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