“Provides clarity to the community sector on what their role and responsibility should be…”

In just under an hour, Queens University release the findings of a research report crime and attitudes to the police in the Greater New Lodge area of Belfast. There are still high levels of mistrust and criticism of poor performance, but there are some very high percentages stacked up in favour of fuller engage by the PSNI with the community, and the community with the PSNI. There’s a copy of the headline figures below the fold:Just over half New Lodge residents would contact police

Just over half (51.9 per cent) of those living in the Greater New Lodge area of Belfast would contact the police directly about crime or anti-social behaviour, according to a new study by Queen’s University.

280 people living in the Greater New Lodge area of North Belfast were asked about their attitudes towards policing, community relationships with the PSNI and experiences of crime and anti-social behaviour in a survey conducted by the Institute of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Queen’s. The research was supported by the Greater New Lodge Community Empowerment Partnership and findings will be published at the 174 Trust in Duncairn Avenue Friday 24 October 2008.

The key findings are:

-70.2 per cent agreed the PSNI should come to the Greater New Lodge to provide information on crime prevention.

– 82.9 per cent agreed local community groups should engage on the community’s behalf with the PSNI to tackle crime and anti-social behaviour.

– 81.2 per cent felt tackling the issue of ‘illegal drugs’ should be an urgent priority for police, followed by under-age drinking (77.9% per cent), physical assaults (73.2 per cent), interface/sectarian violence (71.1 per cent) and car theft (71.1 per cent).

– 79.5 per cent of respondents stated they were more cautious than two years ago when leaving their home at night and 62.4% per cent are more aware of rowdy behaviour in the streets compared to two years ago.

– 58.2 per cent believed the Great New Lodge was a less desirable place to live in compared to two years ago. 8.2 per cent thought the area was more desirable.

– 51.9 per cent stated they would contact the PSNI directly about crime or anti-social activity. 22.7 per cent stated that they would not.

– 35.1 per cent felt policing was changing in a positive way in the Greater New Lodge area compared to 24.2% per cent of respondents who felt it was not.

– 25.3 per cent were undecided.

– 52.6 per cent rated the PSNI’s response to crime in the Greater New Lodge area as very poor or fairly poor. 12.6 per cent felt the PSNI were doing a very good or fairly good job.

– 54.3 per cent felt the PSNI were not effective in tackling the issue of anti-social behaviour in the Greater New Lodge. 15.5 per cent felt the PSNI were
effective in this role.

Dr Pete Shirlow and Dr Graham Ellison from the School of Law at Queen’s conducted the research. Dr Shirlow said: “This is one of the few studies to consider crime, policing and victimisation in an urban working-class area of Belfast – an area that has suffered immensely during the years of political conflict and has a historically difficult relationship with policing.

“It seems this difficult relationship has manifested itself in a lack of confidence in the police’s ability to tackle crime, which in turn leads to high levels of non-reporting. Whilst a considerable number of respondents had been the victim of crime, many did not report it to the police. Those taking part in the survey recalled 413 incidences of crime in the previous three years, but 55.69 per cent (230) of these were not reported to the PSNI.

“It is clear that crime and anti-social behaviour have had a significant impact on the people who live in Greater New Lodge, with 35.86 per cent saying anti-social behaviour had greatly affected their quality of life. The fact that the majority of those surveyed feel more cautious leaving their homes at night than they did two years ago, indicates that fear of crime is increasing.

“Police response to crime and anti-social activity is seen as inadequate, and this only serves to further weaken public confidence in the police. Local people want the PSNI to prioritise their efforts to tackle interface violence, illegal drug use, physical assaults and under-age drinking, and the vast majority (76.09 per cent) agree that the police need to liaise with community groups to learn more about the policing needs of the community.

“The results from this survey are positive, however, in that they highlight a desire for partnership with the PSNI.”

Dr Graham Ellison said:

“It is important that both the police and the community are aware of each other’s limits in tackling crime. The police depend on community support to help them control anti-social behaviour, and the community need to accept this. They can only tackle crime if it is reported by the public. Equally, the PSNI must recognise the impact or anti-social activity on people’s lives. The small things, such as a group of teenagers drinking cider up an alleyway, have a tendency to become a much bigger problem unless they are tackled quickly.

“The aim of this survey is to encourage debate with the Greater New Lodge about policing and community involvement in policing, and I hope it can go some way to helping local residents and the police build an agreed future on crime and anti-social behaviour.”

Paul O’Neill from the Greater New Lodge CEP said:

“Given the severe legacy of conflict and negative historical experience of policing it is hardly surprising that the people of the New Lodge might well remain distrustful of the police. But this study demonstrates a greater willingness among local residents than ever before for contact and engagement with the police on issues of community safety. Despite this attitudinal shift, it is obvious from the study that people feel strongly that the police are currently failing to deliver the type of service that they need.

“This report has provided clarity to the community sector on what their role and responsibility should be in relation to engagement with the police. It also places an obligation on police to discuss with the community how a genuinely effective and accountable service could be developed.

“Developing a policing service that is genuinely accountable to the community is not going to be easy. Some people feel that it may even prove impossible. If we are committed to social justice and the improving of the quality of life for our community and especially our young people, then we must at least try.”

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty