Personal Safety, June 2003

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The meeting was addressed by Pierre Lombard of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and by Sandy Baylis who is the Merton Crime Prevention Officer. Sandy Baylis spoke first and gave a wide statistical background context for the discussion. She quoted a large number of statistics both of perceived crime and actual crime. In relation to the perception of crime she reported the results of a recent survey which suggested that 36% of Merton people either feared street crime a lot or had a fair amount of fear (in London as a whole the figure was 41%) and when asked specifically about fear of mugging 33% in Merton expressed such a specific fear (the figure in London overall being 45%).
Looking at the reality as opposed to the perception, it was clear that Merton was (comparatively) a very safe borough to live in. Based on the definition of street crime incorporating robberies, dipping (pick pocketing or taking from bags), snatches (taking bags), assault and more serious offences against the person, but in the "street" context, there were an average of 3.1 offences per day reported in Merton as opposed to 14.6 in Lambeth. By far the most common incident was the theft of mobile telephones and the suspects for this were largely in their late teens.

Pierre Lombard gave a very animated and enthusiastic address. He described the activities of the Suzy Lamplugh Trust and how it is directed at encouraging people to take responsibility for their own personal safety and to guide them in ways to do so - making common sense common practise. He noted that the most common victim of assault is a young man because young men tend to react in a violent way to provocation whereas other people would walk away. He said that the four main "doctrines" of the trust's approach to personal safety were to prepare, to look confident, to avoid risk, and never to assume that you will not be the victim - "PLAN".
He emphasised that personal safety was far more important than property. You should always be prepared to let your handbag or wallet or whatever else go in order to protect yourself. You should keep as little with you as possible so as not to worry about losing what you have. He suggested carrying things in different places or pockets. That was all part of preparing. In terms of looking confident, a survey of criminals reported that they would attack those looking unsure. You should know where you are going, therefore, and not be constantly looking at a map. Walk quickly. Keep looking around. Avoiding risk was quite often a matter of common sense. People know the areas to avoid and the best times to avoid and they should do that. They should also try to walk in groups and perhaps avoid listening to headphones so that attackers can't creep up from behind.
He talked about the use of personal alarms and how they do not ward anybody off but they do disorientate an attacker at least momentarily which might allow the victim to get away.

There was an enthusiastic discussion about various different scenarios and thoughts about the level of crime and ways to avoid it.

The meeting was poorly attended - around 10. This was a shame because both speakers had a lot of useful information to impart about personal safety.

The conclusion of the debate was that the perception of the risk of crime was far higher than the reality. That said, however, that was no basis for complacency and people were right to be aware of the risk of crime and to take active steps to protect themselves from it. There were things that one could do. Most of them were common sense but in the words of Pierre, it was a matter of "making common sense common practice".

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