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Cracking crime street by street

Press release issued: 5 June 2003

How a person's fear and risk of crime is affected by where they live will be explored at a conference 'Understanding Crime and the Neighbourhood' in Bristol on Friday 6 June.

How a person's fear and risk of crime is affected by where they live will be explored at a conference 'Understanding Crime and the Neighbourhood' in Bristol, tomorrow [Friday, June 6].

Researchers at the University of Portsmouth and University College, London carried out a research exercise with the ESRC Centre for Neighbourhood Research, hosted by the universities of Bristol and Glasgow, to measure how a person's perceptions and experience of crime is affected by the type of neighbourhood in which they live.

As a result of the study, it is now possible for police authorities to identify, right down to street level, the type of concern - such as drugs, noise, graffiti, race attacks - that are likely to be most common among local residents.

The study, which has been piloted in two areas of the country, is also providing local officers with likely numbers of crime victims for each street within their command area. This information will then be used as a basis for allocating resources to different areas within their territory and for benchmarking the effectiveness of their current policing strategies.

The reseachers examined a national survey which asked 23,000 households about all aspects of crime: their concerns, experiences and contact with the police. Each of the households was analysed according to its neighbourhood with 52 different classifications being used, for example, remote upland farming areas, wealthy retirement areas, areas of student accommodation, and edge-of-city council estates.

It became evident not only that the levels of crime varied by as much as ten to one between the most crime prone and least crime prone types of neighbourhood, but that neighbourhoods vary very considerably according to the criminal and anti-social activities that most concern local people.

For example, people living in declining mining settlements in areas of high unemployment, such as the Rhondda Valley or Camborne in Cornwall, are surprising free of fear of crime. Areas with strong social networks tend to enjoy quite low levels of serious crime. Teenagers, drugs and abandoned cars are a more serious source of concern than burglary, mugging or theft.

By contrast, in smart inner city areas of single professionals living in rented flats, such as Clifton in Bristol or Edgbaston in Birmingham, overall crime levels are very much higher, deapite the much lower level of deprivation. Victims were much less likely to know the offender, were much more likely to experience burglary and were particularly vulnerable to people snatching valuables from them in the street.

Rural areas, by contrast, had crime incident rates about one half the national average.

Thus, the study found that while richer neighbourhoods generally tended to have lower crime rates than poorer areas, the factors that contribute to crime levels are less to do with incomes and deprivation than the strength of local community support networks. Such networks were consistently shown to be characteristic of small towns and the countryside, places where there are few young people, few subdivided houses and low levels of population turnover. There was no stronger single predictor of the level of crime in a neighbourhood than the extent to which neighbours 'help each other' rather than 'go their own way'.

Researchers then analysed the operational records for two police authorities, Durham Constabulary and the North and East Devon area of the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary.

The analysis of incidents in these two very different regions confirmed that council flats and inner city areas experienced among the highest levels of victimisation, while disproportionate numbers of offenders lived in council estates. For example rural Devon, which comprises 25% of the North and East Devon population, accounts for under ten per cent of offenders whilst 50% of offenders live in the 16% of the area (by population) characterised by council estates.

Both forces have now decided to introduce technology for mapping neighbourhood types and using it to target crime prevention and detection strategies. Examples include the identification of neighbourhoods for which postcode marking systems are appropriate, areas where landlords should be targeted with campaigns to improve the security of rented flats, and areas for cautioning the elderly against allowing unauthorised entrants to their homes. It is hoped that other forces will adopt this approach.

The conference 'Understanding Crime and the Neighbourhood: Concepts, Evidence and Policy Direction' will take place at the Bristol Marriott Royal Hotel, College Green, Bristol on Friday 6 June 2003.

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