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EDITIONS
Friday, 12 July, 2002, 16:17 GMT 17:17 UK
Crime statistics: Ask the experts

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  • Click here to read the transcript



    Home Office figures released on Friday reveal that robberies in England and Wales have risen by 28% over the last year.

    The government's annual crime statistics also show the number of crimes recorded by the police has increased by 7%.

    The release of the figures has prompted Prime Minister Tony Blair to promise to tackle street crime by unveiling new measures.

    Shadow home secretary Oliver Letwin blamed a "muddled" government policy for the rise in street crime, while the Victims of Crime Trust charity said ministers should "hang their heads in shame".

    What is responsible for the rise in violent crime? What can be done to tackle the problem? Do you feel less safe?

    Your questions were answered in a LIVE forum on Friday, 12 July. The panel was:

    • Paul Cavadino from crime reduction charity NACRO
    • Zaki Hashmi - head of the Criminal Department at Aston Clark solicitors
    • Marion Fitzgerald from Policing for London


    Transcript


    Newshost:

    Wendy, UK: Whilst poverty is the main cause of crime, I don't think we can blame this rise in street crime on one specific factor. What would you attribute it to?


    Marion Fitzgerald:

    A lot more young people are getting involved in offending through nicking mobile phones off each other where they use to nick dinner money and pocket money and things that didn't get reported. That's the simple answer the question and I think that that hadn't been anticipated and it is going to make a difference from now on in. I think people have got their heads around the implications of this sort of development for the long term.


    Newshost:

    Zaki, as a defence lawyer, have you seen an increase in this type of crime?


    Zaki Hashmi:

    Yes I have. Over the last year or two, there's definitely been an increase in mobile phone crime. I would agree with Marion on that point regarding the attractiveness of a mobile phone as an object to steal. In the same way that children, young adults, teenagers get involved in car crime in the same way they get involved with thefts of mobile phones - it something attractive for them to do and I don't think the makers of mobile phones or the authorities quite anticipated just what attractive items they would make for becoming the objects of theft and robbery.


    Newshost:

    Let's bring in Paul Cavadino from Westminster at this point. What do you attribute this startling increase to Paul?


    Paul Cavadino:

    It is partly opportunity. It's the fact that with more mobile phones around and their being an attractive object of theft, that the opportunity to steal objects that are suitable for people then to sell on have increased. It's partly to do with an increased number of young people becoming involved in this particularly form of crime, as Marion said. And it's partly to do with drugs and it's partly to do stealing things in order to sell them on in order to feed a drug habits and that's particularly true in relation to heroin and crack cocaine.


    Newshost:

    Rob, England: We all seem so very aware when it comes to protecting our property, but yet we still walk around oblivious, waving our mobiles and loosely carrying goods which make us instant targets. Do you think this rise is street crime may be due to people's ignorance in self protection?

    Zaki, you've seen a lot of these cases come to court. Are we partly to blame?


    Zaki Hashmi:

    Not entirely. It seems to me, certainly with the street robbery side of things - with thefts of mobile phones - the victims tend to be young people in themselves. To my mind, mobile phone theft and robbery is a situation where you have young adults - teenagers - stealing and robbing off other young adults. It's not so much an adult in their thirties or forties having their bag snatched or their mobile phone grabbed out of their hands. I think you'll find that the overwhelming majority of this type of street robbery is from the same age group - teenagers upon teenagers.


    Newshost:

    Paul do you agree? Is this largely a youth problem?


    Paul Cavadino:

    Well the increase does involve young people disproportionately. I agree with Zaki, that very often it's what you might you might call a particularly nasty form of bullying - it's young people intimidating other young people and making them hand over objects like mobile phones.

    Looking at the question in the e-mail, I think it would be quite wrong to blame victims - that would be an inversion of moral responsibility. It is true that if you are trying to advise people on how not to become victims of crime then there are sensible things you can advise them of relating to not displaying their phones, not immediately taking them out and using them as soon as they come out of Tube stations, which is often a particular target for people who want to steal this kind of object. So there is sensible preventive advice you can give to people who'd be potential victims.


