If it bleeds, it leads

We've been thinking about how we cover crime locally - about what gets covered and what doesn't. We've tried to codify our approach and we wanted to ask you whether you think we've got it right.

Firstly, the local papers are pretty comprehensive when it comes to crime. Brockley Central has always tried to fill in the gaps when it comes to local reporting, so we don't give a lot of space to the issue, about which we have little to add anyway.

Secondly, we try to write about stuff you can do something about - businesses you can try, events you can attend, causes you can support, behaviours you can change and so on. Trends are important - they tell you how good a job we're all doing at creating a safe community - which is why we report the crime figures, whenever they're published. We also report the really high-profile cases that make the national news agenda and relevant police appeals for witnesses.

But in the case of the sorts of violent crime that often dominate local news, there's relatively little that you can learn from the fact that one happened near you, except perhaps to be fearful. For example, the South London Press recently carried an interview with a woman who helped a boy stabbed on Dalrymple Road. The story she describes is indeed horrific and needed to be told. However, the interview also includes her analysis of "Broken Britain" - painting a picture of a society in terminal decline:

“This culture of anger, aggression, weaponry and anti-establishment on the streets of South London is horrifying. Our society has lost something. I am unsure what.

“These kids use the word ‘respect’ widely and in my opinion have little respect for anyone or anything other than their individual needs. Does anyone have any ideas as to what we all could do to restore some community spirit to our environment?

“Should our legal system be tougher, our schools stronger, our parenting more disciplined?

The quotes are reported without question but the reality is that society is becoming safer. The Economist has a brilliant analysis of the long-term trends in the UK. Violent crime peaked in 1995 and has been declining steadily since. True, it also says that "violence at the hands of strangers—the prospect that probably drives fear of crime more than anything else—has fallen by far less, and in fact rose in the most recent reporting period," but the trend is down.

Despite this, fear of crime doubled between 1997 and 2009. People refuse to believe the statistics or the picture they paint. Check out the most recent discussion of Lewisham's crime statistics for a local example of this phenomenon.

It also has something to say about the threat that young people pose (something to keep in mind while reading the outlandish fears expressed by some in response to a plan to install a skate ramp locally):

Children also seem to be committing fewer serious offences themselves. Martin Narey, a former Home Office big cheese who now runs Barnardo’s, a venerable children’s charity, points out that the number of under-16s being convicted of the gravest offences is at least a third lower than it was in the early 1990s.

And to what does the Economist attribute much of the disconnect between the reality and perception? Changing media consumption. Although ironically, it's the switch from local to national newspapers that gets some of the blame:

But there is one big change: a shift in readership from local papers to national ones. Mr Cameron’s comfortable Witney constituents are dropping the Oxford Mail in favour of national titles or the television, which report the most gruesome stories from across the country, not just the county. In this way local crises, such as an outbreak of teenage stabbings in London in 2007 and 2008, become national panics... And bad news travels best: the fact that London’s teenage-murder rate quietly halved last year was not widely reported outside the capital.

We believe that events like the Hilly Fields Summer Fayre are a better indicator of Brockley's social cohesion than the terrible crimes that occasionally take place on our streets and we believe that we should challenge the bleak picture occasionally painted by local news.

26 comments:

kung fu hustle said...

Nick - I was keeping up with the 'skate debate' and I didn't see anything there that merited the label of 'outlandish fears'. Are you sucumbing to Daily Mail standards of writing yourself? There were concerns about grafitti, views, noise, and which park would be best etc. all very valid and something SPAG will no doubt address.

Brockley Nick said...

Concerns about noise, views and (maybe) grafitti are indeed valid areas for discussion.

I'm talking about the people who made multiple references to gang culture (and the implication that violent crime would follow).

Tom said...

I've also been pointing to that Economist article to people, it really is a 'sit up and think people' type of piece that counters the negative propaganda/nonsense/'news' we are pummelled with every day by the sensationalist and irresponsible national press.

It is highly unfortunate that the Tory party, likely to form the next government, has jumped on the meaningless and evidence free viewpoint of 'broken Britain'.

