Turning the Tide: Crime

Furthermore, it has been suggested that Community Safety initiatives could be guided by a general theme of 'protecting those at risk. Thus, in considering what action to take in relation to a particular crime and safety problem, prevention and safety would be defined in their widest sense, For example, inter-agency work on the prevention of racial harassment would require the involvement of the police, housing departments, education departments, health authorities and other agencies including, for instance victim support, voluntary sector agencies and the Crown Prosecution Service – to say nothing of representatives from a variety of community interests.

This, of course, as in any multi- or inter-agency work, is precisely where many problems begin. The accumulation of 'interests' or stakeholders is necessarily political rather than a metaphysical process gradually revealing a general will. The resulting agreement or 'mission statement will be something altogether more secular, flawed and conditional than anything ever envisaged by Rousseau. These issues are developed further later in the article5.

Another influential conception of community safety is one which fixes the ultimate rationale for all community safety and crime prevention work to the idea that it eventually reduces the cost, in every sense of the word, arising from accidents, crime and insecurity. While the notion of cost, in every sense of the word' can clearly refer to a range of issues it also opens up some potential tensions in relation to the determination of costs, whether they are easily calculable and who has to meet them6. At this level too, planning for community safety must necessarily be an integral part of wider social and economic planning.

One entailed the abrogation of sole responsibility for the crime problem by state criminal justice agencies, by stressing the need for a partnership with other agencies and with the public at large. Some steps were taken in control of this crime and some other step entailed a softening of the hard edges of aspects of crime control: community policing comes into the reckoning here, as does the dilution of pure situational crime prevention with the more consensual social approach. In this context the dilution was necessary not so much because of the practical problem of displacement, but rather because of concerns about what might happen if situational crime prevention were taken too far. A policy which pushed the responsibility for crime prevention too far onto the shoulders of private citizens looked unwise, because it merely exposed the inadequacies of a criminal justice system which was demanding a greater and greater proportion of public expenditure7.

A major problem with crime prevention was that of how to evaluate their effect. Many attempts at physical prevention were sociologically na�ve. For example grouping apartments into little courtyards in order to maximise nature surveillance resulted in creating a maze of little alleyways that could be hiding places for robbers8. Taking down the walkways between high rise apartment blocks reduced burglary only for a time and meanwhile making it harder to get in and out of such areas would, some argued, increase levels of domestic violence as people were locked in their flats with their problems. Crime prevention seemed, according to critics, obsessed with household burglary and with the assumption that the most significant offender was from outside the home.

It was also difficult to measure actual crime reductions. One of the main issues was the effect of crime prevention in simply displacing crime to adjacent areas. This seemed a particular problem with Neighbourhood Watch. Displacement itself was difficult to measure since it is often not known to what precise area crime is being displaced. Some such as CCTV tended, according to evaluation research, to make people feel a bit more secure but the effect on actual crime rates was negligible9. Usually the most frequent response to social surveys asking about crime prevention was the demand for more police officers on the streets.

One important criticism was that the social preconditions in the locality for setting up crime prevention, particularly social prevention, had not been understood. Such were hardest to set up where they were most needed. Neighbourhood Watch schemes were, for example, enthusiastically adopted by middle class communities whose crime rates were fairly low but who saw crime as increasing and were worried about it. Meanwhile in really poor areas with high crime rates and where criminals were powerful e.g. residents would be reluctant to inform police about crime for fear of reprisals such were very difficult to get off the ground. Such areas were seen by some as beyond salvation.

There were also issues about funding for crime prevention initiatives. Much funding was, as noted above, derived from central government Safer Cities programme and its successors. Such funding was for defined periods of time and rather short term. Furthermore, in order to qualify for subsequent funding, results had to be shown. It was therefore in the interests those applying for funding not to tackle the worst hit areas in terms of crime rates but rather those amenable to crime reductions in a relatively short time. Again, the poorest and highest crime areas tended to lose out. Critics argued that this problem was inbuilt into the combination of performance indicators showing results in a short time period and short term funding

Finally, in conclusion one of the outcomes, particularly of the crime prevention surveys, was that local residents wanted more police officers on the beat. This made people feel secure provided of course that the community had good relations with the local police but it was costly. Police managers were under pressure from central government to show value for money. Having lots of officers spending time pounding the streets did not yield an increase in the arrest statistics.

Bibliography

Bright, J. (1991) 'Crime Prevention: The British Experience', in Stenson and Cowell (eds.), The Politics of Crime Control. London: Sage.

Bright, J. (1997) Turning the Tide: Crime, Community and Prevention. London: Demos.

Brighton and Hove Drugs Prevention Team (1995) Drugs Prevention in our Community: 1990-1995. Final Report of the Brighton and Hove Drugs Prevention Team.