    Marion Fitzgerald:

    I did an analysis of the Met statistics a couple of years ago and certainly the big increase in the offender population has come amongst young people. The increase in victims is also amongst younger people but there's a wider spectrum. A lot of it is kids nicking off each other but there is also young adults having things nicked off them. And I think the question of the mobile which is something which is unusually available and easy to nick and which people do carry around. I think people have got more streetwise but it makes people particularly vulnerable in a way that almost nothing we can think of that's been in the frame previously has. So I think it's something about the mobile and I think that potential victims are starting to learn that it does make them vulnerable. But it's very tempting because people do just walk down the street talking to people in ways nobody did five years ago.


    Newshost:

    Marshall Rounsevell, Los Angeles, CA: Can we blame this surge in theft and robberies on breakdowns in the family structure? Do issues such as divorce, single parenthood, and truancy have an impact on the rise in crime?


    Paul Cavadino:

    There's no doubt that if young people are in families where there is family conflict. If they are in families where parents don't know where they are or what they're doing. If they are subject either to excessively lax or inconsistent discipline or excessively harsh discipline - if they're abused - then all those things are more likely to make them get into trouble with the law than if they have family structures in which they get consistent discipline and regular attention in which limits are set to what they can do and in which their parents know where they are, who they are with and take an interest in their activities.

    Having said that, it is very important to realise that often families are under an enormous amount of stress and it's very difficult often when you're struggling for survival - both psychological and material - to do the things which a good parent should ideally do. So we need to support families under stress and the evidence shows very strongly that good programmes that can do that and can provide that kind of support, markedly reduce the likelihood of the children in those families either being taken into care or getting into trouble with the law.


    Newshost:

    Craig, Norwich: It is quite obvious now that the only way to combat violent crime is through the presence of more police officers on our streets. If the government really is committed to making Britain safer, why hasn't it taken proper measures to increase the number of bobbies on the beat?


    Marion Fitzgerald:

    I think there's simplistic notions that whatever the police do will make a difference overall to whether crime goes up or down and I think we need to escape from that.

    It's true that if you actually target a lot of police officers on particular crimes you can start to make a difference to holding it. But of course if you're concentrating them on one sort of crime, you probably can't sustain that effort because all the time you're taking your eye off the ball - the demand is insatiable. The problem is that you've had a lot of resources targeted on robbery and it really hasn't made that much difference but meanwhile you've taken your eye off the ball and other crimes start going up. You can't police your way out of this - it will only give you a short-term respite. But the big issues are longer term and they are not going to be solved by more police officers on the beat.


    Newshost:

    Zaki some of the people you've represented in court, do you think they might not have ended up in the courts had there been more police on the streets?


    Zaki Hashmi:

    It's hard to say. No two clients or defendants are the same in terms of their backgrounds or their histories. But certainly it is very difficult to see a direct connection between increasing numbers of police officers and automatically solving one particular area of crime. More police officers might well act as a deterrent but then again if people are inclined to commit a crime for whatever reasons - if they have mental health problems, if they are addicted to drugs such as heroin or crack cocaine which often disinhibit them when to doing such things, then it's difficult to see how having more police officers is actually going to result in them realising the deterrent is there and acting accordingly.

    One thing I will say about many people I represent is that they simply do not go through life thinking they're going to be caught. They act very impulsively and often very foolishly and consequently they get themselves into situations - whether it's mobile phone robbery or driving whilst drunk or disqualified - doing such things where they get caught where more perhaps level-headed people might not have taken risk.


    Marion Fitzgerald:

    It can't address the underlying causes - that's the problem.


    Newshost:

    Sam Webster, Brighton, UK: How are the crime figures recorded and reported, and who is responsible for ensuring they are a true reflection of reality?