As the Economist article points out, there is a cost to this drivel: vast amounts of time and money spent on the wrong policies designed to solve problems that either don't exist or are misunderstood.

Paddyom said...

My friends flat was broken into in the conservation area yesterday. Not much taken but a horrible invasion of whats meant to be a safe private space. Given the blase response by the Police I assume the criminals will get away scott free with no one looking for them. This lack of support from the Police worries me more than rising published crime figures.

Brockley Nick said...

And at a local level, the cost is that people retreat from parks and open spaces and our main streets.

As people become more afraid to go out, it's a self-fulfilling prophecy - deserted areas become no-go zones. People choose to drive to out of town shopping centres with private security, rather than walk down their local high street.

Fear is the enemy of localism and community.

Brockley Nick said...

@paddyom - none of the above is meant to belittle the experiences of those directly affected by crime. And if police aren't delivering an effective response, that is absolutely a valid area for coverage and debate.

Tom said...

To be specific, the sensation that many people respond to is a sense of loss of community.

As the interviewee said above: "Does anyone have any ideas as to what we all could do to restore some community spirit to our environment?"

In the 1990s, the Labour Party (and much of the Left) said an excess of 'market' under Thatcher had atomised society. Now, after 13 years of state expansion (alongside continued marketisation of society), Cameron is advocating a mix of high Christian morality (Iain Duncan Smith etc) and lightweight modernist right-wing ideas (PolicyExchange/Nick Boles). There was a good piece in the FT about this recently by Chris Cook - well worth a read.

Overall, however, it is difficult to believe that either prescription amounts to much. Forming local communities in large cities with transient populations will also be an enormous challenge, and national level politicians are probably not the right people to turn it around.

There is a lot of buzz about localisation but for that term to mean anything it requires national politicians to hand over power. As such, don't hold your breath (unless people demand it).

Paddyom said...

@Nick - understood. Mine was a slightly off topic comment.

Anonymous said...

I note some time back that some residents were up in arms regarding the yellow crime boards that had been placed across the conservation area - without the residents' being consulted. The residents removed the signs. But the council said that the boards would have only remained for 'two weeks'. (If that is so, why are they still up in Tanner's Hill.) The curious thing is that no such crimes had taken place in those streets leading up the the appearance of the boards?...
Fear is a powerful tool in the wrong hands.

Monkeyboy said...

To be fair, the oposition in at the time (of whatever colour) always exploit the fear of crime - it's the sound bite writers dream.

Tom said...

Agreed monkeyboy, but I think what Nick's saying is that in the past the local press used to provide a fuller picture of community life. Nowadays, we just have national newspapers screaming at us about how hoody killers are stalking the streets and paedos are after our kids. There is little or no balancing element in our society (but does - possibly - drive demand for sites like BC).

quick brown fox said...

At least once the Tories get into power (boo! hiss!) it'll be in their interests to show crime falling thereafter.

I agree it's best that this blog doesn't focus too much on crime. We see the yellow boards, the news headlines in the local press - we don't need it discussed ad nauseam on here too.

Anonymous said...

Congratulatins on an excellent blog. At last someone printing the reality of our streets and using good research to show up hysterical national newspaper coverage on this subject especially on the subject of youth crime. If we continue to criminalise our younger generations then it will become a self fulfilling prophecy. Bravo again!

Anonymous said...

Brockley is a relatively safe area. Much more so than other areas in London or South East London.
In safeness it is probably as safe as Greenwich or Ladywell although possibly not as safe as Blackheath.
On the other hand it is much safer than Lewisham, New Cross, Peckham, Camberwell or Catford.
On the other hand I have seen on more than one occassion gangs in the Crofton Park area. Although this was a couple of years ago.

Anonymous said...

The Blog shouldn't focus on crime as that would be too depressing. Brockley is as the other anon said a relatively safe area.

Monkeyboy said...

