police survey respondents said FPNs save police time. This time saving came from less reporting to the Procurator Fiscal. Previous research estimated that the time spent on the prosecution report alone was 45 minutes compared to the completion of an FPN which was around 10 minutes. Some research participants thought that 45 minutes for the completion of a standard prosecution report was a conservative estimate and their approximations varied between 1-2 hours for each report to the Procurator Fiscal.

Data from the financial year 08/09 suggests that COPFS received 37,280 fewer Standard Prosecution Reports for the eligible offences than the totals for the year immediately preceding the introduction of FPNs. It is not possible to know the extent to which FPNs contributed to the reduction in SPRs but, using the most conservative estimation, of a net time saving of 35 minutes for an FPN over an SPR, would suggest almost 22,000 hours a year in time savings for the police.

Police in all areas felt that these time savings were the most apparent and significant benefit of FPNs. They were viewed to have a large impact on police resourcing and deployment.

Modifications to the list of offences

There was support among the police who were involved in the research for changes to the list of offences.

Most survey respondents supported the removal of 'drunk in charge of a child' (70%) and 'malicious mischief' (50%). These were seen as, by definition, too serious for the use of a £40 fine. Senior police officers were unanimous in support of the removal of these offences.

There was also some support in the survey for the removal of 'riotous behaviour' (26%) and 'vandalism' (23%) offences. Senior officers also supported the removal of 'riotous behaviour' which was thought to be too serious for a £40 fine. The level of 'vandalism' damage is also often above £40 and this fine may be disproportionate.

Police and local authority antisocial behaviour co-ordinators also suggested offences for inclusion in the FPN scheme. These suggestions were largely based on opportunities for more time savings.

The most popular suggestions for further offences were: 'littering' (98% of survey respondents supported the inclusion of this), 'dog fouling' (95%), 'obstructing footpaths' (84%) 'possession of personal amounts of cannabis' (83%), 'possession of alcohol by under 16' (83%), 'minor shoplifting' (75%), 'street trading offences' (75%), 'firework offences' (65%) and 'minor assaults' (61%).

Police already have the powers to issue on the spot fines for 'littering' and 'dog fouling' but only using different systems which were said to be more burdensome. Many officers said that the inclusion of these offences in the antisocial behaviour FPN system would allow police to address more of these offences.

Senior officers were mostly supportive of the use of FPNs for minor cannabis possession; this was felt to be a proportionate means of dealing with a minor offence which would also save a lot of police time. There were some concerns expressed about assaults and thefts being added to the list of offences which might require more guidance and training to minimise the risk of misuse.

Administration

Survey respondents and senior police officers said that they were happy with the administration of the systems. The FPN procedures are easily understood and the simplicity of the guidance and ticket issuing procedures have enabled the police to use FPNs with relative ease.

Concerns were raised about the different levels of fines for other types of fixed penalty notice schemes e.g. parking, fly-tipping, local authority enforcement penalties. Many police officers felt that the fine levels should be reconciled.

Recommendations

Consideration should be given to the expansion of the FPN scheme to include other offences such as possession of personal amounts of cannabis', 'minor theft' and 'minor assault' and issues relevant to British Transport Police and Ministry of Defence Police, following the introduction of FPNs in their areas in April 2009.

Fixed penalties are currently available for other offences such as 'littering' and 'dog fouling' which currently attract low police use. Consideration should be given to modifying systems to encourage police use of these such as including them within the ASBFPN scheme.

The Government should consider how to make the antisocial behaviour FPN administration systems consistent with other fixed penalty notice schemes, in terms of administration procedures, fine levels, ticketing procedures and guidance.

Greater use of portable electronic recording devices may allow for the reconciliation of FPN systems whilst enabling the police to make use of all legislation without requiring them to carry around a number of separate ticket books.

Maintenance of a simple system, in terms of administration and clear guidance, should be borne in mind through any modifications to the FPN procedures.

This document, along with full research report of the project, and further information about social and policy research commissioned and published on behalf of the Scottish Government, can be viewed on the Internet at: http://www.scotland.gov.uk/socialresearch. If you have any further queries about social research, please contact us at socialresearch@scotland.gsi.gov.ukor on 0131-244 7560.