Friday, May 27, 2005

Signs of Crime

Every time there's a spate of burglaries and muggings on my street a new crop of crime prevention posters mysteriously appears one morning, like mushrooms. This is the latest.

‘You are entering a SmartWater Detection Area. Police in Lambeth are encouraging people to mark their belongings with this product’

I'm not sure what SmartWater is. I suppose it's a commercial product. Presumably the Metropolitan Police are on a commission. Now that would be an interesting revenue model - Don't do job properly = More commission from endorsing products bought by people worried about crime.

Nice ...

In recent years London has become a city filled with garish nonsense signs. Signs designed to ward off compensation claims. Signs telling you you can’t sit down, drive, park, take pictures, walk, talk or breathe. Signs for all occasions. None of them very nice or in any way helpful to Joe Public.

My personal favourite sign genre is the classic bright yellow ‘Murder Board’, set out by the police asking for witnesses or any information about nastier crimes. Thoughtfully set up at the crime sites, they act as a handy marker and reminder of just how dangerous particular neighbourhoods are.

There are always a couple of good ones within convenient walking distance from my front door. I started collecting them for a while until it got too depressing.

Now, apparently, the police are thinking about doing away with their Murder Boards. Not because crime is under control or anything silly like that but because of concern that they generate public anxiety while adding little or no benefit to police investigations …

“We are considering whether there are better ways of seeking information, which are more reassuring for the public. The boards go up where it is thought they are needed but they sometimes don't come down quickly enough... If we do still use them, should we not have follow up boards saying 'we solved this'?"

This observation probably comes from the same people who have decided that local residents can’t ask police for information about crimes committed in their area. On a couple of occasions I’ve asked the local police to tell me how many burglaries and assaults have taken place along my street over the previous twelve months. I was basically told to bugger off on the basis that such information would be misleading and counter-productive. Misleading and counterproductive for who?

Mugging rates in South London are up 40% on last year. Forty nine people were shot in London last month, three of them died. That’s up from twelve shootings in April 2004. The head of the Metropolitan Police was on the radio yesterday saying that much of the increase in street robbery was due to people wearing white headphones, identifying themselves as people carrying items worth stealing. Beyond any reasonable level of doubt, the head of the Metropolitan Police is a dick.

Yes, the Metropolitan Police Force and its new 3 Point strategy for fighting crime ...

1. Own nothing worth stealing
2. Don't walk the streets at night
3. Convince yourself there isn't a problem

I’d say we have a problem. And some arse thinks that if they take the signs away we’re not going to notice. Or maybe they just don’t have enough signs to keep up.

PS On a brighter note. The very fragrant Londonist site covers this story and links to an interesting Flickr group. A few weeks ago I mentioned in a blog posting that organised tourist walks of Jack the Ripper murder sites were a bit of a rip(per)-off as none of the original buildings remain. Someone else was clearly thinking along the same lines and posted this informative sequence of photos here. Tacky yes, but nicely composed.

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