Who watches the Watchmen?

Final word on the BIG YELLOW SIGNS that adorned Brockley's streets a while back. Like Ozymandias their creators figured that bringing fear to the streets of a major city was a small price to pay in pursuit of a greater good - in this case, reduction of street crime.

The Council has produced a report on the effectiveness of this strategy.

The Council apparently conducted focus group research about people's response to the signs. Here's what people said about the signs:

"Several participants... believed that the number of yellow signs signified the volume of crime in the area. They also reported feeling uneasy when they saw a sign in a location that they often visited or passed through."

But, was their use justified by the crime figures? Well, the report states, triumphantly, that:

"Personal robbery offences decreased by 50% during the dates the signs were in place, they then increased by 50% after the signs were removed."

However, if you look at the figures themselves, what happened is that there were a total of two muggings (on all of the streets included in the initiative) in the six weeks prior to the signs being put up. This figure reduced to one for the "six weeks" that they claim the signs were up. For the six weeks thereafter, there were two muggings.

Ignoring for the fact that the period they claim the signs were in place in Brockley bears no relation to reality, the variation is statistically insignificant and the very low level of muggings on those streets suggest that the whole exercise was a little OTT in first place. The report also ignores the fact that their own figures show that over the same three periods, the number of burglaries rose from 6 to 8 while the signs were in place and then fell back to two.

All of which means relatively little except for the following conclusions we can draw:

  1. It wasn't only the precious middle classes of the Conservation Area who felt more uncomfortable walking their own streets as a result of the initiative
  2. There wasn't much of a recorded street crime problem in the first place
  3. The trial provides no good evidence to suggest the exercise should be repeated

50 comments:

Headhunter said...

Lies, damn lies and statistics. 50% reduction! What a joke.

What fantastic use of taxpayers money. I wonder how much it cost to produce the signs in the 1st place and then have a team of contractors drive round putting them up? And it's not even as if street crime was a huge issue in the first place (2 muggings in the week preceding the dates given).

As we pointed out, the signs didn't last very long, in fact I don't think the council ever took them down, rather they were ripped down by local residents. In fact the little ties they were strapped to lamposts with are still in place on several streets, further "enhancing" the street environment

And someone else pointed out here that if you have the damn cheek to pin a notice to a tree regarding a missing cat or upcoming event, you risk a £75 fine. Someone needs to fine whoever was responsible for this.

I suppose it's only to be expected given that all the council's aims outlined by Nick earlier centre on crime and social housing/issues above all else.

lb said...

Vehicle crime seemed to reduce quite noticeably, mind you, wouldn't you agree?

"it's not even as if street crime was a huge issue in the first place":

- well, the report stated that it had reached a peak level in 06/07, so there is, or was, clearly some kind of issue. The signs are one (relatively) cheap way of raising awareness that has been shown to have an effect elsewhere in London and was probably worth a try. Not sure the period they were up for was really long enough to demonstrate their effectiveness, especially as they were quickly vandalised by nimbies.

b. said...

waste of time and money. dont they they know the news is already doing enough of a job reporting knife crime.

media frenzy anyone?

do dah said...

This whole thing had a creepy aura around it.

drakefell debaser said...

It's a very useful insight into how the council spend their time and money and does little to ease my pain of that council tax direct debit. Drawing conclusions from a 7 week experiment is futile. I also think it is laughable that they seem to hail it as a success. A better police presence or even community support officers would probably see a similar reduction in car crime. After all, a day glo board will not climb off its lamp post to intervene in any untoward behaviour and joking aside, people would probably become de sensitised to them after a while if they were put up everywhere. Assuming the public did not tear them down within a few weeks. Stop wasting money Lewsiahm.

The Brockley Telegraph said...

This whole post has a dramatic 'whiff' of NIMBY-ISM to it.

I mean, why are we concentrating purely on the low 'easy to rubbish' statistics for Personal Robbery whilst completely ignoring the dramatic change in motor vechicle crime?

For those who didn't know - the figures were:

Before Signs put up - 15 crimes
Whilst Signs up - 6 crimes
After Signs taken down - 12 crimes.

There were three aims for putting the signs up, a reduction in motor vechicle crime was one of them.

