Key Tensions – The Concept of Urban Security
Urban security concerns factors that extend beyond crime reduction to incorporate public perceptions of insecurities, well-being and lived experiences. Reductions in crime may not foster or lead to reductions in insecurity and may relate to public (dis)trust in formal institutions’ capacity to ensure safety.
Despite a greater recognition that the levers of crime and prevention lie outside of the criminal justice system and punitive approaches, criminal justice responses continue to dominate policy and investments in resources.
Urban security may be intimately related to wider forces of economic insecurity, uncertainty, social polarisation and distrust in political institutions.
Security is but one imperative that sometimes collides with other public goods or private pursuits. There has been a tendency to over prioritise security against other benefits, uses and values of public spaces – social, cultural, environmental, educational and health-related – resulting in the over-securitisation of public spaces.
Aesthetics and public sensibilities matter, given that security interventions can foster insecurity rather than public reassurance. One of the ironies of such quests for security is that in their implementation they may foster perceptions of insecurities by alerting citizens to risks, heightening sensibilities
Despite all the organisational and technological developments, which should have enabled greater progress, a problem-oriented approach (first elaborated in relation to policing by Herman Goldstein in the late 1970s) remains stubbornly unfulfilled.
Key Tensions - Context
An uneven trajectory in the political fortunes of crime prevention influenced by exceptional events and the vagaries of political priorities, which has seen the ebb and flow of investments in prevention with political changes and a shifting focus as priorities change
An integrated approach to urban security is weakened by tensions between national and municipal authorities with regard to jurisdiction, competencies and responsibilities, as well as by conflicts – ‘turf wars’ between central government departments operating as silos.
There remain enduring and entrenched (political) demands for uniform and eye-catching solutions – ‘silver bullets’ encouraged by the rhetoric of ‘what works’ – that can be applied, almost regardless of context or the nature of the specific problem.
Crime and security problems are not static or constant, but rather innovate and evolve in response to social and technological change.
A central challenge in synthesising the knowledge base is that most of the research is written by researchers for other researchers and tends to focus on exploring narrow questions of internal validity, often to the exclusion of wider contextual factors (external validity) that are of interest and value to policy-makers and practitioners.
Key Tensions – Implementation
Urban security demands the engagement of multiple stakeholders where advantage derives not simply in the combination of perspectives, resources and skills, but also in framing and shaping problems and methods differently, nonetheless where these same differing cultures, values, interests and working practices can foster conflicts.
Enduring challenges pertain to the pursuit of multistakeholder urban security networks through horizontal exchanges of shared information, knowledge, resources or other transactions that cut across vertical intraorganisational priorities, which pay scant regard to the task of managing inter-organisational relations.
Data sharing and data linkage remain some of the most intractable and contentious aspects of urban security practice. A pervasive and deeply ingrained reluctance to share information between agencies persists, informed by technological, legal, organisational and cultural barriers to data exchange.
Inter-organisational and inter-personal trust relations as well as public trust in authorities are vital to ensure the effective implementation of urban security interventions. Trust in authorities, organisations, people and systems - including security technologies - is fragile, easily broken and hard to renew or generate afresh.
There are evident difficulties associated with evaluating prevention as a ‘non-event’. It is both difficult to evaluate a non-event (except in so far as comparisons can be drawn with a control sample that has not benefited from the intervention) and difficult to communicate the success of prevention (i.e. something that did not happen).
Evaluation of the effects and impacts of preventive interventions remain patchy, limited in rigour and frequently under-resourced. This contrasts with the relatively greater evaluation of offender-oriented, tertiary, treatment programmes.
The reported outcome from interventions operating multiple mechanisms is inevitably a net effect, which comprises a complex mix of the balance between noneffect, positive effect and possible negative effects.
Key Tensions – Ethical Considerations
A tension exists between identifying the role of social, educational and wider economic forces in fostering crime and insecurity and in justifying social policies in terms of their crime preventive potential or implications. The danger is that crime and insecurity become organising frames in the exercise of authority and in legitimising interventions that have other motivations.
There remain stubborn debates about the preference for
universal provision or targeted interventions – i.e. ‘primary’ versus ‘secondary’ prevention. Targeted interventions focused on risk factors are justified in terms of effectiveness, as they target those people/factors most likely to effect change, reducing the chances of ‘false positives’, and cost efficiencies as they target need in more limited ways, reducing costs.
Targeted prevention initiatives raise concerns about the stigmatising potential and labelling implications of associating specific people or places with crime. In some countries, there are strong cultural and political presumptions in favour of universal preventive services for young people justified on the basis of children’s existing educational or social needs and problems, rather than future risks of criminality.
Targeted interventions based on risk assessments can be more effective from a cost basis but also suffer from inaccurate predictions of subsequent crime/criminality, such that they can herald intervention where negative outcomes would not actually have occurred (‘false positives’) and/or where negative outcomes occur despite the intervention (‘false negatives’).