Local success in driving down crime has been a partnership between the community, the police, council, housing providers, the voluntary sector and the wider criminal justice system. If crime levels stay relatively low in a climate of cuts, then the police and other publicly funded organisations will seek to deploy resources out of the area. The police have put out a questionnaire on a review of neighbourhood policing where you can see how they are stacking up the options.
‘The purpose of the review is to find better ways of using current neighbourhood policing resources to meet the needs of the local community. It will also ensure that local police teams continue to deliver an effective and relevant service in the right place at the right times.’
The scale of the cuts across all sectors is such that some resources are bound to go – we have to make sure that as a neighbourhood we defend the right things. We can’t let decisions about cuts on community safety be a unilateral process where we take options handed down to us. We know that in Kings Cross, when we get policing and community safety wrong it has awful results.
As a neighbourhood we need to understand accurately where crime is being reported, its nature and what happens to those reported crimes. We need this information to own and interpret as a community, not handed down when it suits from the police on their terms. That way we can make better informed judgements about where resources are kept and where they are given away.
We need much more accurate information about crime than the vague crime maps that the Met publishes on its website. Other cities around the world show what can be done. I've written on crime data before on this site and voluntarily provide advice on using local data to CLG. What sort of information would be useful to help us tackle local community safety issues in Kings Cross?
On fear of crime – The Met should publish all local crimes as they are reported or detected. For each crime we need to be able to see the entire criminal justice chain from crime report to prosecution, judgement, sentencing, penalty, release for each crime in the neighbourhood. That way we can show that there isn’t as much crime as people think and that hard working police, prosecutors, magistrates, prison and probation staff are protecting us. Publishing crime reference numbers might help track.
In a tightly packed neighbourhood like Kings Cross, with 80,000 people a day moving through it, precise location of a crime is vital for a community to understand what is going on. Kings Cross has some of the UK’s poorest neighbourhoods within yards of some of the richest. Within single estates one block may be a nice place to live, another challenging. On a street, one house can be the epicentre of a drug fuelled crime wave – others serene. We need more precision than street by street – at the North end of York Way there have been two murders, at the South, around the stations the problems are minor public disorder.
The current 'ward and sub ward' based mapping poor. Crime, like the weather, doesn’t stick to neat administrative boundaries. We need very precise locations of crimes. Data can overturn your assumptions – in September, even using the weak Met crime maps we can see that there were four assaults in the prosperous Thornhill Crescent area and only three just over the road on the rather less prosperous Bemerton Estate.
The context of information can give confidence to act. It's a very British habit to think that you might be the only one with a problem and not do anything about it. It takes some guts to do something about crime in your neighbourhood. If you know you are not the only person to have had their home broken into on your street it might tip you into taking action: 'It's not just me'. From my own experience this trasition from from anecdote to fact gives you a far stronger prima facie case. And a weapon with which to tackle the authorities, who generally have control of the data, even if it is low resolution and out of date.
Beyond arrest and charge – the police furnish us with press notices about charging people, but we almost never hear what happens – I am yet to see a press notice telling me charges failed at court. An example of police giving us data on their terms, not a complete picture. I have already asked the Head Magistrate at Highbury Corner Magistrates Court Mel Simon for their weekly list of judgements. He tells me they are unable to supply it, which is incomprehensible. They can do it in Wigan it seems, but not here. MOJ have turned down several requests for this site to talk to the Governor at Pentonville despite their huge presence in the neighbourhood – we are not an appropriate media outlet apparently:
'Unfortunately we are not able to assist on this occasion…We work with UK print and broadcast media with a sufficiently high enough distribution for coverage to be accessed by a wide audience, and we target our communications effectively to reach different audiences in the community.' Lydia Austen, MOJ Press Office
So we need some basic information about what happens to crimes after they are detected, criminals as they are charged, convicted and their progress through the offender management system. Otherwise how confident can we be in the system as a whole? Ideally we should click on a crime on a map or look it up in a table and be able to see what happened at every stage until the offence is spent under rehabilitation of offenders legislation.
Victims – victims rights need to be protected. So data relating to victims who would not be named in court should be anonymised and possibly have the location made less specific. One of the reasons data is published largely ward by ward is apparently to protect victims. The neighbourhood can’t then make a case to keep resources where we need them and prevent future victims emerging.
On timeliness – reported crimes should be reported publicly as soon as they are entered on the police national computer or after say a 24 hour lag unless there are tactical operational reasons for not doing so. TfL do this with their webcams, sometimes taking them offline for ‘operational reasons’.
There are a load of technical factors too: good forces should be allowed to do their own thing responding to local need without some inevitably awful central IT procurement. Publishing and mapping data is easy and nearly free – they can just stick spreadsheets up in Google docs and use Google Fusion tables to map it (sort of). All data publication should be done from existing resources and without daft copyright terms hindering its reuse – amazingly some police forces copyright their crime data.
All of the above feeds into accountability – as the governance of the police changes, and, as far as i can make out the mayor takes charge, as citizens we need to be able to compare King's Cross with like areas, such as say Paddingaton. As well as holding our local SNT to account.
It's just bizarre that, in an advanced democracy we have to ask for this data. The police, CPS and courts already have all the information above sitting on their computers as an adjunct of the criminal justice process – they just need to publish it.