Burglery, November 2002

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Visitng speakers: Superintendent Stephen Granger of Wimbledon Police and Steve Brennan from the London Borough of Merton partnerships unit. Also on hand to answer questions was Sandy Baylis of Merton Crime Prevention. The meting was chaired by Richard Martin

Superintendent Granger summarised the current crime statistics and in particular burglary rates. In total for the financial year 2001/2002 there were 17,747 reported offences in the Borough which was less than 2% of the total for all of the 32 London Boroughs. 11.1% of the figures for Merton were burglaries - approximately 5 a day. The target set by the Metropolitan Commission is a 1% reduction in the burglary rate. Currently there is a 0% level being achieved. The detection rate was 11% as against the target of 10%. The average number of burglaries per 1,000 members of the population was 3.2 against an average throughout London of 5. Roughly 80% of the burglaries were opportunistic as opposed to planned and the majority, it is estimated, were to feed drug habits.

Superintendent Granger talked about policy initiatives to reduce crime and also engage the public in addressing the prevention of crime. Concerns were raised about the news letters which the police had previously circulated with crime statistics and news, neighbourhood watch schemes and the ring master telephone system which notified subscribers of current crime activity. The ring master scheme currently had technical problems. As regards Neighbourhood Watch Superintendent Granger encouraged anybody who wanted to establish such a scheme to contact the police.

Steve Brennan said that the council liaised closely with the police in seeking ways to reduce crime and had adopted a particular strategy in relation to burglary. He described three particular focuses, to increase security, to target prolific offenders and to increase public awareness. The council had set a target of reducing the burglary rate by 9% by 2005 and to have a rate of 11% of all offences resulting in a court appearance of a caution.
In relation to security he gave as an example the fact that having analysed the statistics the council realised that a number of burglaries were from the rear of houses where there was a shared alleyway behind the gardens. As a result the council had an initiative of putting in lockable gates, in agreement with the residents, on those alleyways. This reduced crime and raised public awareness.

He also referred to the Merton Elderly Secured Homes initiative jointly with the police. He said that research had showed that elderly people were particularly vulnerable to burglary. This scheme had paid for security arrangements for people's houses and also he said that under the scheme some elderly people had put together a play that they would take around various local organisations to highlight personal security issues and in particular criminals who call at elderly people's doors pretended to be legitimate.

With regard to changing the behaviour of prolific offenders, Mr Brennan said that research showed that prolific offenders often had very damaged personal histories. He said that locally we were engaged in pioneering work taking pre-emptive measures, for example, where an offender was being released from prison, before that release took place trying to put in place measures to prevent re-offending. It involved a lot of agencies and co-ordination but did have results. He said that children who have an offending sibling and whose parents often keep them out of school are much more likely to become an offender. That is something that one can target and attack. It is costly but effective although the benefits may not be felt for some time.

In the general discussion it was noted that while generally there was a crime problem among juveniles, a small number of juveniles being responsible for a disproportionately large amount of crime, burglary was mainly conducted by adults. There was an increasing problem with Eastern European women stealing purses and mobile phones in public areas but not necessarily involved in burglaries. Drugs are becoming a growing problem in the Borough but nothing like sufficiently problematic as to regard the Borough as being one with a drugs problem, certainly in comparison with other London Boroughs.

Ian Cramp talked about taking responsibility ourselves, both as residents and as business owners. He described how local businesses were co-ordinating with each other and police to share information to try to reduce, for example, shop lifting. We can all help by not leaving mobile telephones on tables in bars, keeping handbags tight to our bodies and the like.

Superintendent Granger said that there had been a reduction in the number of officers in the Borough from 350 five years ago to a target number now of 309. Even then there was a vacancy rate of 4%. He reported having to compulsorily transfer officers from the Borough to other boroughs in order to average out the shortages across the London area.

Overall the message appeared to be one of the perception of the burglary problem being greater than the reality. A lot of effort was going in, albeit on stretched resources, from the police and the council in looking at new ways of targeting the problem and there seemed to be a great deal of constructive thought going into that process and a lot of co-operation between the various agencies involved.

The attendance - 10 people - was disappointing, and we will promote the crime forum's activities more effectively in future. With perhaps one exception everybody that did turn up spoke, generally on a number of occasions. Given the small number it was possible to have a free flowing debate throughout the presentations by the two speakers.

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