Academic journal article German Policy Studies

Urban Safety

Academic journal article German Policy Studies

Urban Safety

Article excerpt

1. Safety, Security and Fear of Crime in the City

In Germany as well as in other continental European states, a debate was initiated in the late 1980s and in the 1990s, which had already taken place in the USA. Crime, disorder, incivilities, fear of crime, social segregation, demise of the cities and much more were regarded as a sign of the unstable situation, which became the subject of social, political and economic discourse.

An alarming situation was portrayed and is still portrayed in the press coverage in the newspapers and weekly magazines. The small town of Wehr in Baden-Wurttemberg (Sudkurier 16.06.2005) was described as "a hotbed of larceny", or similarly, Elmshorn in SchleswigHolstein as "a place with a high crime rate" (WedelSchulauer-Tageblatt 24.05.2005). "Citizens concerned about safety" was the headline of the Frankfurter Neue Presse on 08.06.2005. On 20.05.2005 the internet service provider T-Online published a safety-ranking under the title: "The most dangerous places in Germany". And while Hamburg and Frankfurt were contending for the undesirable title of "Crime Capital", Berlin is "in first place in Germany for the number of crimes committed" (Berliner Morgenpost 09.06.2005). An article in the weekly magazine "Der Spiegel" "Dreckspatzen und Drecksarbeit" (No. 24, 1997, P. 50) concerned itself with "miserable wretches and professional criminals, graffiti covered walls and house burglars, wrecked cars at the roadside and weeds between the paving stones--increasing numbers of citizens are beginning to see all of this as the writing on the wall of chaos, that could soon destroy cities and societies."

By the end of the 20th century, the theme of safety in the city had surpassed the previous political debate on organized crime, and the discourse on the problem of violent crime has come into the fore. At the beginning of the 21st century the debate on urban safety continued to simmer, while terrorism, with its many associated forms, became the main focus of the discussion on security.

The discussion on urban safety had several effects. In areas of local government and national security, changes in policy, as well as polity and politics took place: Technical and personal controls in public areas were extended, not only under the umbrella of crime prevention, but also because of the desire for an improvement in the feeling of security. Local councils in several cities introduced uniformed civic wardens; in some federal states "voluntary police units" were deployed, and the video surveillance of streets and other public places was permitted and intensified. By means of security networks, neighbourhood watch schemes and crime prevention committees, the communication, cooperation and coordination of work on security by various actors could be integrated. This involved not only the police and local communities, as well as private security firms, civil society groups such as charities and sports clubs, and other public institutions (schools, citizens' advice bureaus etc.). The activities not only involved a "fight against crime", but were widened to include the "fight against the fear of crime", areas which are well below the threshold of criminal law. In doing so, behaviour which conflicted with middle-class standards, such as begging, the consumption of alcohol in public places, loitering and other forms of incivilities and disorder became a focal point.

If people's perception and action change, and if there is a wider, not just academic debate on urban safety, it is necessary to look for an empirical basis, to view the problem in context, and to examine the impact of action strategies with regard to their aims and effectiveness. It is also necessary to differentiate between various problem areas and discussion themes.

2. The empirical basis

Starting with the state of affairs of crime in Germany: According to public debate, a large increase in "public" crime would be expected. …

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