Urban safety.

Author:Frevel, Bernhard
Position:Editorial
 
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  1. Safety, Security and Fear of Crime in the City

    In Germany as well as in other continental European states, a debate was initiated in the late 1980s and in the 1990s, which had already taken place in the USA. Crime, disorder, incivilities, fear of crime, social segregation, demise of the cities and much more were regarded as a sign of the unstable situation, which became the subject of social, political and economic discourse.

    An alarming situation was portrayed and is still portrayed in the press coverage in the newspapers and weekly magazines. The small town of Wehr in Baden-Wurttemberg (Sudkurier 16.06.2005) was described as "a hotbed of larceny", or similarly, Elmshorn in SchleswigHolstein as "a place with a high crime rate" (WedelSchulauer-Tageblatt 24.05.2005). "Citizens concerned about safety" was the headline of the Frankfurter Neue Presse on 08.06.2005. On 20.05.2005 the internet service provider T-Online published a safety-ranking under the title: "The most dangerous places in Germany". And while Hamburg and Frankfurt were contending for the undesirable title of "Crime Capital", Berlin is "in first place in Germany for the number of crimes committed" (Berliner Morgenpost 09.06.2005). An article in the weekly magazine "Der Spiegel" "Dreckspatzen und Drecksarbeit" (No. 24, 1997, P. 50) concerned itself with "miserable wretches and professional criminals, graffiti covered walls and house burglars, wrecked cars at the roadside and weeds between the paving stones--increasing numbers of citizens are beginning to see all of this as the writing on the wall of chaos, that could soon destroy cities and societies."

    By the end of the 20th century, the theme of safety in the city had surpassed the previous political debate on organized crime, and the discourse on the problem of violent crime has come into the fore. At the beginning of the 21st century the debate on urban safety continued to simmer, while terrorism, with its many associated forms, became the main focus of the discussion on security.

    The discussion on urban safety had several effects. In areas of local government and national security, changes in policy, as well as polity and politics took place: Technical and personal controls in public areas were extended, not only under the umbrella of crime prevention, but also because of the desire for an improvement in the feeling of security. Local councils in several cities introduced uniformed civic wardens; in some federal states "voluntary police units" were deployed, and the video surveillance of streets and other public places was permitted and intensified. By means of security networks, neighbourhood watch schemes and crime prevention committees, the communication, cooperation and coordination of work on security by various actors could be integrated. This involved not only the police and local communities, as well as private security firms, civil society groups such as charities and sports clubs, and other public institutions (schools, citizens' advice bureaus etc.). The activities not only involved a "fight against crime", but were widened to include the "fight against the fear of crime", areas which are well below the threshold of criminal law. In doing so, behaviour which conflicted with middle-class standards, such as begging, the consumption of alcohol in public places, loitering and other forms of incivilities and disorder became a focal point.

    If people's perception and action change, and if there is a wider, not just academic debate on urban safety, it is necessary to look for an empirical basis, to view the problem in context, and to examine the impact of action strategies with regard to their aims and effectiveness. It is also necessary to differentiate between various problem areas and discussion themes.

  2. The empirical basis

    Starting with the state of affairs of crime in Germany: According to public debate, a large increase in "public" crime would be expected. Offences such as stealing handbags, hold-ups in public areas, assault, theft from and of cars, violation of public peace and vandalism come under the concept of so-called "street crime". In 1993 in Germany, this area of public crime reached its peak, with almost 2.4 million registered cases--then in the next ten years fell by 800,000 criminal offences, a fall of around 30% (Federal Criminal Police Office/Bundeskriminalamt 2004: 242). The largest share in the fall of crimes was in the area of car crime. In other areas, the tendencies are not so clear. Assaults on streets and other public places stagnated, with slight fluctuations, at around 25,000 offences per year, while bodily injury has shown a continual rise. Reports of damage to property have also increased significantly.

    This quantitative development however must be seen in the context of the problem of evaluating police criminal statistics (see Frevel 1999: 46 ff.). On the one hand, they show an actual increase in criminal offences; on the other hand, they reflect a change in perception by the population and an increased willingness to report crime by the victims, and thereby a shift in the grey area of crime.

    The development of the fear of crime, which since the 1990s has gained increasing significance, has run almost parallel to the development of registered crime. From 1993 to 1995 the data on the sense of security of the Germans was alarming. 86 percent of East German citizens and 70 percent of West Germans felt that their safety on the streets was threatened (ipos 1995: 68). But it was not only the general fear for their safety which concerned the people; many had a tangible fear of themselves becoming a victim of crime. 29 percent of West Germans and 48 percent of East Germans expected to be mugged within the following 12 months. 42 and 63 percent respectively expected to be victim of a break-in, and 45 and 66 percent to be robbed (Stastisches Bundesamt 1994: 526 ff.). Surveys carried out by the North-Rhine-Westfalian police continuously showed that even though the situation improved in the following years (compare Dormann/Remmers 2000), the emotional fear of crime, as well as the cognitive risk assessment remained at a high level.

    There is a correlation between these personal attitudes towards crime and the so-called social attitudes towards crime, which have an effect on the assessment of crime as a social problem, as well as attitudes towards sanctions and policy towards crime. Opinions and attitudes towards criminal menace created a crime-related political climate in Germany characterised by an increasing acceptance of the expansion of police authority, the curtailing of civil liberties, the tightening of criminal law, as well as faster and tougher penalties in the courts. The success of the right-wing...

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