Signs o' the times

In response to the debate over the BIG YELLOW SIGNS (warning us all that we are never safe at any time, no matter how much we might like to think we are), Cllr Dean Walton made some enquiries to Council officers, to see where they came from and how long they intend to stick around.

Here's the response he's received from the Community Safety team:

"The yellow signs were agreed as a tactical option by the Safer Lewisham Partnership Joint Action Group (JAG) which is the joint operational tasking group for the borough. These were erected as a result of the detailed data analysis across the borough targeting particular hotspots, linked to proactive work aiming to reduce overall levels of crime across the borough and in hotspots.

"The Partnership is aware that the use of high visibility advice boards can alarm some people, and therefore only use them for a limited period in areas where there has been a specific police request for them. The signs in Brockley will be taken down in the next couple of weeks.

"We are also currently working on a multi-million pound street lighting project which will also help make our streets safer."

Good news that they won't stick around for long, although the letter is nearly two weeks old now and we haven't noticed their disappearance yet. Also, better street lighting is something to be welcomed.

However, the fact that the decision to put up the signs in the first place was made by the Safer Lewisham Partnership Joint Action Group (JAG) shows up the problem. The group is comprised of representatives from the police and local safer neighbourhoods groups and is accountable to no-one. As a result they take these kinds of decisions without wider community consultation.

More fundamentally, the problem with this kind of group is that it is comprised of people who are (for understandable reasons) preoccupied with crime, to the virtual exclsion of any other kind of consideration. Of course, the police have a crucial role to play in these debates about our streets but they are not the only voice that matters - there a reason why police states get a bad rep.

Likewise, Safer Neighbourhoods groups tend to consist of people whose lives have been blighted by crime. It's totally reasonable that they should feel crime is the number one priority too - and it's noticeable that the people who've spoken up on behalf of the signs have nearly all declared themselves to have been victims of street crime.

The mindset of many people involved in Safer Neighbourhood Teams is that there's no point in planting new public flower beds because people will only vandalise them and our streets are besieged by criminals, so every lamppost needs a dire warning attached. Our outside world is there to be protected against, not enjoyed. It's a pretty miserable world view and one that is counter-productive, since it creates a poor quality public environment, which breeds more crime.

But not everyone feels that way. Not everyone wants to live their lives looking over their shoulders or suspisciously eyeing up every young man they pass in the street. Some people like to be able to walk down their own street, without constantly being reminded of danger.

The signs are due to leave and we are not uniquely afflicted, but in future, it would be nice to think that the opinions of the majority of people, who are not obsessed with crime, might be sought.