Part of the Police’s role is to reduce the fear of crime and in times gone by I have been asked a number of times how Police work to do this. I grew up on an estate in a Warwickshire town and at the time I was what many would consider to be the hooded youth who hung around with a group of friends. At this point I neither understood or cared what others thought. I was a youngster and I did not think like the adult does.
In my early policing days I did not fully understand exactly what “The Fear Of Crime” was all about. I quickly learned how important this topic was to the public. I myself had experienced thoughts such as “I hope my home is not burgled whilst I am on holiday” or “Probably best I do not get my smart phone out in the street here”.
Today I find myself staying with a relative on an estate in the North of England. I have been here before and I started thinking about my first visit here and this is where my first real fear of crime was experienced.
I recall driving off the motorway and into the estate off an A road. As I entered the estate I could see youngsters hanging round on the streets (some with beer cans in their hands or smoking cigarettes). As I continued along the road I saw two burned out cars and a number of empty houses with metal grids over the doors and windows.
I was driving along in my Ford Focus thinking is my car safe? I looked around and there were a number of cars of the same model as mine and others of higher value parked and unattended on the streets.
Having seen the youths hanging around, the burned out cars and the empty houses with metal grids on I could not help but think what have I let myself in for? Is my car going to be safe? This was my first real fear or crime!!!
Later that day as I witnessed events such as youths speeding round on mini motorbikes etc I felt quite uneasy. This hardly happens where I live but seems normal here. Matters were made worse when I found that some of my relatives friends knew what I did for a living. I was thinking that my car would be petrol bombed simply for the fact people knew what I did for a living. I had heard people talking about the Police and they were not saying nice things!
That night I would repeatedly get up and check my car. When I walked up the shop I was unusually cautious and was ready to react to any approaching attack. I am a six feet six inch tall, 19 stone rugby player and I will openly admit that I was worried that I would become a victim of crime. I was like a fish out of water as was in a complete different environment to my home environment in the southern part of England.
During my stay on this estate the sense of community spirit, and there is not other word to describe it AMAZED me!
My relative would be sat talking in the living room and the door would knock. My relative would remain seated without waiting answering and a neighbour from across the road would walk in and join us. They would then happily talk etc. I witnessed people openly lending household items to each other without hesitation. EVERYONE seemed to just get on with life in a partnership type environment. In my area I say hello to my next door neighbour and that is about it!
This simply does not exist where I live. I am not speaking out of tern when I say that there are massive differences between this estate and the area where I live.
I went out during the evening with my relative and partner. I was wearing a hooded top, sleeveless body warmer and jogging bottoms with trainers. I got talking to people who I had never met however I could see people who were obviously no strangers to the Police. I will be honest I was nervous. Again that fear of crime sneaked in. I am going to get a hiding because of my employment!
Can you image my horror when drinking in a pub that I would not normally have considered drinking in when a man I had been introduced to turns round and says in a loud voice, “You are a copper. Do not even try to deny it as I can tell by the way that you are acting and by the way that you speak”?
What could I say to that? That fear of crime now became even more real. My response??? “Well fella you are very observant. Only an experienced man would see that but I am a human being which is surely what counts”! After this and listening to half an hour of his previous criminal actions and subsequent arrests and prison time he bought me a drink. All of a sudden I became more relaxed, although I was careful when I went to the toilet etc.
Cutting a long story short neighbours of my relative had been talking and knew my job. Although not happy about this I accepted it. As it happened my relative having lived in this area for sometime had some sort of unofficial neighbourhood respect which was a new concept to me. Although some people had what I will describe as negative feelings toward the Police the “unofficial” respect that I just mentioned made people feel they could talk to / ask me about their experiences with Police.
I was on annual leave from the day job and although rather hoping to have a break from policing to relax (there had been some very stressful incidents and cases that week) I was happy to talk to them. The jist of it being why more than one police officer restrained them, why they were arrested “for no reason” etc. People listened to me and respected me and the job I do.
Turning this very positive experience on its head I spoke about my fear of crime in this area that was very different to where I live (where I park the car on the drive and don’t worry). I will not go into detail but I quickly learned that my personal experience of fearing crime was down to quickly making assumptions based on visual things (such as the metal grids on empty housing) and if I am completely honest the feeling of being a fish of of water (as in away from home in strange surroundings).
Ladies and gentlemen my point in this Blog is this. The “Fear Of Crime” affects us all at some point in our life. I am a good example of this. If a six feet six, 19 stone, bodybuilding, defence trained Special Constable who has worked in conflict roles such as Door Supervision and Close Protection can experience the “Fear Of Crime” then anyone can. I took away something very important from this experience and that is that my choice of neighbourhood should not be used as a template for perfect living! As a Constable serving the public this experience has helped me to address peoples “Fear Of Crime” and I will openly discuss this experience if it means that I can help others overcome their fears.
As always I am happy to discuss this and if you prefer to talk privately ask me for my email address.