Friday, February 16, 2007

What were you thinking?

At church last week we had a talk from a senior member of the Warwickshire police. Very interesting. For one thing, he asked us to guess how many crimes of various sorts were committed. We guessed, and then he told us the real figures, which were far, far lower than we had guessed. There is a serious perception gap about crime levels here – things are no-where near as bad as people think. Why? Well, partly because when crime happens, it makes the news, and we remember it, and when crime doesn’t happen, we don’t see it and don’t remember it. But I suspect that it’s also a cynical ploy by politicians on all sides to exploit people’s fear of crime.

Sadly, the wrong perception causes its own problems. Overprotective parents won’t let their kids walk to school, and that makes the streets less safe. Fear makes us avoid certain groups and individuals, whose very isolation then makes them more prone to criminality. The climate of fear allows politicians to pass obscene legislation like the SOCPA.

The speaker also made a really good point on why he thought traffic policing was important. He’s had to pass on bad news to family members of murder victims and people who died in road traffic accidents, and in his experience, the trauma felt by the relatives is exactly the same – it makes no difference if the killer did it on purpose or by accident.

One other thing we thought about was how crime could be cut. There are people who think that “zero tolerance policing” and stronger punishments would help. In reality, most crimes are committed by people for whom the threat of any kind of punishment is no deterrent - either because they think they’ll get away with it, or because they simply don’t think before they act. Tougher sentences won’t deter them any more that the sentences we have now. In reality the clamour for tougher sentencing isn’t about crime reduction at all: it’s about the base desire for retribution. That isn’t Jesus’ way.

Next month, coincidentally, we’ve got another speaker talking on “does prison work?” I look forwards to that one – maybe I’ll ask an inflammatory question …


Blogger McSwain said...

Interesting point about the streets being less safe because children aren't walking to school, etc. I'd never thought of that, but you're so right.

10:04 PM  

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