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Monday, June 26, 2006

 

How to reclaim your streets in one uneasy lesson

I’ve been reading a lot of stuff in the mainstream press recently about how dangerous the Streets are, with huge gangs of hooded, machete and gun toting hooligans raping and pillaging everyone and everything in sight. Er, excuse me – not in my neighbourhood. Yeah we get a few noisy kids making a fuss, but the gun toters tend to wave their penis replacements in each others faces, mostly out of the public view and out of CCTV range. They also tend to inhabit the hours of darkness, rather than swan around in daylight; so if like me, most of you work the daylit hours out in the provinces – you are unlikely to see these ravaging armed hordes.

In another life, during my foolish and headstrong youth; I could lay claim to being one of the local bad lads. Never dumb enough to get pulled by the local Constabulary, but nonetheless a veteran of a number of ‘disturbances’. You know the sort of peer group fight, tribal conflicts, some very interesting parties with quite a bit of alcohol, noise, and the odd sniff or toke. It was a high attrition lifestyle, with only ten or so of our (30 plus strong at its peak) hardcore social group reaching the age of 30, by which time we’d either learned some sense or got killed. The survivors carry the legacy of some interesting tattoos and a few fading scars. That said, most of our misbehaviour was directed at others like us. Rival peer groups pushing through our ‘turf’ and vice versa when we paid their area a visit. Illegal firearms were known about and carried by a very small minority, but no one got shot (However, this was more by luck than judgement), apart from one murder by a chap who is still banged up in a secure psychiatric unit. Although a couple of near misses still wake me up at night when I’m feeling particularly low.

This being the case; I think I’ve got a handle on what people need to do to reclaim their streets. It’s very simple; be there. Right, okay Bill; what do you mean by ‘be there’, you glib son of a bitch? Do I mean vigilantes patrolling your street in combat fatigues swinging a baseball bat at anyone who looks like a threat? Most definitely not. Do I mean hiking Police powers to the point where they can arrest anyone for wearing a loud shirt during the hours of darkness? Emphatically not.

What I mean by ‘be there’ is very simple. Take an interest in your home surroundings. Pass the time of day with your neighbours and be seen doing so. Get to know them (Look, if your neighbours are complete arseholes find someone in your street who isn’t – there has to be at least one – hasn’t there? You don’t need to live in their pockets, just be friendly.) Be visible. Sit out on your front garden or porch where you can be seen when the weather allows. If you see a problem, call the Coppers, that’s their job. Don’t confront, and for crying out loud don’t jump in with all guns blazing – people have been killed doing that. Don’t respond to threats or intimidation – record them. Gather evidence and make sure (If you’re taking video footage) that the time and date stamp feature is on and correctly set. Times, dates and places are critical for successful prosecution. If offences have been committed – be a witness – help put the bad guys away. If intimidation is tried on you – report it to the court. Let them deal with it – it’s what they get paid for.

Don’t just whine and bitch about the state of law enforcement – help the forces of law and order by supporting them; and if it’s your little Johnny or Jenny causing the problem – you owe it to yourself, your neighbours and your erring offspring to support the law. Accepting “Mum, I din’t do it.” As a defence is not good for the state of a neighbourhood. The miscreants Mother will deny until Judgement Day that her precious life’s cargo could ever harm a fly, even if said offspring were found with murder weapon in hand and smothered head to foot in their victims gore. Such can be the blindness of parental bonding.

Don’t say; “It’s got nothing to do with me.” Because it bloody well has. These are your streets and roads. You decide what you are willing to tolerate. If you have a genuine problem and the Police front line teams won’t or can’t help – get on to your local Councillor. Put him or her to work on your behalf. Make them earn their expenses. Get them to nag the Chief Constable into dropping the paperwork and getting more of his or her officers out on the streets responding to incidents. Get on to your MP. Make the bad guys lives awkward. Make it difficult for them to operate unobserved. If the powers that be can’t or won’t act – get creative, but don’t do it alone. Community action works every time.

For all the politicians bluster, they can do nothing without the co-operation of the rest of us. If we want safe streets, then we have to do something about it ourselves with the forces of Law and Order in a supporting role. What the politicians can do is provide the facilities and legal framework supporting the ‘Queens Peace’. This means less bureaucracy, less statistics driven ‘measurement’ and a bit more latitude to the individual Police Officer. From what I can see, it is pretty much proven that the Police cannot operate as effectively without discretionary powers. With those discretionary powers and a bit of neighbourly co-operation, stuff like this wouldn’t happen so often.

Oh yes, and suitable deterrents for the guilty so that the generally law abiding are protected. If this means bringing back the death penalty to edit the monsters out of the human race – so be it. The rights of the generally law abiding should take precedence over an aggressor.

As for being outdoors, it’s a lot more interesting than the telly (In fact most things are), and far more rewarding just to get out there and talk.

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Exasperated expatriate expostulations all the way from British Columbia, Canada. As if anyone really cared. Oh, I also watch Icelandic Volcanoes and seismic activity. Don't ask me why.

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