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Urban Summit

by msecadm4921

Drugs are at the heart of tackling crime, the Government’s high-powered Urban Summit 2002 heard recently.

The Urban Summit 2002 – a gathering of Labour’s biggest guns, and policy makers and shakers – heard from Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown, who called for ‘investment in the forces of renewal’. The hundreds of delegates trooped off to the various seminars covering every aspect of urban living, including ‘safer communities – tackling crime, fear of crime and anti-social behaviour’. The link: many things are necessary to make the renewal of cities possible; one of them is that crime and anti-social behaviour have to be beaten. Or as the seminar chair Sara Thornton, Thames Valley Assistant Chief Constable put it, urban renaissance is dependent on people thinking towns and cities are safe places to live, work and socialise, in that order.
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Commander’s view
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Dave Murray provided the detail. He’s the Reading and Wokingham area – a BCU (basic command unit) police commander, with the rank of chief superintendent. He chairs the Reading crime and disorder partnership. At the end of his talk he explicitly named the private security industry as one of the agencies that is working together to achieve common goals. In Reading, that has meant bringing crime down for the first time in five years, putting more prolific offenders in court, and making communities feel safer. He began by painting a word-picture of a Thames Valley police force with the worst police-to-population ratio and (in Reading) a 52 per cent increase in recorded crime in four years, from 26,000 reported crimes to 40,000. Seventy per cent of that is drugs related, he added. He pointed to an increase in licenced premises as Reading moves towards 24-hour living: from 48 licenced premises in 1996 to 201 now. Thames Valley was one of the ten England and Wales police forces subject to the central Government-led Street Crime Initiative, which Dave Murray called a milestone in Reading’s crime and disorder partnership. A range of reported crimes are down (of most relevance to retail security managers, shoplifting is down five per cent). ‘But our communities don’t feel any safer and managing the fear of crime remains for me the real challenge,’ he added, explaining that nearby Wokingham is one of the safest places in the country, yet fear of crime is high, especially among the elderly. Yet the elderly are least vulnerable to crime, whereas younger people who are most vulnerable to crime fear crime less. Police surveys of custody suite ‘customers’ found in 1997 and recently how many offenders put drugs at the front of their reasons for carrying out crime. The more recent finding was that 54 per cent of those in custody had what Dave Murray called a ‘chaotic drug dependency’. Police appreciate treatment is the key rather than what he called the ‘revolving door’ of the criminal justice system. He gave one recent experience ‘of a burglar in Reading who committed 85 burglaries in Reading town centre, had a chaotic drug addiction, had a partner who was feeding off his addiction’. This man was supervised at a day care centre; it involved him having to walk past five houses where he previously bought drugs. ‘He is now back in prison, having gone into one of those houses for just one more fix and committed a further 36 more offences and entered another cycle of offending.’ As for anti-social behaviour orders, he spoke of the frustration of the requirement of gathering witness statements from those who are already fearful of intimidation – the evidence being challenged in criminal court, where the burden of proof (‘beyond reasonable doubt’) is higher than in civil proceedings. The Government is indeed making ASBOs simpler, as the previous speaker, Home Office Minister of State Lord Falconer said.
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Lord Falconer
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Lord Falconer – who left before the end of the seminar – ran through what the Government is doing, and why. If streets are left to gangs of disaffected youths, and deserted streets are left to graffiti, businesses vote with their feet and communities are blighted. Where there is a sense of community safety, the streets and parks are used by all and there is more natural surveillance. Policing alone is not everything, though law enforcement matters; here Lord Flaconer mentioned better street lighting, and Government funding for 700 CCTV projects. As examples of good practice he quoted the warden-maintained drug needle bins on the Thornton estate in Hull, adding: ‘Nothing is more of a turn-off going to a green space if people see a litter of needles.’ Wardens in Knowsley, Liverpool, escort children to school. As for drugs, Lord Falconer admitted that they devastate communities and that more needed to be done.
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Academic answers
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The two academic speakers were Janet Foster, of the London School of Economics, and Martin Innes, of the University of Surrey. Janet Foster began by quoting the US urban commentator Jane Jacobs – namely that the public peace of cities is not kept by the police, but by an intricate network of voluntary controls and standards, kept by people themselves; and where ‘civilisation’ has broken down, no number of people can enforce it. Such a theory is often ignored by police who do 24-7 emergency response, where other controls have broken down. In an increasingly fragmented society, levels of trust are changing – our fears of crime are completely out of proportion to the risk of becoming a victim of crime. Why have so many official anti-crime efforts failed’ She spoke of the difference between architects who say that a housing estate’s design is beautiful and award-winning, and residents who see their estate as prison-like, calling it Alcatraz. Martin Innes is working with Surrey Police on measuring fear of crime. He went over the ‘New York miracle’ – namely the zero-tolerance policing of that city in the 1990s that led to rapid falls in reported crime. Zero-tolerance was based on the theory of ‘broken windows’ – that disorder such as vandalism causes