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.