St John's Hill Festival - balloonsSt John’s Hill Festival
I’m cheating a bit with this week’s photo, since it’s not mine, but was taken by Emma Jane Clark at last Sunday’s St John’s Hill Festival. I’ve used it without permission but hope she doesn’t mind because I really like it.

And congratulations to everyone involved in putting the festival on. It was a great day and, like all the other festivals, carnivals and street parties being put on in our town centres this year really showed the strength of our businesses despite the recession. It’s also with a sense of shame that I have to admit to finally trying Fish Club. It’s one of those places (note how I resisted the ‘plaice’ pun) that is perhaps just a little too out of my way, but given my background – of coming from the fish and chip capital of the world – it’s criminal I’d not given them a go… and they weren’t found wanting. I had a superb haddock and chips with mushy peas, and for me to say that is saying something!

Roehampton Street Drinkers
I’ve been involved in discussions about these for some time, but these are now becoming public – especially since a public meeting held by the police on the issue last week. There has been a problem with street drinkers in the area for some time, which appears to be worsening. Stuart King, the Labour candidate, has picked up on this and is now calling for the council and police to move them on to another area (although he doesn’t specify exactly where he thinks they should be street-drinking).

The council is looking at a real, long term, solution, that doesn’t involve restricting everyone’s rights to enjoy the green spaces in the area and doesn’t just move the problems of addiction from one area to another. We have been using Equinox as outreach workers, with some success, in the area for some time, helping the drinkers conquer their alcohol addiction and are looking at what sort of enforcement we can take with individuals to ensure those less willing to face their problems.

We’re currently in talks with the police (who would be responsible for the enforcement side) to ensure the resources are there to make sure both elements of the carrot and stick approach work.

Gun crime and violence in Wandsworth
Of course, a lot of my time and attention has been taken up by the recent spate of violent crime in Wednesday, I wrote about this in a post on Wednesday and do not want to repeat myself. However, I do want to repeat the central point I made that Wandsworth has been, and remains, a relatively safe borough in London terms.

This is not to belittle the seriousness of the events and shouldn’t be taken to mean that they are not being taken seriously. However, if there is any solace to be taken from gang-related crime it is that it tends to remain inter- and intra-gang and, except in rare cases, members of the general public remain unaffected.

Like I say, this is not to say the council or the police do not take it seriously and are not working hard to arrest those responsible and prevent further incidents, but it does mean that headlines like the Wandsworth Guardian‘s ‘Carnage on the streets’ are very wide of the mark. There is no more reason to worry about going about your daily business this week than there was last week.

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.

I’m not usually a fan of heat, or intensity, mapping because people tend to view the hot-spots as in absolute, rather than relative, terms.  However, I think the map below is worth posting.

It has been produced by Colin Drane who runs and is a heat map compiled from the last 100 shooting related incidents he could find from the media (rather than using official figures). Obviously media reporting is a key factor in fear of crime, but paradoxically Wandsworth, which has low gun-enabled crime rates and is very cool on this map, has a fear of gun crime way above the London average.

London shooting heat map

I did not produce the map (and do not have access to the data) so cannot comment on the accuracy.  However, it matches the impression I have from media coverage of gun related crime and certainly matches my view that there is relatively little gun crime in Wandsworth.

And I’m not going to comment on it beyond posing the question: when gun crime is so low in Wandsworth, and media reporting of gun related crime is low in Wandsworth, why is fear so high?