Interview: Erich Marks, Director of Lower-Saxony’s Crime Prevention Council and of the German Congress for Crime Prevention

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Erich Marks is a key player in the German crime prevention field and one of the Forum’s main contacts. Holding a degree in education from the University of Bielefeld, Erich Marks has pursued numerous activities in youth work and crime prevention over more than 20 years. Most known to many as the public figure of the annual German Congress on Crime Prevention – Deutscher Präventionstag.
He is an active conference organiser and excellent networker for this to assure the success of one of the biggest annual events in European crime prevention policy and practice.
Apart from this, he is also directing the regional council on crime prevention for the Land of Lower-Saxony (LPR) in Hannover, which is the main platform for local crime prevention activities in the region.
Erich Marks is secretary of the Executive Committee of the International Centre for the Prevention of Crime (ICPC) and chairman of the Pro Child Foundation.

Erich Marks first came to the European Forum for Urban Safety in the 1990s within the ICPC context. Since then he has been active as a member of the Executive Committee shaping the overall policies and direction of the work of the Forum. He says about the Forum: “I have been particularly impressed by the strong spirit of professionalism which is well embedded in a stable personal and institutional network of European crime prevention.” He has also participated as an expert in the Forum’s Cultures of Prevention project.  
EFUS talked to him about his manyfold experiences in crime prevention work.

EFUS: How do you work together with other partners on the local level? And what are your experiences in this cooperation?

Erich Marks: The Crime Prevention Council of Lower Saxony unites more than 250 organisations and members, particularly local prevention councils and initiatives, as well as ministries, regional and academic organisations. In the cooperation with all actors, it is important to have clear responsibilities and division of work, as well as mutual acceptance of others’ competences; this is particularly true from a point of view of  subsidiarity, i.e. to deal with things on the level closest to citizens.

In your opinion, what are the main challenges for crime prevention work in Germany today?
Similarly to the situation in other countries, we talk quite naturally of “societal crime prevention” in Germany, by which we mean the necessity of active participation of all state and non-state actors, as well as the different disciplines and departments. But still, the change from a top-down to a network cooperation has not gone far enough. Another current challenge is the establishment of stronger and better evaluation, minimum standards, and quality management in crime prevention.
What is your personal approach in crime prevention? What is your conviction in your daily work?
I would like to answer this question with a quote from Saint-Exupéry: “If you want to built a boat, don’t divide the task, don’t give orders and don’t convince the men to pick up the wood. Rather, you must teach them to dream about the open and boundless sea”. When we apply this to safety and security in a local community, is means that apart from many good tools, thery should also be a constant dialogue about the ways in which local people want to live together. In any civil society, modern forms of debate and exchange must be developed, which adress not only the events better to be prevented, but also the ways of life that we strive for and that we want to achieve. From this perspective, prevention remains an attitude and constant process of learning and development of individuals, groups, and society as a whole.
What kind of reflections motivate you when you launch a new project, such as the Beccaria-project? 
I think that in crime prevention today, the question is not if we do something, but rather what we do. Questions of effects (Are we doing the right thing?) and of efficiency (Are we doing the right things in a good way?)  become more and more important in this field of work. Can you describe the context in which you began the Beccaria-Project? In 2003, the crime prevention council of Lower-Saxony has launched a quality offensive with the Beccaria project, which was co-financed by the AGIS programme  of the European Commission, and the European Forum has been one of the partner organisations in this project.
What are the positive aspects in local crime prevent work that you like most?
The differences and diversity of local prevention concepts. There are a number of general and basic experiences and recommendations for effective and knowledge-based prevention work, and still it is necessary that every local administration develops their own specific  concept for prevention. Each local community has thus a need for its own culture of prevention.
What is, in your opinion, the biggest challenge on the way towards improved community safety?
A general and indifferent fixation of responsibility for projects and programmes of crime prevention on one single institution, as well as the overestimation of technical crime prevention measures. Public private partnerships in crime prevention can only function if the top-down-orientation is joined by a bottom-up approach.
What kind of recommendations would you give other European partners from your experiences in crime prevention?
To think and plan globally in a European or international dimension as often as possible, but to act locally. Quite positively, very concrete prevention projects on the local lever are only a few mouse clicks away, or can be found side by side in the same data base.
What was the best story you have experienced in your career in crime prevention?
It is not so much a particular story, but it is the very many stories that I have collected over the years. I was very much moved by the close friendships, existing at times over decades, that have resulted from my professional work, and that have impressed me personally and continue to be impressive.