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18/02/2020

Using Security to Discourage Petty Crime

Author: John Davies

Using Security to Discourage Petty Crime

Crime is always a major subject and one which often grabs the headlines. Serious and violent crimes, such as murders and high-profile burglaries grab our attention and can often make for sobering and depressing reading. However, behind the headlines are a far broader and more common level of ‘petty crime’ which is often opportunistic and distressing for the victims, but not necessarily ‘life-changing’ in the same way.

Without getting into politics, many police forces face tough decisions on the resources they spend and where they spend them, so consequently, many petty crimes lack investigation and a criminal charge. Naturally, resources are focussed on the most serious and broadest affecting crimes, such as knife/gun crimes, illegal drugs, and gang-related activities.

Communities must still deal with petty crimes of course. These crimes affect people either directly through their own property loss (and other associated costs), or indirectly through increases in taxation to pay for the outcomes of crime.

Addressing Petty Crimes

Older generations will often mention the ‘Bobby on the Beat’, the community-based officer whose presence was well respected and helped discourage petty crimes.

Whilst this approach is far less common in the 21st Century, the principle of overseeing public spaces can, to some extent, be filled by security technology. If the police can’t be on the ground as a presence of authority, then security technology and practices can remind potential offenders that there are consequences to breaking the law.

There is more to this approach than simply adding lots of cameras in an Orwellian ‘Big Brother is watching you’ style approach though. Often the job of surveillance systems is to be seen, as much as doing the seeing. For example, the law stipulates that visual surveillance systems need to show warning signs and often cameras are made to look conspicuous as well. This ensures that would-be lawbreakers are aware they are being filmed.

Showing powerful security on buildings and facilities is also a good deterrent. Ensuring locked doors are highly evident or installing bollards in front of stores (to stop vehicle-based ‘ramraiding’) are reminders to would-be criminals that they won’t have an easy job attacking these buildings. There is, of course, a happy balance to be found, people in the community won’t want to feel like they live in some sort of high-security facility!

Catching Criminals in the Act

Visual deterrents are very important, but sometimes they aren’t enough to stop problems such as vandalism and graffiti. Damage from graffiti paint is a big problem – not all ‘street art’ has the impact and entertainment value of a Banksy! For local authorities and railway companies, for example, graffiti devours a considerable budget for removing eyesore paint.

Remarkably, systems are available that can detect the sonic signature sound of an aerosol can (or even the vapour from spray paint) and trigger the surveillance system to record and track the perpetrator. This helps to catch and stop graffiti vandals, but equally this result helps restore civic pride. Research suggests that a tatty-looking area actually commands less respect from the community and visitors, which can lead to further vandalism and defacement.

Helping to Generate Respect

I wouldn’t for one moment suggest that security systems can tackle crime and replace the police forces. However, they can help to add a level of accountability and respect that goes a long way towards making an area safer.

Petty crime may not have the gravitas or headline-grabbing impact of major crime, but to its victims, it’s unpleasant and can be very distressing (particularly for the young and elderly). Vandalism, theft, and other anti-social behaviour are all considerable problems for society to tackle.

Human nature means there will always be the temptation for some members of society to break the law, but by ensuring a greater level of accountability it is possible to make it a far less attractive proposition, helping to safeguard communities and the people which live and work in them.

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