This is a dramatic change, alongside the minor but still postive changes in the other targets this was surely a good postive thing to introduce.

Well done lewisham council for getting something right!

The Brockley Telegraph said...

...and don't forget its much cheaper to do this then have additional police presence or community support officer - those who complain about council tax should be pleased.

Anonymous said...

LB - surely a community crime prevention should be backed by the...community.

And it was not Nimbyism - just because we didn't agree with it, or your opinion on why it was valid, and the stats have now backed that (it was not designed to reduce car crime - in fact, the stats showing car crime reducing probably show that signs, which specified Ipods were useless - as car crime - which was not targeted, reduced anyway.)doesn't mean we are Nimbys. That's a cheap shot, surely?

patrick1971 said...

You have to hand it to the council statisticians for chutzpah, though. They must have been screaming with glee at the "50% reduction" figure...genius!

What I think the whole episode shows (and I speak as one who was in favour of the signs) is just how little visibility there is in a lot of council dealings. It took Nick ages, IIRC, to even find anyone to admit some sort of responsibility for the signs, and then even longer to get to the bottom of who'd actually done it, when, why, etc.

drakefell debaser said...

Yes these signs may be cheaper than real police officers Andy but are you agreeing then that a short trial is justification to put them down your road? And, would you feel safer as a result?

The Brockley Telegraph said...

Ive openly said in the past (on this topic) that if independent research carried out prior to the signs being up showed that they were needed in my street then I would accept it.

The reduction in car crime may well be a by-product of the initial aim but this is how these things work. I'm not surprised to see this happen, actually, I would of expected something like this.

There was actually bright yellow signs around the station when I moved into the area warning of a street assualt. It was accepted then. But that wasn't the conservation area or a NIMBY area. What does that tell you.

I agree they can be alarming but as I pointed out before, you would expect this rather than police footpatrols because 1) they are cheaper and 2) you need to provide equal protection against the law for those who do not have the cultural sensitivites to protect themselves. I.e. knowing what the warning signs are to look out for.

Brockley Nick said...

@lb - I didn't mention car crime because the signs made no mention of car crime and because I was pointing out that they were being selective with figures, choosing to highlight car crime reduction, but ignoring burglary. If this was supposed to be an unbiased analysis of policy, then that is very poor - it reads more like a retrospective justification.

@Andy - I don't think you understand what a NIMBY is - it is someone who welcomes something in principle but objects to it in their own back yard. eg: "I think we should build more prisons, but I don't want one near me" or "I think we need to be generating more energy from wind power, but it's totally inappropriate to put a turbine in my part of the world."

My objection is that these kinds of signs have no place on any streets. Particularly on streets with no obvious problem with street crime.

max said...

I used to be rather supportive, or better not too bothered by the signs because I believed that there was a good reason for them.
I take it all back.

lb said...

Anon@12:48 - I think it's entirely fair to characterise the people who actively went and removed the signs as nimbies, don't you?

Headhunter said...

It's laughable that the council is trying to claim such a victory over a 7 week trial! Do they/we really believe that either the criminals were "frightened" off by the signs or that people walking the streets of Brockley were suddenly more crime aware, looking over their shoulders with every step.

But then FLASH, suddenly after 7 weeks the signs came down and everything went back to how it was before, the criminals came back and Brockley-ites once again started waving their i-pods around in public with gay abandon.

What a complete load of tripe! I believe less and less in our local council....

Headhunter said...

....In fact I think it's worrying that this is our authorities view on crime. No wonder the Daily Mail/Evening Standard are having a field day with knife crime....

Anonymous said...

Seeing as those removing the signs are in many cases quite literally removing them from their 'back yard', I think the label is appropriate. Say what you see...

Headhunter said...

Well NIMBY, CAVE, good neighbour/resident, the whole thing appears to have been a waste of money so who cares what the label?

The Brockley Telegraph said...

@Nick - the 'NIMBY' element is the comparision between accepting bright yellow signs around the station (which were not highlighted as an issue and considered a good thing when we last talked about this topic) and the desire to not have them on peoples immediate streets in the conservation area.

I remember peoples arugements on this blog before where along the lines of: 'why arn't these near the station where they would be most useful and not on manor road etc.'. Well, thats called NIMBY-ISM.

