Should crime prevention move to participatory mode? A debate on the Manifesto of Aubervilliers and Saint-Denis at the National Community Safety Network’s conference in London

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London, 17 September 2013 – Efus organised a debate on the Manifesto of Aubervilliers and Saint-Denis at the annual conference of the National Community Safety Network (NCSN), held on 17 September on the campus of the University of Middlesex in London.

As budgetary cuts have drastically restricted their decision potential, local authorities have cut staff and, in the process, lost know-how as well as partnership opportunities. On a more optimistic note however, many delegates emphasised that this situation drives them to come up with new ideas about security and crime prevention. In this context, the very à propos theme of the NCSN conference, which gathered some 150 delegates from all over the United Kingdom, was “the future of community safety”. And the general consensus was that the choice of crime prevention, as stated in the Manifesto of Aubervilliers and Saint-Denis, is a “rational, strategic option that has the best cost-benefit ratio”.

Efus Vice President, Erich Marks took the floor to present 10 observations and 10 suggestions on crime prevention (see his presentation ). For a start, it is important to be clear about what we mean by crime prevention, he said. Is it crime prevention per se? Urban security? Urban safety? Intervention? Treatment? Quoting many different sources, including Efus and the Beccaria database, Erich Marks advocated for broad and multidisciplinary prevention strategies that include criminology, public health, victimology, sociology, education, psychology, economy, etc. The Manifesto of Aubervilliers and Saint-Denis promotes this approach based on qualitative and quantitative evidence, because in the long run, “A just city is a safer city”.

Project Manager at Efus, Mark Burton-Page presented the European Forum for Urban Security and the main recommendations of the Manifesto. “This document is the result of a collective work carried out over the past few years and of the discussions held before and during Efus’ December 2012 international conference in Aubervilliers and Saint-Denis,” he said. He added that the “Sharing the Manifesto” initiative developed by Efus throughout 2013 -with the financial support of the European Commission- is aimed at developing exchange between local decision-makers and members of civil society (individuals and NGOs) about the Manifesto and its thematic recommendations.

Following the presentation of the Manifesto recommendation on “citizen participation in security”, a debate took place with the NCSN delegates. Here is a summary of the main discussions:

How can we generate more community participation?
“Can we draft crime prevention programmes and implement them with more involvement from the community? This is a key theme in the United Kingdom,” asked one of the delegates. A representative from Sussex said she used tools such as web-based surveys on security and policing and that Sussex had ”achieved a degree of success on that.”

Someone noted that nowadays offenders use social networks to commit crimes whereas crime prevention partnerships still use traditional prevention methods. Several delegates mentioned that it would be interesting to develop web and smartphone apps that generate citizen participation (for policing, urban planning, mediation, street cleanliness, etc.)

The participation of volunteers in security activities was mentioned. Robert Greaves, NCSN chair, echoed the  “street pastors” initiative that started in 2003, which was very well received by residents and the police (this experience has been analysed in the CECOPS project that was led by the Metropolitan Police of London, and in which Efus was partner).

A delegate mentioned an experience whereby groups of citizens are given funds to manage security policies. In the same vein, Erich Marks related an experience carried in the German city of Bremen: after a newspaper article quoted local authorities saying they had invested 150,000 euros to reinforce security in a housing estate with a high level of petty crime, “a guy from the estate went to see the local authorities and told them, ‘give us the money directly and we will ensure security is re-established'”. This self-management experience was “a great success that led to a sharp drop in crime,” said Mr Marks.

How to ensure the representativity of a community?
This is an important question because public consultations often draw answers from interest groups who keep submitting the same sectorial demands. Isn’t there a risk of bypassing democratically elected bodies when engaging directly with civil society? (For instance the new Police and Crime Commissioners, which were elected in 2012 with a very low participation, have a wide range of powers). In some counties, local authorities have put in place “community ambassadors”. Here again, conference attendees mentioned the potential of web-based tools, in particular social media, to engage young people and other specific categories of the population. However, to reach underprivileged and marginalised groups, additional efforts are needed and specifically adapted tools must be developed. 

How not to disappoint citizens after having consulted them?
This is a key issue in participatory processes, and there is no clear answer to date. A delegate emphasised that in the United Kingdom, “most of the projects are financed for a period of only one year. Youth programmes for instance generate great expectations, but also great disappointment when they are suppressed after one year for lack of funding.” 

The debate on the Manifesto held at the NCSN conference confirms that citizen participation is a hot topic in the United Kingdom, and that exchanging among European cities is a good way to identify existing good practices and to foster new ones. Local authorities must indeed encourage citizens to take part in the drafting and implementation of urban security policies. But in order to prevent the risk of very quickly finding limits to the system, they should also establish a solid framework for doing so, and actively take part in the participatory process.


Read the Manifesto of Aubervilliers and Saint-Denis
NCSN website