crime; so taht if you attack disorder, however petty, you attack crime. Martin Innes said this was wrong; disorder is not a cause of crime. You can have neighbourhoods with low crime and high disorder, or high crime and low disorder. He has come up with what he called an ‘environmental visual audit form’, whereby you tick a box whenever you see various disorder suich as stray dogs, beggars, or drug dealers. Explaining his research, he added that when people say they fear crime they do not have detailed maps of where crime is going on; what they know is based on the media, and the ‘grapevine’. Rather than experience crime they see signs of physical and social disorder – such as graffit and aggressive begging. People use these signs to make a judgement about safety in their area. Martin Innes spoke of crimes as ‘warning signals’, that people pick up; and some shape beliefs about the safety of an area. He concluded: if we can understand what the ‘signal crimes’ are, we can have an impact on crime.
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Nagging questions
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From the floor, however, came some doses of reality, such as how reported crime is only the tip of the iceberg; and how drug markets are able to carry on openly. Another question mark came after the Urban Summit, in a BBC Radio 4 discussion between Regeneration Minister Tony McNulty and Birmingham University historian Prof Carl Chinn. Mr McNulty – who incidentally praised wardens’ schemes around the country – agreed with Prof Chinn who made the point that regenerated city centres, such as Birmingham’s where the Urban Summit was held, are only half a success while they are surrounded by poverty-stricken areas, whose people feel left out of regeneration. Here lies the reason for Gordon Brown’s speech, quoted at the beginning of this article, Mr Brown made the connection between the need for economic prosperity for all and smooth-running cities. The unspoken alternative was of oasis-like city centres with security personnel and physical and electronic security measures to protect property from neighbouring, unregenerated, drug-ridden zones. Security, then, is only part of the political and economic jigsaw, but a part nonetheless.
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Consultation paper
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A recent Government consultation paper made headlines for suggesting binmen and litter cleaners could dish out fines to litter-bugs – an idea quickly disowned by Labour. In truth, that paper had much else of more relevance to the security industry – from burglar alarms and security lighting that make a nuisance to a possible crack-down on beggars.
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Many businesses’ plans for security floodlights at their premises run into trouble from residents who say the lights are inconsiderate. The Government consultation paper, Living Places ‘ Powers, Rights, Responsibilities, says: ‘Most security lights are small and do not materially alter any building or fence they are attached to. Therefore they do not amount to ‘development’ , the concept on which planning law and controls are based. Courts have ruled that light itself is not ‘development’ . Nor is excessive or misdirected light from security lights at present a statutory nuisance.’ The consultation paper suggests giving local authorities powers to act on such lights, while admitting that there could be a conflict with crime-deterrence. Also suggested are ways of dealing with nuisance burglar alarms. Two options suggested are 1) giving local authorities and the police a power to disable the noise box of nuisance burglar alarms on property not complying with existing regulations. The power would only extend to instances where disabling could be achieved without the need to force entry to a property (this would still require a warrant and a police presence). 2) Voluntary agreement with alarm manufacturers to design alarms with an automatic cut-off device set at 20 minutes.
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Deal with beggars
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The paper has suggestions for an overhaul of powers to deal with beggars and rough sleepers. As the paper admits, the usual penalty is a fine or a night in the cells, which does little to stop the underlying reasons for a person begging (such as drug misuse). Options are new powers for magistrates to deal with repeat offenders; or new street nuisances legislation. The balance, according to the paper, must be between public anxiety when apparently vulnerable beggars are arrested, and what the paper calls a ‘consistent and meaningful approach to begging that would make public spaces safer’.
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Litter law
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Also proposed are extended litter laws, so that they include graffiti, fly-posting and minor vandalism. You can comment on the consultation paper before February 14. Write to Review of Powers, Rights and Responsibilities, Defra, Zone 6/E5 Ashdown House, 123 Victoria Street, London SW1E 6DE. Fax 0207 944 6559 or e-mail: [email protected]
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Other snippets
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The Birmingham City Centre Crime Prevention Partnership won a Best Liveability Partnership award at the recent Association of Town Centre Management Awards 2002.
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Coinciding with the Urban Summit, Prime Minister Tony Blair visited east London to see how the borough of Newham is tackling anti-social behaviour. Under the Respect campaign the council, police and fire brigade have cut crime in the Manor Park area. Mr Blair went to the local Royal British Legion Club, once plagued by vandalism. The authorities installed fences and gates, painted out graffiti, and cut away hedges that gave shelter to anti-social youths. Mr Blair said: ‘We are trying to look at all the things we need to do to tackle what I think is probably the biggest immediate issue for people in the country, which is all the things connected with what I call anti-social behaviour’ – that he identified as fly-tipping, abandoned cars, graffiti and petty vandalism.

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