I note that your view is different to that. I wouldn't see you as a NIMBY-IST.

There is the wider issue of whether or not signs like this should be on any streets, but this is modern policing for you.

I.e:

1. Cheap.
2. Has (and this proves) measurable results.
3. Effective (everyone can relate to what the sign says - equalit before the law, irrespecitve of language or other cultural barriers).

Brockley Nick said...

@anon - fine, if that's your definition, then it's stripped of the "double-standards" aspect, in which case it's no longer a derogatory term.

People use the term NIMBY to accuse the of being hypocrites - there's nothing hypocritical about saying that the signs are a bad idea.

Anonymous said...

LB - I was the anon that said this wasn't nimbyism - and no, taking the signs down is not nimbyism - see Nick's post for an argument that reflects mine.

Andy - yawn....

lb said...

I wouldn't say, looking at the report, that "the council is trying to claim such a victory over a 7 week trial", and neither do they believe that the signs frightened criminals off. That wasn't their purpose, in any case - it was to raise awareness.

The conclusion the report reaches is that the signs may be useful in the context of a broader initiative, which is fairly reasonable. I'm not sure where you get the impression that the report claims the reductions achieved are a "victory"; it merely presents any figures recorded, as it probably should. I don't think the signs were up long enough for any very firm conclusions to be drawn.

Personally I'm of the opinion that people need to be made more aware of simple things they can do to avoid becoming the target of opportunistic thieves; signs are a cheap and quick way of achieving this.

Anonymous said...

but in the interests of preventing other local crime, may we also have signs reminding people to lock their front doors, don't park in dark areas, and turn the cooker off (one there for home safety - gas explosions DO occur).

Oh - and a leaflet campaign to tell people to tie their laces would stop some of those accident and emergency trips.

Wow - we can prevent SO much if we choose to

Anonymous said...

all good comments - and exactly the kind of thing that should be addressed to Heidi Alexander - if not for any other reason but to see how gracefully she can bat the whole thing away from herself

owzthat!

lb said...

As said above, actually going and taking the signs down is a case of being concerned only with what's entirely in front of your own nose, so I think the label's pretty appropriate. Whatever your opinion of the signs' worth, we've all (indirectly) contributed to funding them, so I'm a bit annoyed that certain people would just go out and remove them. After all, I'm sure you'd all be annoyed if a public garden was vandalised; this is the same principle at root. I disagree with plenty of things the Council does but that doesn't give me the automatic right to uproot something it's placed there.

lb said...

Anon@14:52 - pity we can't do the same for pointless, sarcastic posts on websites, though.

Tressillian james said...

LB what rot! - the label is not appropriate - I, for one, mentioned them down near Friendly street (not my back yard) and how I thought they were inappropriate!

I am also annoyed at the funding - but for different reasons..

Kung Fu Hustle said...

That post was sarcastic - but I kind of get the point anon was trying to make, don't you LB?

lb said...

[TJ] What, and did you go and cut down one of the signs? I'd remind you those are the people I'm taliing about here.

lb said...

[KFH] Yes, we can all recognise reductio ad absurdum - I can see his (or her) point, I just think that the signs do have some benefit in this case, so it isn't much of a point at all.

Headhunter said...

LB - but that's the whole point, most of don't believe there was any benefit and that they were a complete waste of council money

Tressillian James said...

No I didn't cut them down - 'down by Friendly Street' is just my bad English. I understand but at the worst you could call them vandals - we have no way of knowing why those signs were pulled down.

lb said...

[TJ] Realised that's what you meant, was just wondering if you'd done anything about it yourself.

Someone on this very site claimed to have taken one of the signs down because they didn't like them (can't be bothered finding the post right now!) so at least one person did it for this reason. Even if you think they were a waste of money in the first place (I don't, but appreciate some people do) then they were even more of a waste of money after that.

The Brockley Telegraph said...

IB, a number of people claimed to have taken them down (and were proud to admit it).

Thats just local NIMBY-ist intolerence. These will tend to be the same people who promote paying lower taxes, but complain about cost effective solutions. It is completely hypicritical.

Tressilliana said...

