|You are in: Talking Point: Forum|
Thursday, 21 March, 2002, 11:05 GMT
Six Forum: Tackling street crime
You put your questions to former police officer Charles Shoebridge, who led a street crime squad with the Metropolitan Police, in a live forum for the BBC's Six O' Clock News, presented by Manisha Tank.
To watch coverage of the forum, select the link below:
A government taskforce is deciding how to tackle soaring street crime, beginning with a crackdown in 10 hotspots across the UK.
Mobile phone thefts, carjackings, the use of weapons in the commission of crimes, and the role of drugs in criminal activity, are all being targeted.
Tony Blair wants co-ordinated action to combat the 25% increase in muggings and robberies across England and Wales.
The country's top police chief, Sir John Stevens, has hailed the new initiative as "tremendous."
What concerns you about the increase in crime? What else should the government be doing in the fight against criminal activity?
Charles, thanks very much for being with us. One of the major issues that we picked up on in many of our e-mails was the fact that many people out there are dissatisfied with the fact that there aren't enough bobbies on the beat.
Andy H, UK asks: Why is it so difficult to find the police on the streets? Surely they should seen outside Underground and train stations at night as a deterrent for muggers and rapists thus making the streets far safer for people to get home at night safely.
Something that many of us will have thought about when we've been coming home from work on any particular night. Ed in the UK writes in to say: My flatmate was mugged on the street at 9.30 a.m. just the other day and the muggers had the cheek to tell him to run away after they'd taken his wallet. There was a sense that the muggers could get away with it and that he wouldn't run to the police.
Zena in London, UK writes: When may I expect to see police patrolling on foot the inner London hamlet where I live?
All of these questions are about having more bobbies on the beat.
The questioner who asked about tube stations and railway stations - this is the very essence of what's called hotspot policing. It's been around for some years but there is a new emphasis on it now. You get uniformed officers in these high visibility jackets, if possible, to reassure the public that they are safe in these areas.
The problem is that uniformed officers on the street do not in fact arrest many muggers. They deter crime and in many ways they displace crime. So the crime is actually put somewhere else because you cannot of course have officers on every corner of every street in the country at every time. Consequently fighting these muggings has to be a combination of uniformed officers to deter but also plain clothes operations to actually target and arrest those muggers and sadly the only sure-fire way of arresting and then convicting muggers is to actually catch them in the act.
The problem comes if you civilianise too many posts, that you are then going to have an adverse effect on the criminal justice system later down the line. There is no point arresting many, many people if they are then not convicted. So, for example, if you have a civilian - perhaps a case manager responsible for interviewing suspects and so on - which at the moment is done by a detective or the officer who arrested that suspect. Let's say if somebody was to be put in that position without the experience, without the training and the background of a police training that could impact upon the conviction rate and that's the last thing we want to do because without convictions these people cannot be taken off the streets.
He is obviously referring to the hotspots and the taskforce. But there are the issues: we're working harder and pay doesn't match up.
My own position is, as your caller suggested, that these sorts of operations tend to be very manpower intensive. With anti-robbery operations in the past - you can't be certain when the robbery is going to take place - so you are watching for street robbers - that involves usually a lot of overtime. This is very overtime that Mr Blunkett is proposing to cut and longer term there may be an impact on recruitment for police officers. The right kind of officers need to be recruited who are going to be willing to carry out this sort of work and carrying it out properly so that people actually get convicted as well as just caught.
All too often, particularly where juveniles are concerned - and two-thirds of muggings are carried out by people under 21 - you've got the situation where somebody is arrested, they are then either put in custody and then go to court to be dealt with later that day or the next day when all too often they are then released again. Even when convicted, the majority of muggers do not get a jail sentence. Lord Justice Woolff recently re-emphasised guidelines that said that at a base level, muggers should get 18 months in prison. But really the reality of that isn't going to translate into hard facts on the ground for the reason that there are other laws in place, for example, that prevent under 15 year-olds being jailed unless it can be shown that they are prolific offenders. The problem is that somebody is on bail, they are then re-bailed, re-bailed and re-bailed by the courts every time a new offence is committed and it all adds up to what many of your viewers have intimated which is a sense of invulnerability that these muggers have. They regard themselves as untouchable.
