| SOME FACTS ABOUT URBAN CRIME
Increase in Crime
Over the last 20 years, the increase in crime has become a problem in
the majority of the world’s largest cities both in the North and the South.
In the North, crime, and in particular petty crime, has risen by 3% to 5 % annually between the 1970s and the 1990s in cities with more than 100,000 inhabitants. From the beginning of the 90s, thanks to initiatives taken in the field of prevention and law enforcement, crime rates stabilised in most countries, with the exception of youth crime (youth aged between 12 - 25 years) and crime by minors (12 - 18 years) which continued to increase. The latter type of crime has become increasingly violent and it has entrenched itself even in the schools, while the age of entrance into delinquency has decreased to 12 years.
In the South, beginning in the 80s, crime increased considerably and continues to increase up to today, while youth crime and crime by minors have witnessed an exponential increase. Phenomena such as street children, school drop-outs, widespread social exclusion, civil wars and the small arms trafficking
that goes with it, served only to aggravate the situation.
This increase in crime has developed in a context characterised on the one hand, by the growth of drug trafficking and abuse and, on the other by the globalisation of organised crime. The growth of organised crime contributes to the destabilisation of political order and increases the effects of economic crises through housing market speculation. Organised crime also tends to draw in some young delinquents as a source of cheap labour.
Causes of the Increase in Delinquency
The causes of delinquency are manifold. All research undertaken at the
international level showed that there is not single cause of delinquency, but rather a combination of causes.
Three major causes can be identified: social, institutional and those related to the physical urban environment.
Social exclusion due to long periods of unemployment or marginalisation,
dropping out of school or illiteracy, and the lack of socialisation within the family seem to be the most recurring factors amongst the social causes of delinquency. None of these factors on their own can be regarded as sufficient explanation.
In the case of the family, the traditional approach which blames juvenile
crime as the lack of parental authority is not sufficient. It fails to take into account the changes in the traditional family and of the multiple family forms of today. Half a century ago, a new model of the family began to develop, moving away from a patriarchal economic unit with strong links to an extended family into a nuclear family based on affectionate relationships that often separate sexuality and reproduction. Subsequently, this has led to the development of multiple forms of family relations: traditional marriages, single-parent families, families without legal ties, families of divorced or separated parents and homosexual couples. The evolution of the traditional family into this multiplicity of forms results in the
need for a variety of social responses. It is not possible to impose a "one-size-fit-all" policy.
In addition the families are confronted with varying scenarios shaped by the labour market, rapid social changes and the requirements of childhood education. Many families and social educators are not prepared to face these changes.
A causal link also exists between domestic violence and urban violence.
Changes in social controls, in particular the breakdown of social bonds at neighbourhood level, seem to be prevalent causes in most situations.
It is worth remembering that, contrary to the myth rooted in our minds, poverty is not a direct cause of crime.
With respect to institutional causes, it is necessary to mention the inability of the criminal justice system (police, justice and prisons) to handle cases of minor delinquency. Indeed, since the 60s, the majority of the police around the world have placed more emphasis on the fight against major crime and the technologies and approaches linked to this objective. In many countries, the use of foot or bicycle patrols has been rendered obsolete for the use of non-targeted motorised patrols.
These priority police objectives have distanced the police from the citizens
who have subsequently lost their confidence in them.
With regard to the judiciary, it is not capable of facing the increase in the overall number of minor offences, which damage the quality of life and perpetuate a general perception of insecurity. Justice is slow, ill-suited to developing urban conflicts, overloaded and uses an outdated working methodology. Its language is inaccessible to the majority of the population. The police force, and even the general public opinion, often regard it as being too tolerant. Court decisions cover less than 10 % of the urban crime (major and minor delinquencies included). The sentences imposed, prisons and fines, are not adapted to responding to minor law breaking.
In addition, an inefficient judiciary and a lack of accountability with respect to offences such as money laundering, organised crime, involvement in the Mafia, corruption and violation of human rights have all led to an increase in crime by generating a feeling of impunity.
Prisons, with the exception of some modern and experimental prisons, constitute technical schools for the training and development of criminal networks.
Furthermore, the circulation of drugs and the promiscuity in prisons have contributed to the increase in crime.
Among the causes related to the physical environment, poor management of the urbanisation process, inadequate urban services, failure to incorporate security related issues in urban management policies, apparition of poorly protected semi-public spaces are key issues. Promiscuity and lawlessness of certain districts lead to the development of zones of lawlessness.
Finally, the freedom to carry weapons and the illegal trafficking of small
weapons resulting from civil wars or conflicts in bordering countries.
Consequences of the Increase in Crime
The primary consequence is the development of a generalised and not often
objective feeling of insecurity, common in many urban populations. This perception crystallises all the fears of the population (insecurity with respect to employment, health, the future of children, domestic violence, and the risk of impoverishment etc.). It arises from an impression of abandonment, powerlessness and the incomprehension in the face of shocking crime and the multiplication of minor acts of delinquency or vandalism. Because of its emotional character this perception blows facts out of proportion, encourages rumour and can even causes social conflicts. The feeling of generalised fear can create a climate that may threaten the democratic foundation of a community or society.
