Schemes have been introduced without a proper evaluation of what works or how they will interact with existing programmes, the study commissioned by the Department for Education and Skills reveals.
The criticism comes as David Blunkett, the Home Secretary, announced a pound;75 million fund to help communities combat anti-social behaviour and vandalism. Such incidents occur at the rate of one every two seconds, the Home Office estimates.
"It is totally unacceptable that people are having to tolerate this type and level of anti-social behaviour in their communities day in and day out.
Mr Blunkett said: "It causes untold misery, corrodes communal life, undermines public services and forces people to live in fear in their own homes."
But the study by Newcastle university for the DfES says: "The evidence points to an excess of area-based initiatives that has led to confusion.
"What seems to exist is an ad hoc approach in which initiatives are allocated with insufficient regard to how they will interact with initiatives already operating, little focus on mutually compatible objectives and little understanding among professionals about relationships between varying kinds of activities."
Researchers looked at evidence from 12 local authorities. They found that two wards in Redcar and Cleveland with a combined population of 14,000 were served by nine separate initiatives.
Adrian Thomas, spokesperson for crime reduction charity Nacro, said: "This research clearly shows the limitations of an approach that focuses on punishment and enforcement to the detriment of working actively and positively in the community with local people. Tackling anti-social behaviour is about sustainable, long-term working, not grabbing headlines."
Targeting initiatives: Diverting children and young people from crime and antisocial behaviour by Peter McCarthy, James Whitman, Janet Walker and Mike Coombes, Newcastle university, is available at www.dfes.gov.uk