Anon @17:19 kind of illustrates the point, how safe you feel has little to do with the demonstrable level of crime. It's perception, is Brockley safer than peckham but more dangerous than Crofton park?

love detective said...

while it's undoubtedly true that overall crime is falling, what most people seem to miss when they launch into what often feels like a tirade against these seemingly irrational people who 'fear crime' is that the fall in crime is an asymmetrical phenomena - people who find themselves in a position least able to deal with the effects of, or to be able to guard against, crime arguably bear a higher brunt of crime (and anti social behaviour in general) than those who can

take the article from the economist as an example, who point out that a 'big chunk' of the overall fall in crime comes from a reduction in vehicle theft and domestic burglary - and point to alarm manufacturers and householder vigilance as being just as much a factor than anything the police is doing - this clearly points to a situation where the more resources you have in order to guard against crime then the less you are likely to be a victim of crime (gated communities anyone?) - but unfortunately resources are not distributed evenly throughout society leaving some unable to take the measures that others can to protect themselves from crime

Rob Blackie said...

You're right that the Economist article is brilliant. However it does point out that the big fall in violent crime has been in domestic violence - which I'd guess is mainly a long term cultural change.

I also think that we are less accepting of violence than we used to be. A friend of mine living in Brockley had a time recently when she was punched on the street - and burgled a couple of weeks later.

She's no shrinking violet - but, understandably, was very pissed off - and is considering moving house. I suspect that 30 years ago (ie when I was a kid) we'd have all seen that as fairly run of the mill.

Incidentally the ambulances called out to stabbing statistics for Lewisham are fascinating - I'll put them out soon and send them over to you.

Monkeyboy said...

Love detective has a point, It's those with the least that appear to bear the brunt. Middle class blog readers (like me) are unlikley to encounter much criminality.

Brockley Nick said...

Yes, the Economist says the same thing - small problem areas bear the brunt. But the point is that the majority of people nonetheless believe the risk they face is going up.

The evidence suggests that these problem areas should be the focus for intervention. Public opinion demands that we see bobbies on the beat on every street.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Nick.

I used to be a journalist on a local paper (not in Lewisham) and would try to avoid being given crime stories to write because, frankly, they bored me. There was no wider implication from most of them for most readers, they rarely signalled any trends as you say, or told a useful story about people's wider experience; usually it was just something unpleasant happened to someone - and that's it.

I think you're right that, unless there really is a serious crimewave of some kind, you do indeed learn more about what it is like to live in a community if you hear about, say, Brockley Fun Run or read a discursive piece about, say, the rebuild-or-refurb-old-schools debate or housing policies or whatever.

South London Press is the worst on this score, with rape/guns/murder/stabbing apparently on a strict rotation on its front page.

Streetwalker said...

I thought there was going to be more police on the beat,you will very rarely see a police officer after 6 o'clock, unless they are In a car, with sirens blaring for no other reason than to get through traffic, or a red light.

Anonymous said...

sirens blaring for no other reason than to get through traffic, or a red light

How do you know? Are you linked up to the internal radio system.

You may be useful. Please email me at

generalisation at numpty dot com

Anonymous said...

Jeremy Kyle has shown people don't
have to put up with a violent relationship, hence a fall in domestiic violence?

Anonymous said...

When it comes to communicating with those in authority the language skills of residents in Blackheath are far greater than those in Catford.

Although I have to say Catford residents can be more forthright in how they express themselves.

I attended meetings in both areas where residents had similar problems regarding people drinking in public areas. Catford had a more serious problem than Blackheath.

Blackheath: By the end of the meeting councillors, police and residents had organised a joint meeting to take place within days.

Catford: Councillors passed the question to the police, who said they did their best but were let down by the courts. Basically there was nothing that could be done.

Spot the difference?

So in Catford the problem continued until it became publicly or politcally embarassing.

If communities are about balance, why do those in authority choose to concentrate hostels housing people with anti-social behaviour problems in a certain area?

Then national stats indicate that area has high anti-social issues etc.

Anonymous said...

Something else that didn't happen.

http://www.newsshopper.co.uk/news/5421935.LEWISHAM__Police_appeal_after_18_year_old_stabbed/

Do NU Labour statistics tell us so much more than a free press? But hey enjoy living in your nice bourgeois bubble; but when it comes to your doorstep don't expect anyone else to care.

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