    Luc Altmann, England: Students of criminology will be more than aware of the unreliability and irrelevance of crime statistics. How much faith do you think we can put in these latest figures? Do they really represent the bigger social picture in Britain today?


    Marion Fitzgerald:

    No set of statistics is ever completely reliable and we've always had this tension between the British Crime Survey on the one hand and the police statistics on the other. What's happening now is yes, there have been changes in the way the police statistics are gathered. But I think the problem the Government has is that it has set itself up to be judged by the police statistics and the police statistics are pointing in the wrong direction. It is not going to meet the targets that it has set itself and it is in panic mode. So it has retreated to the British Crime Survey but the British Crime Survey, however big you make it, always misses out on the experience of the people who are most vulnerable. It doesn't reach people in inner city areas, it doesn't reach young people - they're the ones that are the classic victims of crime. So that is also giving you a misleading picture. It is one that is comforting for the Government at the moment but I think the police statistics are arguably a better indicator of the long-term trends here than the British Crime Survey.


    Newshost:

    James, UK: Surely the problem lies in the fact that the police are not targeting the right people. The Home Secretary has just reclassified cannabis in order to enable the police to concentrate their efforts on catching the real criminals. Is the police service afraid to tackle the real criminals?


    Paul Cavadino:

    I think that the reclassification of cannabis is a sensible move. It is sensible to concentrate attention on the crimes which do most damage and which are most serious. The issue of whether the police are effectively targeting the real criminals, I think is a question that needs to be put in a wider context - the police can't do this on their own. If we're going to reduce crime - if we're going to reduce serious and persistent crime in particular - then the police have got to be backed up and supported by a whole range of other agencies whose actions can reduce crime.

    We've got a lot of evidence about ways in which we can reduce crime. We know that if we support families under stress that reduces the likelihood of crime by their children. We know that if we provide a more effective pre-school education for young people in high crime, disadvantaged areas, it reduces the chances they'll get into trouble later on. We know if we tackle truancy and school exclusion, that can reduce crime - the same is true of youth unemployment. We know a lot about the kind of drug treatment and rehabilitation and prevention programmes that can reduce drug-related crime. We know that if we can do more to rehabilitate prisoners that will reduce the likelihood or reoffending when prisoners are released. There are lots of things we know about how effectively we can reduce crime we need to do more of them but those things involve a lot of agencies apart from the police.


    Newshost:

    Pat, Bristol: How can gun related crime be reduced? Was it an error to ban handguns, as this seems to have had no noticeable effect on reducing gun-related crime?

    Barry, Edinburgh, Scotland: Perhaps if police began carrying firearms, many of the young thugs responsible for these street crimes would be discouraged from doing so again. Is this the solution?

    Marion, I think most police officers would say no, wouldn't they?


    Marion Fitzgerald:

    I think they wouldn't want to and I think we enter dangerous territory there. There is very little difference in our crimes rates with those of the United States except for homicide and that is simply because of the enormously greater availability of guns in the States and the fact that the police carry them. Tempting as it may be, I would be very, very frightened of the implications of going too far down that road.


    Newshost:

    Zaki, as a defence lawyer, do you think that guns are becoming an increasing factor in violent crime from what you see every day in the courts?


    Zaki Hashmi:

    Yes, absolutely. One thing I've certainly noticed over the last five years or so is an increase in the use of crack cocaine and a parallel increase in a gun culture in London and no doubt in other cities in the United Kingdom as well. Guns and crack cocaine have come together.

    The police take all gun crimes extremely seriously. There are, I think, about 250 police officers involved in the Operation Trident project to deal with black on black gun crime. But putting police on the streets with guns - or putting more police on the street with guns is not going to act as a deterrent for people who are prepared to use guns in the first place. And as it happens there are perhaps a surprisingly large number of police officers on the streets of London carrying guns in any event and I don't believe that an increased number of armed police officers is going to solve the problem of gun culture in this country in itself.


