Fear of Crime

Hart District Council Poster

The Problem

Most people have a low chance of being victims of crime but the numbers of people that are afraid or worried about something happening to them are relatively high.

The British Crime Survey 2006/07 identified that the percentage of adults with high levels of worry about burglary were13%; high levels of worry about car crime 13% and high levels of worry about violent crime were 17%. In the 2002 international survey of ‘feeling unsafe walking home at night’ – published by UN Habitat in 2007 – of the 35 nations surveyed, England and Wales featured as the 17th  most fearful country (above the United States, Canada, Japan, China etc). It should also be noted that ‘fear of crime’ within United Kingdom differs by region – with London being significantly higher in fear than other parts of the UK.

Fear of crime can also deter people from using public facilities (parks and open spaces) and public transport; and some groups are particularly affected. Black and minority ethnic people's fear of crime is higher than that of white people, some women will not travel after dark, and parents restrict their children's usage of public transport.

A UK government survey (Department of Environment Transport and the Regions) found that fear of crime while waiting for a train or bus after dark is greater for women than for men, with bus stops being considered less frightening than railway platforms. In the survey 44% of women and 19 % of men felt unsafe waiting for a bus, and 53 % of women and 23%r of men felt unsafe on a railway platform after dark. However, both men and women feel safer once they have boarded their bus or train, with buses again rating as less frightening than trains.

Because of the nature of the problem  - as an expression of feelings - it is easy to devalue it. However, these are genuine responses to people’s perceived risks and although they may appear to be exaggerated, those feelings means that fear of crime not only impacts on lives in a general way (through the way that people will conduct their lives to avoid peceived risks) but - as seen above, in a way that reduces the positive impact of any actual crime reduction. The neighbourhood, in the eyes of the population, can therefore retain its reputation of lawlessness even though crime has significantly diminished. Crime and Disorder Reduction Partnerships (CDRP’s) cannot ignore the issue but will need to ensure that they do whatever they can to tackle its causes.

Influences on crime perceptions

People’s perceptions of crime – and the risks of victimisation - will affect the way in which they conduct their lives. This awareness of the impact may well be marginal to the individual but, in reality, can prevent them from leaving their homes after dark, accessing public facilities – such as parks and open spaces – traveling by public transport (see below) etc.

Fear of crime also differs within the population – with gender, ethnicity, location etc being important factors in the levels of concern and the degree to which this can alter people’s ability to go about their daily lives.

There are a number of identified influences on the perceptions of crime – some of these are personal to an individual or family (personal experience victimisation, Nuisance and anti-social behaviour in the area may also increase fear of crime, with low-level offences making people worried and more afraid about crime than they perhaps need to be.

There is also evidence to demonstrate that a smal number of serious violent offences function '... to articulate and animate social reactions to crime and social control in contemporary social life’. A useful article on this subject is  Crime as a Signal, Crime as a Memory by Martin Innes.

CDRP’s and local communities need to make sure that all the various problems are taken into account and identify how best to tackle fear of crime in their area to avoid implementing measures that result in an increase in fear of crime rather than a reduction in both the fear of crime and in crime itself.

Effective Communications - reducing fear of crime

The activities listed below can be used to impact on the local fear of crime. These should be developed in conjunction with local community safety partnership plans.

Understanding the local problems

  • Conducting a local a survey of perceptions of crime to identify the specific issues concerning residents, business people and visitors to the area
  • Scanning the area for significant fear of crime issues - social and environmental
  • Conducting 'face the people meetings' with residents and other stakeholder in the area
  • Reviewing local crime and disorder data - including historical information

Improving the Local Environment

  • Repairing broken and vandalised facilities, removing litter and generally improving the appearance of a local area can have a big impact on reducing fear of crime
  • Target-hardening measures such as increased lighting, home security upgrades and CCTV can all help reduce crime and fear of crime. For example, research conducted on behalf of the Home Office found that the three key things the public think would make a car park safe from crime are regular patrols/high visibility of staff, CCTV coverage and increased lighting
  • Improved residential and commercial planning in line with the Secured by Design standard

Community Capacity Building

  • Developing community engagement in crime and disorder reduction
  • Developing Neighbourhood Management schemes which include Neighbourhood Policing and local community safety objectives
  • Using ‘Planning for Real’ techniques to involve local people in identifying areas that make them feel unsafe and help develop measures to reduce their fear
  • Developing Neighbourhood Watch and Street Warden programmes

Improving Local Communications and Knowledge of Crime and Disorder Reduction

  • Developing and implementing a communications action plan
  • Developing positive campaigns with local newspapers/radio stations
  • Holding local crime prevention and community safety surgeries

Reducing levels of crime and anti-social behaviour in the area can help reduce fear of crime. However, this is not always the case and it is also possible that strategies to reduce crime may increase fear of crime. For example by highlighting the potential victimisation  through a crime awareness campaign. This is why interventions to reduce fear of crime must be developed as part of local crime and disorder reduction plan and should be based on specific problems in the area.

Fear of Crime Links

Neighbourhood security and urban change   

This study investigates how crime, physical disorder and antisocial behaviour together with the responses to these problems shape the ways that places change over time.

Fear of Crime

A Home Office archived 'toolkit' giving the background to fear of crime analysis of the issues and local solutions.

Experience and Expression in Fear of Crime

ESRC funded research details of findings from 2007.

Huntingdonshire Business Against Crime

Good practice site with clear leaflets from an independent, non profit making organisation set up in March 2004 by Huntingdon Town Centre Partnership.

Hart District Council Crime and Communications

Highly professional examples of postere and postcard campagin material and clear information website from this UK municipality.