Community Building and Crime Prevention

Recently, I was asked if Community Building, in particular, Asset Based Community Development, could reduce or prevent crime. My candid response was yes. The look on the questioner’s face reflected they were surprised by my response. His facial expression has set me to thinking about the question in some detail.
In many people’s minds crime prevention or reduction is a matter for the government. It is often seen to be the realm of the police. And if not the police then security agencies or perhaps even CCTV. But what role does community, strong connected community play in preventing crime? What is the role of police or security services or CCTV actually do? Do they prevent crime, deter crime, move it elsewhere or are they only part of the picture? If they are then what are the other components that help to prevent or reduce crime?
Crime prevention is more complex than a policing or security role. It involves all of us and is made up of many components.
Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is one component. This relies on environmental design interventions to reduce the likelihood of crime and can include fencing, lighting, CCTV, footpaths, shrubbery etc. These are the physical elements that make it less likely that a crime will occur or make it more difficult for those contemplating a criminal action.
Community Crime Prevention is another component. By that I mean those formalised groups and mechanisms to recruit community members to report crime or reduce crime by their actions. This includes groups such as Neighbourhood Watch or programs that encourage community members to report crime. Although not strictly a community building tool these groups do build connection between residents and may form a component in reducing crime.
One theory of crime prevention is that of Collective Efficacy. This theory concerns the behaviours and other informal mechanisms of community members to create a safe place. These are informal mechanisms such as monitoring children in playgrounds, reporting crime, intervening in disputes etc. These behaviours and mechanisms create a safe place by controlling behaviours of others so that crime and anti-social behaviour is minimised. They are places where neighbours informally agree on what is acceptable behaviour and they actively work to see these behaviours maintained. Those areas with high levels of collective efficacy involve a high degree of trust between community members.
But what about other informal connections that create a sense of cohesion, belonging and ownership in a location? Are they also important? Those areas where social cohesion is high are those areas where people look after each other, baby sit neighbour’s children, get together for BBQs and celebrations i.e. they know each other and are concerned for each other. These places have strong social capital. They are places where people feel safe and secure. Social cohesion and collective efficacy work together to create safe neighbourhoods.
Community Building actions such as Asset Based Community Development focus on building relationships between people and focus on the strengths of community members, their passions, experience and ability as well as the physical and other assets of the location. It is a work strongly based on growing and fostering social capital. As such it works to develop social cohesion, build collective efficacy and create a safe place.

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