Minimal evidence of any immediate impact on acquisitive crime such as burglaries, or anti-social behaviour, was found by an independent evaluation of the first round of the Home Office’s Safer Streets Fund.
Some £25m was announced in October 2019 to go on local crime prevention work, typically against acquisitive crime such as burglary (mainly residential) and car theft; while later rounds have had more of a slant against violence against women and girls (VAWG) after high-profile crimes such as the murder of Sarah Everard and the Keyham shootings of August 2021.
Kantar Public, advised by University College London (UCL) academic criminologists Prof Nick Tilley and Shane Johnson, carried the evaluation out between May 2020 and November 2021. While its preliminary impact evaluation ‘has not yet detected many statistically significant effects’, maybe due to the pandemic, the research did find benefits in terms of residents’ perceptions of crime and policing.
As the money went out as the covid pandemic struck, lockdown restrictions meant there were unexpected procurement delays, staffing shortages and ‘challenges with resident engagement’ – all of which ‘contributed to the derailment of original delivery plans’ and in places a financial under-spend (the schemes spent less than given by central Government). Early round bids were often for home security measures (such as property marking kits, locks and doorbells), or for on-street CCTV including with Automatic Number Plate Recognition, and more street lighting or gates for alleys. Whether the funding leads to sustainable change (for the better), or if best practice gets shared, was also in doubt.
Only a few of those bidding engaged with residents on their bid. Those who bidded (a bid was usually written by the PCC) told the researchers that they would have liked to engage residents but could not do so because of the limited time available, as they saw it. The researchers found complaints of an urban bias to the Fund, and that its stated focus was residential properties – yet police saw scope for using the Fund in commercial areas.
For a scheme to run smoothly, it helped to have (in the words given to the researchers) ‘really good strong partnerships already established’, ‘to achieve those deliverables by the deadline’. In the case of updates to CCTV equipment, councils were familiar with the requirements and processes, and had suppliers and installation contractors already.
The Safer Streets Fund covering England and Wales, the first such scheme since central Government grants for public space CCTV in the early 2000s, was launched by the Boris Johnson era Home Secretary Priti Patel in January 2020. In its first four rounds of bidding, grants went to 270 projects. Bids are typically in six figures and are made by PCCs (police and crime commissioners) and councils in England and Wales. Some £120m has gone from central Government to localities. The successful bidders got named in May 2020 and had to spend the money by spring 2021.
What made a scheme work? For one thing, the evaluation found, good partnership working – such as councillors, bobbies or others with ‘local knowledge, credibility with residents and understanding of local crimes’.
Most of the bids, and most of those studied by the researchers, involved some CCTV. The evaluation heard that CCTV ‘deterred acquisitive crime and helped to bring down fly-tipping and ASB (anti-social behaviour). CCTV was popular among residents.’ CCTV was regarded as particularly effective when accompanied by highly visible communications about its presence. Home alarms and video doorbells (‘target hardening’ in the crime prevention jargon) were similarly well received.
On the other hand, the evaluation noted that some newly installed CCTV was vandalised by organised crime, and quoted ‘we have got a bit of footage and some stills of this guy in military fatigues and a balaclava chopping this down within 24 hours or attacking it to the point where it had to be removed because it was unsafe’.
And some schemes offering video doorbells often ‘discovered a lack of Wi-Fi in the targeted properties, meaning residents had to return the device. In these instances, devices were replaced with more basic house alarms; it highlighted the digital exclusion of some residents’. In some places, residents were using WhatsApp groups to get info quicker than via Neighbourhood Watch.
Home Office Minister for Crime, Policing and Fire, Chris Philp, said: “Our local communities are the beating hearts of the UK, and I want our streets to be safe for everyone to go about their daily lives without fear inflicted on them by criminals. Increasing public safety in our communities, and restoring people’s confidence in the police and pride in where they live, is an absolute priority.
“This funding gives local people the power to make real changes in their area, as well as driving investment in businesses and jobs.”
And Association of Police and Crime Commissioners (APCC) Chair Marc Jones, said: “We are pleased to see that the work we do as Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) is making a tangible difference in our communities and improving the public’s confidence in policing.
“The Safer Streets Fund allows us as PCCs to work with our local partners in areas that are disproportionately affected by neighbourhood and acquisitive crime, investing in preventative approaches to make our communities safer. We have witnessed first hand the positive impact these preventative initiatives have had in supporting victims, tackling anti-social behaviour, embedding vital community safety projects and helping to tackle violence against women and girls.
“We look forward to continuing this work alongside our partners, preventing crime and making a real difference to the lives of those in our communities.”