This blog is mainly about the governance and future of policing and crime services. (Police & Crime Commissioners feature quite a lot.) But there are also posts about the wider justice system. And because I am town councillor and political activist, local & national issues are covered a little, as well.

Monday, April 29, 2013

All in the mind? (Is social media helping reduce the fear of crime, or not?)

What I want to focus on in this blog is whether social media (in all of its forms) is helping to reduce the problem of the fear of crime. But first some background:

While the Crime & Disorder Act 1998 was in committee stages, I mounted a one-man campaign to have reducing not just actual crime & disorder as the aim for local community safety partnerships but also the fear of crime & disorder written in as a statutory aim. I did not succeed but I still wonder how the UK would be different had my campaign been successful.

For we still have a significant gap between the public’s experience of crime and their fear of it. As an excellent article in the Guardian last week pointed out:
Two thirds of respondents to the British Crime Survey (now the Crime Survey for England and Wales, or CSEW) consistently say that they believe crime has increased a little or a lot over the past decade.
Do read the whole article. It has some excellent references and asks some important questions.

Fear of crime is a large problem, in my view, for several reasons including making some people reluctant to leave their homes, the way it twists the debates around policing & crime, and the ways in which certain groups of people are demonised.

But to return to the question: is social media is helping this situation or not. (I guess I fear that it could be making things worse.) I posed this question last Saturday to a the BlueLightCamp unconference (hastag #ukblc13) and a most useful discussion was had.

(FYI: the camp was a collection of people involved with the emergency services who came together to talk about the use of social media in these areas. It was a great day, by the way! And big thanks to those who came along to the session I ran.)

With that discussion on social media and the fear of crime, I was left with a series of questions:
  • How can we design the social media space to reduce the opportunities for fear of crime to be made worse and increase the chances that people will feel safer instead?
  • In other words: are there principles from the ‘designing out crime’ practices in the real world that could be imported into the social media space?
  • Can the idea that people generally feel more assured, confident and safe if they see a uniformed officer in their community (and I know this is up for hot debate), be applied to social media – a sort of virtual 'hi-vis' police presence?
  • How much is known about the full impact of police tweeting, blogging etc: are people now better informed and assured or are the public now even more fearful? (Has any research been done on this?)
  • Are there ways of putting messages out there that will narrow the gap between the perceived and actual incidence of crime and disorder (and ways that make the gap bigger?)
  • Is some policing social media unwittingly making things worse for the public?
  • If we take the view that much of the mainstream traditional media still focus on crime reporting that magnifies fear, how should the social media protagonists in the policing world respond?
  • Although I am not suggesting that the fear of crime can drive people to suicide (can it?), in the ‘real world’ there are signs put up on (say) Clifton Suspension Bridge and at the ends of station platforms offering people help. Is there a social media equivalent that could help people reduce any distress about the fear of crime?
  • Should Neighbourhood Watch organise a social media branch? 
  • What do you think might be done? (All ideas welcome!)

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