One of my mantras since taking on the Community Safety portfolio has been that Wandsworth has the lowest rate of crime in inner London. Given the events of the past week it probably sounds pretty hollow. But I’m going to continue repeating it.
However, you cannot get away from the fact that Wandsworth has witnessed some high-profile and, in one case, tragic incidents recently.
Although we work in a partnership with the police and others on community safety clearly these are largely police matters. The council does not have any remit when it comes to criminal matters like this, although we will obviously be sharing any intelligence we have gathered and assisting the police with things like CCTV footage.
Where we do work together (and the Wandsworth partnership has been around a lot longer than most) is on fear of crime, because the fear of crime is as damaging, sometimes even more damaging, than crime itself.
Many people are ‘fear of crime sceptics’, and I used to be one myself. If crime was tackled, I reasoned, then fear of crime itself would naturally drop. In fact, fear of crime works counter-intuitively and often the less crime the more crime fear – illogical at first sight but a consequence of people, having no evidence to the contrary, assuming that crime is far more destructive and devastating than is actually the case.
As an example (and one I touched on in March when discussing a shootings heat map) Wandsworth was almost totally untouched by the spate of teen shootings in 2007-2008, when, if you remember, it seemed barely a week would go by without a teen being shot in a gang-feud. These and related incidents happened almost exclusively in other boroughs (as the map, compiled from media coverage, shows) yet the fear of gun crime in Wandsworth was twice as high as the London average – the level of fear bore no relation to actual crime in the area. I shudder to think the impact the last week will have had on that statistic.
And, of course, the media doesn’t always help allay this fear, perhaps because police jargon doesn’t necessarily mean the same thing to civilians, perhaps because print deadlines don’t allow for the full story, and perhaps because sensationalising a little brings readers. But whatever the reason, it is depressing to see stories that may needlessly cause fear.
It has not been a good week. There’s no getting away from that. But the fact remains that Wandsworth remains a relatively safe borough, and while as an inner city area we’ll never compete with a sleepy village we do very well when competing with the rest of London, and even some of the more suburban boroughs.