    Newshost:

    Jennifer Q, Birmingham: Is it time to adopt a zero tolerance policy towards street criminals in this country? It has worked in the US, isn't it time we adopted it, even as a pilot scheme in a few of our major cities?


    Paul Cavadino:

    It depends what is meant by zero tolerance. If by zero tolerance is meant the kind of thing which happened in the early 80s - Operation Swamp in Brixton which led to the Brixton riots of the early 1980s - then no that would do more harm than good. And the kind of aggressive policing that has been seen in some areas in the United States, I don't believe is the right answer.

    But sometimes when people talk about zero tolerance what they mean is simply more effective targeting of police efforts using the mapping of crime hotspots in order to concentrate efforts in relation to surveillance for example and that's been part of what people have meant by zero tolerance - concentrating and targeting police efforts more effectively - using intelligence about where crime is committed, at what time it's committed and what kind of crime is committed and that makes sense - that has an important part to play. But it's very different from the image of zero tolerance, which in effect means more aggressive policing.


    Marion Fitzgerald:

    No, I am not being complacent about this but we need to be careful what we mean by street crime. It covers a very wide spectrum of offending and as we said a lot of these numbers are being driven up by a lot of young people who previously would just have been nicking each other's bus money and dinner money. If we're talking about zero tolerance for kids like that - further massive criminalisation of those young people going into adulthood - I think we've lost the plot.


    Newshost:

    Sue Hudson, West London: Having been the victim of a burglary myself, and having a friend who is permanently crippled after being mugged by three men, I think I can safely say that crime has escalated out of control. How can we be sure that it is going to get better, especially when Cherie Blair says we should be more compassionate towards criminals? Does the current system favour the criminal more than the victim?

    Daren, Bristol, UK: I was mugged a couple of months ago. The police didn't seem to be interested in doing much to catch the offender. Now the Government reacts to this report which clearly states that crime is going up by 7%, by saying it's only up 2%. Why doesn't the Government just admit it's in the wrong and solve this problem once and for all?

    Zaki, do you think, from your experience in the courts, that we don't pay enough attention to the victims in the whole criminal justice process?


    Zaki Hashmi:

    I think that many people working within the criminal justice system try to treat victims with as much sympathy as possible and that includes the police and the prosecution. My job is slightly different in that my job as a solicitor is to represent a defendant, a suspect, to the best of my ability. I can understand why victims of crime take a less than entirely positive view towards someone acting as a defence solicitor. At the end of the day, we are talking about a bunch of different people within the system - victims, witnesses of crime and suspects of crime - who all need to be treated with respect. It is not a matter of doing down the victim in favour of protecting the rights of the suspect. It is a matter of treating all of these people with respect. And I think you'll find that the victims are not treated as badly as is sometimes made out.


    Marion Fitzgerald:

    This Government came in promising to do something - to do a lot - about tackling crime and the causes of crime. You can't really do anything about crime unless you look medium to long term and you've done an awful lot about the causes you're not going to see this turn round overnight and that's been the mistake in setting these silly targets and expecting that you can deliver on those promises in the short term - that's why people are so disappointed. But realistically it is not going to go unless you invest long term in addressing the causes.


    Newshost:

    Paul, the complaint we hear repeatedly is too much attention to the perpetrator of the crime and not enough to the victim. Clearly you are focused on helping people not to re-offend again. Where should our priorities lie?


    Paul Cavadino:

    I personally think that far too little is still done to support victims of crime. But I don't believe there is a conflict between supporting victims and rehabilitating offenders because if we can rehabilitate offenders that reduces the number of future victims. So we need to look at not what is tough but at what works in reducing crime. For example, for young offenders, intensive supervision programmes are proving more effective in diverting them from crime in the pilot areas where they are currently running than locking them up in custody which has something like an 80% reconviction rate when they come out.

  • See also:

    19 Jul 01 | UK
    19 Jul 01 | Politics
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