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Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2013, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Article Type: Editorial From: Safer Communities, Volume 12, Issue 2
Latest government figures confirm that crime in England and Wales is continuing to fall, albeit it more slowly since 2005. In the year ending September 2012, the Crime Survey for England and Wales, based on self-reported victimisation, recorded an 8 per cent decrease by comparison with the equivalent period in the previous year: on this measure victimisation has fallen by 54 per cent since its peak in 1995. Police recorded crime covers a broader range of offences – including commercial crimes, drug offences, and handling stolen goods – which are not picked up by the crime survey, but depends on offences coming to the attention of the police. On this measure crime fell by 7 per cent in the latest year, representing a decline of 37 per cent since 2002/2003, the latest point at which comparable data are available (Office for National Statistics, 2013).
This welcome trend provides no grounds for complacency, however, since the recent decline should be seen in the context of rapid rises in crime during the 1980s and the first half of the following decade. Moreover, despite the apparent successes, as the article in this edition by James J. Vardalis, Kendra N. Bowen and Shannon Waters-Bland demonstrates, where new opportunities arise there is potential for new forms of criminality. The authors provide an overview of the expanding phenomenon of garage sales in the USA (akin in many respects to car boot sales in the UK) which have played an increasingly important role in the “thrift economy” as the recession has taken hold. The authors argue that Cohen and Felson’s (1979) routine activities theory would imply that these events offer significant potential for illegal activities since motivated offenders will have a ready access to targets for acquisitive crime in settings where there is an absence, in most cases, of effective guardians. A survey of residents who had advertised garage sales found that each event had on average 100 attendees, and that in more than half of cases, these were supervised by two people or fewer. Half of respondents indicated that groups of people would frequently arrive together and quickly spread out, making it more difficult to supervise them. More than a quarter of attendees also asked to gain access to the private home during the sale, increasing the risk that property might be vulnerable to theft, other than that on display. 15 per cent of sale hosts suspected that they had been victim of price changing by shoppers, and 40 per cent reported that items had been stolen.
It might be argued that the informality, and the relatively recent nature of, such ways of enhancing income render them less amenable to more traditional situational crime prevention strategies. Safer Communities would welcome further contributions on crime in less familiar contexts. But social change can cut both ways, stimulating the development of innovative means of law enforcement as well as offering opportunities for novel forms of offending. Rick Ruddell and Nicholas Jones provide an insight to the emerging trend for police to use social media as a platform for disseminating information to the public and assisting with criminal investigation, through a study of the (Canadian) Regina Police Service’s use of such media. The research considers the usage of the police’s web site, Twitter and Facebook accounts by a sample of local residents and undergraduate students and explores the impact on perceptions of the police.
Overall access to department’s social media platforms was relatively low and, as might be expected, declined with age. There was however a statistically significant association between the level of confidence in, and satisfaction with, the police and the extent to which respondents had visited the police web site. Improved confidence was also positively related to respondents having accessed the Twitter account or Facebook page, although in the case of the latter, the relationship was not statistically significant. The authors suggest that these findings are particularly important given that previous research has suggested that younger people’s perception of the police tends to be less favourable. They conclude that continued investment in social media platforms might help to shift perceptions of the police and allow law enforcement agencies to target better their communication strategies to young people than more traditional forms of dissemination of information.
The role of social media in facilitating communication during the disturbances of August 2011, has recently been highlighted (Baker, 2011), indicating the potential for new technologies to impact on crime and its prevention in a number of potentially contradictory ways. This is an issue that remains under researched, and Safer Communities anticipates it will attract further attention in future issues of the journal.
Some forms of criminality typically engender more public concern than others. In the recent period, knife crime has received significant political and media attention, culminating in the introduction, from 3 December 2012, of new offences of threatening with an offensive weapon, pointed article or blade, in public which carry mandatory custodial sentences in the case of a defendant aged 16 years or older. However, Marek Palasinski’s qualitative research, reported in this issue, questions whether an enforcement-led approach will be effective in the absence of attempts to engage with young people’s perspectives on danger, violence and safety. In particular, he argues, that while the majority of young men are likely to disassociate themselves from the instigation of violence, a “streetwise discourse” nonetheless condones the carrying of weapons, and in some cases their pre-emptive use, where it is considered to be necessary for self-defence. A rather different emphasis is provided by Trevor Griffiths who constructs youth violence as a manifestation of an underlying sense of alienation, associated with an increasing lack of stability within communities, a rise in family breakdown, and a pervasive sense of individualistic materialism. He makes a case for a particular form of therapeutic intervention, which he terms “emotional logic” to address these issues.
A broader overview of the field of crime prevention is offered by Nina Schuller who explores the potential for conceptualising crime minimisation as a public health issue. Drawing on a broad range of recent literature, she traces an emerging convergence between crime prevention and strategies to improve public health, locating the origins in Brantingham and Faust’s threefold classification of primary, secondary and tertiary prevention techniques that was consciously modelled on approaches to preventing ill health and injury. Areas of overlap between the two agendas include: an increasing focus on targeted interventions; the salience of the risk factor paradigm; an acknowledgement of the benefits of multi-agency working, pooling skills and resources; and a growing recognition that what has traditionally appeared as distinct concerns are, in reality, closely related. The author concludes that specialists from both fields should consider the implications of further convergence, which carries both potential benefits and dangers, if the former are to predominate. The issue is one that is likely to become more rather than less pressing, given the attraction of convergence to governments’ confronted by a perceived need for austerity.
Finally, Safer Communities would like to extend its thanks to Professor Chris Fox, who steps down as Co-editor this issue. Chris has made a pivotal contribution to the development of the journal since taking on the role of editorship of, what was then, Community Safety in 2006 and we are pleased that he continues to be a member of the editorial board. We also welcome Dr Hannah Smithson, of Manchester Metropolitan University, who takes over from Chris as Joint Editor.
Tim Bateman, Hannah Smithson
Baker, S. (2011), “From the criminal crowd to the ‘mediated crowd’: the impact of social media on the 2011 English riots”, Safer Communities, Vol. 11 No. 1, pp. 40–49
Cohen, L. and Felson, M. (1979), “Social change and crime rate trends: a routine activities approach”, American Sociological Review, Vol. 44, pp. 588–608
Office for National Statistics (2013), Crime in England and Wales, Year Ending September 2012, Office for National Statistics, London