'There was actually bright yellow signs around the station when I moved into the area warning of a street assualt. '

I think you may mean that there was a police sign asking for potential witnesses to come forward if they had been in the area at the time of an assault. Different from a general warning that there may be people about who might be considering launching an assault.

PS Please, Andy, do you think you could write 'have' and not 'of' in sentences like 'I would of expected something like this'. I know I'm being a grammar pedant but that particular misuse of English drives me nuts.

Anonymous said...

Tressilliana

"English drives me nuts"

I'm a bit of a pedant about nuts, could you specify what kind of nuts you are being driven to? Brazil, Chestnut, Pea, Macadamia, etc

thanks very much

Tressilliana said...

Now if I was going to be an out and out pedant I would point out that peanuts are actually legumes, not nuts (botanically speaking) but then I would be driven from the blog with pointy sticks.

Sorry, overcome by pedantry this afternoon. Must be the heat.

drakefell debaser said...

Let’s not muddy the waters. There is a clear argument here – those that think the signs work and those that think they do not. NIMBY arguments and indeed NIMBY-ist intolerance and hypocrisy needn’t come into it. It would be best to find out how much this experiment cost in the first place before labelling it as a ‘cost effective solution’. You also have to ask is this a ‘solution’ given that the statistics only cover a 21 week period and cover roads in New Cross as well as Brockley. Did the roads in Brockley see a greater swing in numbers than the roads in New Cross for instance? I appreciate they are next door to each other but I feel much safer walking around Brockley than I do in certain parts of New Cross. What other boroughs have tried this initiative and what were the results of those trials? The report shows that residential burglary went up during the trial period for example so, is it fair to say that these signs encouraged people to break into houses and not cars, no, because you need far longer than 5 months and more than a handful of roads to draw any conclusion.

Bea said...

I'd like to suggest that the nuts in question are otherwise known as a "dead metaphor".

Anonymous said...

sorry for the legume interjection, will be more careful with my nuts in future...

Tressilliana said...

'Dead metaphor' - learned a new phrase! Thanks, Bea. Yes, that's exactly what it is. I have no idea what the origin of the phrase is - why do we use 'nuts' as a synonym for 'crazy' or 'mad'?

Monkeyboy said...

I'm going running in a my with my Nokia N95 8GB. It has a GPS 'Sorts Tracker' function which apparently enables me to plot my route on Google Earth. It's a desirable phone, if any muggers are reading this you can TRY and catch me.

The signs were a well meaning but daft idea. Fear of crime can affect your quality of life as much as actual crime. I'm an eternal optimist, If I get robbed you can say I told you so.

Headhunter said...

I've just upgraded to an N95, I like the idea of the sat nav for cycling and running and the 8GB storage for music... Better watch out walking around Brockers

The Brockley Telegraph said...

I have a N95, it really isnt that good. The iphone (which i also have) is much better.

The problem with the N95 is the nokia software - its terrible!

Headhunter said...

Yeah but the iphone isn't available for free but the N95 is

Monkeyboy said...

'tis a great gimmick but the GPS is really not that great to be honest. It takes an age to lock on and isn't that accurate, but it kind off works. If your serious about logging your rides I think Garmin do some cool stuff that you can use.

The Nokia thing is only a 'beta' test service http://www.sportstracker.nokia.com/nts/main/index.do

right, need a shower and a pie to recover....

Monkeyboy said...

....and the muggers couldn't bring themselves to rob a shuffling, sweaty mess like me. See? tno need for signs. Case proven

Matthew said...

you're right monkeyboy - the N95 is useless for running / cycling. Garmin Forerunners are miles better for embellishing your exercise with statistical nerdery. Also, the one I've got (301) looks like a big out of date watch and so is never going to appeal to the style conscious street urchin, thus reducing street crime even more than yellow signs (sort of)

A said...

The report is being discussed tonight at the 'Safer Stronger' scrutiny committee if anyone is interested in attending.

Headhunter said...

Yeah, Garmin is the name to reckon with in sports GPS I have heard. Never used anything like it myself though. I would just be interested in seeing if the Nokia can just help me find my way when I'm lost in the middle of Kent or something. I don't necessarily need all the nerdy stats

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