Crime and the Fear of Crime
There is an often used response to any questions about the rise of criminal activity that' the fear of crime is much greater than the actual reality of crime itself.'
Whether this is the case or not the fear of crime is keeping our residents in their homes at night, preventing parents taking their children to parks and recreation spaces, and stopping the residents of our town enjoying all the amenities our town has to offer.
This reluctance to enjoy all our town has to offer ranges from residents not going out at night and on dark winter evenings, parents avoiding parks and open spaces due to alcohol and drug use in full view, perpetrators ignoring the PSPO due to lack of information and enforcement, offensive graffiti, ASB in the town centre and shopping areas to real fear of violence and crime.
When asked for the crime figures to be included in the Community Safety and Community Engagement report to Full Council, Councillor King said, " find them yourself."
I did just that and the findings are alarming.
This is just one month's figures for Northampton.
Overall crime figures have dropped from May 2106.This may well be due to the change of reporting.
But, Violent Sexual offences have risen from 2016 -606, 2017- 704, 2018 -730 .
And alarmingly Drug Crimes - 2016 - 58, 2017 - 43, 2018 - 65
Possession of weapons - 2016 - 14, 2017 - 23, 2018 - 30
From these figures the worrying escalation of crime in the town is around violent sexual offences, drugs and possession of weapons.
The three non domestic murders recently are also a break in pattern which should raise alarm bells. Two of these were around drugs and gang related incidents and involved stabbings.
We have evidence of an alarming increase in gang and knife crime nationwide and now in our town. The reasons for this are many and complex. Cuts in funding and reduced police presence are the visible and easily indentified reasons.
According to a recent report 'POVERTY, unemployment and family breakdown are pushing a significant group of young people beyond the fringes of society and into a world of 'inertia, cynicism and crime'.
Gangs are being run like a business and rivalry between gangs often leads to innocent bystanders being victims of violence. The levels of violence are increasing. Indicators of this is the recovery of firearms. In a 6 month period in Northamptonshire 25 guns were recovered. Mostly shotguns but also hand guns, which are far more rare.
The movement of London gangs along County Lines with drug dealing controlled from main cities, Birmingham, Leeds, Cardiff is moving into our town with local police working with the Met. and sharing information across borders.
The associated criminal activity around cuckooing, sexual exploitation, human trafficking, modern slavery and the exploitation of vulnerable people of all ages with drugs, alcohol and mental health issues is growing in our town. Last month there were 40 cases of cuckooing in Northampton alone.
The night time economy has received much attention over the past few years. This is an issue due to the levels of alcohol and drug misuse and other negative behaviour. The tragic case of India Chipchase in January 2016 prompted the 'Nights out in Northampton' campaign and the recent Purple Flag award, for which the CSP team should be congratulated. But the ASB and violence around the night time economy had been with us for over 30 years. It should not take this tragic murder to prompt a reaction from our CST.
I am concerned that in a similar way the response to the present and real threats to the safety of our communities will be too little and too late.
The Northampton Community Safety Plan aims to-
'Deliver a safe, confident Northampton by working together to improve the quality of life for local people'.
It is a sound policy addressing all the priorities of such a plan. It sets out all the things we would hope to achieve for our town with the one exception of a real policy on Organised Crime. It highlights the problem but beyond saying that 'partners are working together' - that's it.
Looking deeper in to the Customer and Communities Service Plan, The Corporate Plan Priority on Community Safety and Engagement section the outcomes have failed to deliver due to partners failing to deliver, lack of engagement from community and partners, the network fails to engage with the team and council, limited Police resource to support the ASB unit.
These are all failures to deliver around priorities for Community Safety. The objectives are laudable but objectives need to be delivered.
This is hugely worrying. If we are failing to achieve these objectives the people of our town are being let down and we are open to exploitation by criminal gangs who see a weakness which they will exploit.
I would urge the Community Safety Partnership to work with the PCC to bid for funding from the Home Office's £11 million Early Intervention Youth Fund for youth and community groups who support early intervention and prevention activity in children and young people. We need to build strong and resilient communities.
The Association of Town and City Management who awarded the Purple Flag have a Violence and Vulnerability Unit which is looking at the changing patterns of crime. We must learn from work done in other parts of the country to reassure our residents that this is an issue which is being taken seriously.
We need to encourage partners to take action to reduce the opportunities for crime to take place, including raising awareness of the key issues and how best to respond and build positive relationships. This will include young people affected by violence.
Everybody wants to live in a place where they feel safe. Crime and the fear of crime are still big concerns for a lot for people and it is not something we should take lightly.