Fear fighters calm neighbourhood nerves

Crime is officially down, but local confidence in the police has been gained only after consultations with additional anti-crime resources.
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The Independent Online

Reducing the fear of crime in deprived neighbourhoods is as important as reducing crime itself. This is the belief of Paul Cullen, community safety co-ordinator for the East Manchester New Deal for Communities (NDC) partnership. "We're already seeing crime statistics going down in this area as a result of the Government's investment and that's really good news," he says. "But if people still feel scared or have little confidence in local policing, then we're only doing half our job."

The solution, he has found, lies in targeting the additional police resources that are being provided to police in poor neighbourhoods on residents' own priorities. "All deprived areas have crime levels well above the national average, but local characteristics vary. Through consultations with local people, we came up with six major projects that were most relevant to this area and ones that we could get started on immediately in our criminal hot spots,'' Cullen says.

The six projects were additional police officers, a nuisance team, home security projects, neighbourhood wardens, CCTV and better street lighting.

Consultation between the police and local people in East Manchester has had the added advantage of leading to quicker identification of problem families. One particularly criminal family has been removed from the area with an anti-social behaviour order, one of the first in the country.

Little wonder that in its first year as an NDC, total crime in East Manchester fell 25 per cent compared with the previous year – including a 34 per cent reduction in burglary, 26 per cent reduction in vehicle crime and 22 per cent reduction in theft from persons. What's more, local confidence has improved dramatically. When NDC residents were surveyed in 1998, 58 per cent thought the police were doing a bad or very bad job; today, they report renewed confidence in the police.

Joined-up thinking should not end with residents, however, as other deprived areas have observed. Equally crucial is police working together on projects with other agencies such as the fire brigade or drug agencies.

"One example of this is Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRPs) which are being set up across England and Wales to unite police, local authorities and local people in tackling crime," says Sarah Clifford, Head of Communications at the NRU. "The Merseyside Fire Service is a case in point, currently working in partnership with Merseyside Police and the five local CDRPs in formulating a revised, multi-agency strategy to tackle arson."

Similarly, deprived communities have learnt that an emphasis on policing should not end with police officers. Indeed, a key element of many community safety strategies has been neighbourhood warden schemes.

"The wardens are employed as a crucial and visible link between the police and the local community," says Richard Davies, managing director for the NDC in Hull. Here, the community safety unit of 10 wardens has proved particularly popular among residents, fielding complaints and grievances and usefully filling the gap between expectation and implementation.

By nature, crime initiatives are "early-win" projects – relatively easy to deliver quickly with tangible results. But, as Sandwell NDC in the West Midlands has discovered, short-term solutions are not always enough.

In the past, much of the work of its local police in was responsive, reacting to calls rather than proactively seeking long-term solutions to their beat's problems. Today, however, Sergeant Chris Dowen leads a team of eight police officers dedicated entirely to preventative policing.

"Response work is carried out by mainstream officers at the station," Sgt Dowen explains. "Meanwhile, my team looks at the high crime problems in the community and works with residents and relevant agencies to prevent them happening in the first place."

Neighbourhood nuisance, drugs and vehicle crime are high priorities, says Jan Rowley, managing director of Sandwell NDC. "Take the joyriding and drug dealing that used to go on in one of our main recreation grounds. We have been able to design it out, making the area more visible, more safe and thereby preventing access in the first place."

Local criminals, as well as residents admit that the change in the area has been dramatic. But the fact that there is still a long way to go doesn't please many people. "Deprived areas have suffered for over 30 years from lack of commitment and investment in renewal, so when people know there's finally going to be improvement, they want to see all the results today, not next year and certainly not in 10 years' time. But that's how long it will take to get it right," Rowley says.

Given the signs of success so far, the Home Office is confident in its aims to reduce burglary by 25 per cent, reduce racist crime, cut rates of re-offending, combat anti-social behaviour, reduce drug-related offences and, last but not least, reduce the fear of crime.

'The aim is to find young people a real alternative to anti-social behaviour'

Colin Tanner is a Neighbourhood Warden in the London Borough of Merton

"We currently have three wardens in this borough, with me as manager, and we've just got funding for five more. You could say that we are the link between the police, local services and the people themselves.

At the hard end of our job are things like acting as a professional witness ­ a particularly important job because people are often willing to give information to services but unwilling to give a statement or go to court for fear of reprisals or being intimidated.

At the other end, we ensure that things like abandoned vehicles and graffiti that are reported to us are sorted out. If that sort of stuff isn't dealt with, local people begin to feel that nobody cares.

We operate in the crime hot spot areas of the borough which were identified through questionnaires to the residents at the planning stage. The warden there uses a mountain bike in an old beat bobby kind of way because that's what residents wanted. Although we have no special enforcement powers and you wouldn't mistake us for police officers, we do wear a uniform and are visible as an authority.

Because young people are considered by residents to be the main problem in this area, youth work constitutes a big part of our job. The wardens identify where young people who display anti-social behaviour congregate and we try to build up their trust. The aim is to find them a real alternative to the anti-social behaviour before resorting to issuing them with a social order contract. We do this by finding out their needs and working with local youth services to meet them.

One of our best achievements was getting the young people involved in a five-aside football tournament. We wanted them to have something to do as well as believing that we wanted to invest in them. Since then, they've created their own youth association linked to the resident association and come up with some very good ideas."