Clay Shirky, knife crime and the self policing society
Clay suggested that citizens could help maintain law and order in their communities by utilising social software. But, as he pointed out later, social software only goes so far - it can help catalyse change in society and help citizens police their own communities but you need other ingredients to sustain it - like civic pride - something we are told is sorely lacking. Consider the following snippet by Charlie Leadbeater twelve years ago:
people are less prepared to take responsibility for maintaining the fabric of law and order. They rely on wealth, power and impersonal agencies to deliver security. We should be aiming to create a more civic society, better able to police itself. Anonymity means we have less purchase upon the actions of others.
That got me thinking about past and current community schemes that seem to have been forgotten about in the blur of announcements by politicians and tsars, and general political bickering.
In the past the problem has tended to be that governments have opted to pursue anti-crime initiatives funded by the centre as they are relatively easy to command and control. And herein lies the problem; first - funds go to developing new processes and maintaining the bureaucracy rather than supporting communities and second; the focus of attention tends to be on the response rather than preventing crime occur in the first place.
One example highlights this all too well: the dramatic decline in Neighbourhood Watch schemes.
In 2000 roughly 27 per cent of households belonged to a Neighbourhood Watch scheme – that roughly equates to 6 million households (or 10 million people). In 2006/07 the number of households dropped to 16 per cent or 6 million households. That’s before we get onto the falling number of local neighbourhood watch coordinators (and I suspect you don’t even know your local coordinator - I don’t - and its not certainly not Little Britain's Sid Pegg).
According to the latest BCS sixty-five per cent of respondents reported there was not a scheme currently operating in their local area, with three-quarters of these saying they would join a scheme if there was one. Underfunded and hardly ever used a potential line for communities is laying wasted.
Instead of investing in impractical and superficial initiatives (like national service for 16 and 17 year olds) or creating more bureaucracy and targets the government would do better to use the funds it has to target specific areas and support local communities – neighbourhood watch schemes could be a simple and effective answer to current problems like knife crime while social software will make such schemes easy and simple to use for Generation 2.0 and the rest of us.
(Why not invest in providing households with a neighbourhood watch scheme pack?)