Security industry is part of the crime problem

16th May 2001

PALMERSTOWN is a grand place to live but like every other part of Dublin it is affected by crime. It’s mostly low grade stuff such as anti-social behaviour, vandalism and burglary.

But the worst bit of vandalism of the last 10 years wasn’t committed by ‘criminals’ at all. It was the decision by the Department of Education to put a steel fence around the school about four years ago.

To this day I don’t know what problem this was supposed to solve but every day I can see how it has degraded the area.

The school is surrounded by lawns and before the fence went up the open aspect of the green was a lovely amenity for the people of the area.

The Dept said at the time that they were trying to reduce vandalism. Now the vandals just scale the fence while the rest of us look through the bars. I strongly suspect that the fence reduced the insurance premiums for the school and that was the main reason for putting it up.

This solved the Dept’s problem and that is as far as their duty of care went. They couldn’t have cared less about the people of Palmerstown.

Such is the reasoning behind the huge growth in the security industry over the past 20 years. Everyone is trying to solve their own security problems and in many ways they only make the overall situation worse.

Time for a tale.

Actually this is a true story. Researchers in America were trying to find out what the effect of environment had on the crime rate. They took two cars and they left one in a ‘rough’ area and one in a ‘good’ area.

After a couple of days the one in the bad area was vandalised while the one in the good area was left alone. As one would suspect.

Then the researchers broke a window in the car in the good area. After a couple of nights the car was a wreck, every bit as bad as the one in the rough area.

Conclusion?

If you let the place go, people will live down to your expectations until a new equilibrium of behaviour is established at a lower level.

On some streets of this town the shops are a continuous wall of steel as individual shopkeepers try to protect their property. You can hardly blame them but it is now widely recognised that this response to crime only leads to ghettoisation which, in turn, leads to further crime.

The security industry cashes in on the individual response with a promise of individual security. At best the industry doesn’t do anything to solve the crime problem and at worst it creates the conditions for crime, as I’ve pointed out.

Ok. So if security is the negative answer to crime, what is the positive answer.

The long-term answer is get the general public out and about in public areas. Communities have retreated to their TVs and their cars. The social and moral force of the presence of the community on the streets has been lost.

Many of the solutions are environmental. Better lighting. Open spaces. Places to go. Places within walking distance.

In fairness, Dublin Corporation has implemented these measures where it can during the various renewal initiatives and the positive results can be seen.

Many of the shutters have come down or at least been kept behind the shop window. The streetscape is much improved as a result.

But it only shows how much still needs to be done. If a better environment can improve local morale then you only have to travel around the poorer parts of Dublin to see the opposite in effect.

When Iarnrod Eireann were building new stations for the Arrow line in west Dublin they gave some of the stations special treatment. Everything in Clondalkin and Cherry Orchard stations is made from quarter inch galvanised mild steel. They are actually quite similar to some of the British bases along the border. No high expectations there.

But then the railway company wasn’t trying to solve the crime problem – they were only trying to minimise its impact on them.

They weren’t trying to change the world. That’s somebody else’s responsibility.

As well as that…

And the courts don’t help either

A COUPLE of years back I spotted a bloke breaking into my garden shed late one night. I called the guards. They were round in a few minutes and nabbed the guy.

And that was the last I ever heard of it.

I don’t know if he was charged and jailed, or if they let him out a few yards down the road after a few slaps.

That’s how justice works in this country – it’s strictly between the law and the criminals. The victims and the wider community are kept out. Any call for reform is met by mumbles from the bigwigs (literally) about mob law.

This isn’t good enough. Through all the drug wars in this city the lesson to be learned has been to involve the community.

It doesn’t mean lynching. It means that those people who offend against their communities should be made answer to their community and make amends. In many ways I’m sure that they prefer the anonymity of the prison.

If John O’Donohue had spent the time and money building prisons (roughly £90 million), on reforming the justice system to ensure suitably nasty non-custodial punishments we’d be better off. Instead we have to wait for the more highly qualified hood to emerge from his cell to create havoc.