At the city level, perception of insecurity has resulted in the abandonment
of certain neighbourhoods, the development of an "architecture of fear ", the stigmatisation of districts or communities, the withdrawal or the refusal to invest in some cities, and spontaneous forms of justice leading to lynching. More positively, however, it has also led to the development of forms of self-defence and new social practices.
The second consequence of the increase of crime is the impact of insecurity on the poor. While all social classes are affected by insecurity, research
shows that insecurity affects the poor more intensely because they do not have the means to defend themselves. Consequently, due to this vulnerability, urban violence erodes the social capital of the poor, and dismantles their organisations, thus preventing social mobility and particularly that of the youth.
The third consequence is the increase in the overall costs of insecurity which account for 5% to 6 % of the GNP in the North and 8% to 10 % in the South.
Fourthly, there has been a widespread development of private security
companies. There has been an annual growth rate of 30% and 8% in the private
security sector, in the South and North respectively, in last years of the 20th century. In many countries the number of private security officers has exceeded that of state police officers. It should be noted that in many cases, such as in the United States and in China for example, it is the government itself which proposes private security contracts. Indeed, several countries that initially gave green light to private security now increasingly tend to legislate in this area in order to prevent abuse and corruption. One of the problems of this widespread development of private security system is the relationship between the police and the companies, both in terms of action and responsibility and the recruitment
of police officers. In many instances private security officers are ex-police or ex-army officers.
Indeed, a second problem is how to define the boundaries of private security:
for example, should more private prisons be created?
The majority of countries have begun, albeit reluctantly, to accept private
security not for political but economic reasons. The costs of the private security appear, in the short-term, to be less than that of the public sector but so far no analysis has shown the sudden appearance of this private sector security to be responsible for a decrease in crime. In certain cases, the opposite has occurred. Indeed, countries such as Colombia, the United States or South Africa where the private security sector is predominant have witnessed a marked increase in crime and a growth of prison populations. It is not evident that the cost of private sector
security guarantees its accessibility to all in society, nor that its costs are, in the long run, less than those of public security. What is certain is that private security is neither accessible to all: in the European Union it is financially accessible to only 5% of the population.
Nor is it accountable to the society or to the local community. The private
security companies are driven by profit, which means, for example, that the more prisoners there are in the private prisons the more benefits the security company reaps.
In addition we are witnessing today a tendency towards the internationalisation of private security companies, which act in parallel as private security agencies, industrial espionage services, protectors of corrupt political
systems and even, in certain cases, peculiar to Africa, as new forms of mercenaries.
The fifth consequence are the attempts made by the public to address the
increase in delinquency. Two general approaches have been observed. On one hand central governments have attempted to reinforce security through repression. These repressive measures include increasing police manpower,
increasing the term of prison sentences, and applying repressive measures, which are difficult to administer and at the same time questionable, e.g. "zero tolerance". Such measures can also include curfews for minors or the lowering of the age of legal responsibility.
The second approach favours prevention in addition to repression. This
can be undertaken in two ways. One way involves the centralisation of the fight against insecurity by making police officers the key players in the matter. The other tends to decentralise the fight through the delegation of police responsibility either to local authorities or civil associations or both. The latter is obviously easier to implement in countries such as the United States or Canada, where the local police depend on the municipalities.
Often the choice between the two options involves rivalry between governments and the municipal authorities. This is the case in several European, African and Latin American countries. It should be noted that in the two approaches, one often sees police reform applied in parallel to the implementation
of preventive actions.
Several governments adopt either one of these options depending on the
type of crime that is being targeted. For example, in the United States the government tends to adopt repression for all cases of minor delinquency.
However, with respect to drug consumption, it has gradually developed a policy that favours prevention. In addition it is not rare within a country to see some cities or regions stress repression while others advocate the use of prevention. The most significant case is that of the United States, where certain cities have developed excellent prevention policies while others emphasise only repression.
The repressive approach has the advantage of having immediate effects,
which can satisfy the short-term demands of public opinion and the needs for effectiveness of the political class. Voters are increasingly demanding more security measures such as more police manpower and more repression, and naively think that the increase in prison populations constitutes an effective neutralisation of the serious offenders. It is clearly evident, however, that the cost of repression is much higher than that of prevention and that repression only has a short term and limited range of effects.
The preventive approach faces many challenges. First and foremost among
these challenges is the reluctance of governments to invest in it. Another major obstacle is the absence of a legal framework to facilitate preventive actions that exceed the framework of NGO activities. Cities wishing to use a preventive approach often do not have the legal or financial capacity to do so.
From: Franz Vanderschueren, " The Prevention of Urban Crime". Paper presented at the Africities 2000 Summit, Windhoek, May 2000