Now we've had some tough talk from the Government today and a lot of that is directed towards sentencing. It remains to be seen whether that is, for once, actually going to translate into hard action on the ground or in the courts which is where it is important. It is a critical issue.
Prevention of crime
With that question can I ask you - is there more that perhaps members of the public should be doing when it comes to prevention?
But having said that, I think we need to be very careful that we're not saying that people haven't got the right, if they wanted, to wear their best jewellery. We shouldn't be in this position of, if you like, blaming the victim and there has been a bit of tendency to do that. In theory everybody has the right to do what they like so long as nobody gets hurt, in terms of wearing their jewellery or carrying their bag as they want. But I think certainly a lot of the cases that I used to deal with - it did cross your mind that commonsense could have produced a different result. Having said that, often when somebody is mugged and they haven't taken care of their possessions - had they taken care of their possessions perhaps they wouldn't have been but then somebody else would have been mugged. So I am not sure that it would have a great effect on the figures as a whole but certainly as an individual - take care of your possessions, perhaps avoid those dark areas and you can help yourself - there is no question. But should it come to that, that's a whole different issue.
Again he is making the case about having more bobbies on the beat. The problem he and many viewers are pointing out is that the youth effectively are running wild. S. Mitchell, Scotland asks: Don't you think that a great deal of street crime can be linked to indiscipline in schools? Would it not be more prudent to restore discipline in those schools giving pupils a feel-good factor and a much better sense of responsibility towards others?
So that's all about attitude. Also a text message that we've had come in: I personally think that young people are being allowed to get away with literally robbery. I've suffered so much and I never go out on my own anymore. Which obviously is very disappointing and no one wants to be in that situation.
As for schools, I think it's a very difficult situation because people who are disruptive on the streets - for example to the extent of committing robberies are quite often going to be the pupils who are very disruptive in schools which is why you've got this correlation to some degree between excluded pupils and those who are actually committing robberies.
I've got no doubt that the situation regarding discipline in schools is an important issue - had somebody been subject to strong discipline, a strong sense of what's right and wrong from an early age then that would be bound to have an effect on somebody's attitude towards crime. But that isn't simply a situation that's the responsibility of the school - parenting answers a lot or the problems too. An awful lot of the young muggers that we are dealing with come from what might be called a dysfunctional background. Quite often, for example, there is no positive male role model in their lives. Although in a majority of cases - single parent families do not lead to that sort of dysfunctionality - but in some cases the young boy growing up, he will take his lead not from teachers, not from a father who isn't probably present but from stronger, bigger boys in the community - his peers in other words and when they are seen to be getting with - as your questioner said - robbery in some cases, as they are, quite often it is the case that they'll follow suit.
Likewise, we have a text message in from Tony Roberts in the UK who asks: Don't you think it's time we adopted the US system of zero tolerance to solve our crime problems?
Are we dealing with the same model?
The problem is that the zero tolerance policy has resulted in an enormous upswing of community relations problems. For example, in the United States - in New York - complaints against police - again from ethnic minorities particularly - rocketed during that period and so there is this balance to be struck.
The author of the zero tolerance policy has actually gone on record as saying that crime levels in Britain do not justify that policy. Now as an ex-police officer, I of course would be tempted to say - yes, we should be addressing any transgression of the law but it is whether it is actually practical and whether it's the kind of society that we actually want.
20 Mar 02 | UK Politics
20 Mar 02 | UK
18 Jul 02 | UK Politics
21 Feb 02 | UK
17 Mar 02 | Breakfast with Frost
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Top Forum stories now:
Links to more Forum stories are at the foot of the page.
|E-mail this story to a friend|
Links to more Forum stories
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>> | To BBC World Service>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy