Pulling Together


How crime spreads like fire

Yesterday evening I had a ring on my doorbell. I answered to a concerned neighbour who was worried because someone had parked a small van in front of his garage and his wife needed to go to work in the morning. He asked me to come out to witness where the van was parked. He had parked his car directly behind it and put a note under the windscreen which he said invited them to contact him. Neither he nor I thought the police were likely to be responsive to a request to move the van in a timely manner to allow egress from his garage, given their other priorities.

After I had gone indoors again I began to feel concerned about this. I wondered whether he was simply compounding the offence by blocking in the vehicle blocking his wife in their garage. Two wrongs do not make a right and being the victim of an offence does not entitle one to commit the same offence in return.

At 7:30 this morning he was back. The situation had escalated. He found his car broken into and pushed or driven into the back of another car (also parked so as to restrict access to my frontage). He said he had no option but to involve the police now and asked my permission to leave his car blocking my access until they had a chance to check it. I agreed, though that might prove a mistake if the police take several days to attend. He has the registration number of the van, but without fingerprints from the controls of his car there is no proof it was moved by the van’s driver or one of those with him.

The problem here is the under-resourced and over-stretched nature of the police in modern Britain. They have become an emergency service which only wants to be called out urgently if life is in danger. That might seem a logical response when resources are barely enough even to deal with that kind of emergency, but it really indicates an inadequate service which can no longer really perform its main function.

Imagine a similar situation with a fire. We would not expect the Fire Brigade to say they only wanted to come out if someone were trapped in the burning building, because we all understand fire spreads. If not brought under control it becomes a danger to other people and property nearby and therefore every fire is an emergency requiring an immediate response

What has happened to my neighbour shows how crime is like fire in this respect. If the police will not deal with it quickly, crime will spread and escalate as public confidence is lost and people start to take the law into their own hands because they see no alternative. One small crime has now led to two more. The driver of the van committed an offence by immobilising a vehicle in its garage. This led to the owner of that second vehicle taking retaliatory action, probably a second offence, and then someone else committed a further offence to remove his vehicle in order to enable the van to leave. Thus a small offence has spread and become three. Moreover, as public confidence in police protection wanes, other people start thinking they must take their own action to defend themselves. Many young people carry knives because they don’t trust the police to protect them. That leads to a rise in young people stabbing each other, and so society slowly begins to go out of control and become more dangerous for everyone.

The police, of course, are not unique. Almost all public services are more present in name than in practice. Many private services are similarly difficult to access. Don’t think you can phone them without expecting to spend half an hour listening to music before anyone will speak to you. We have become a dysfunctional society where nobody can work efficiently because everything takes hours to achieve and waiting lists grow longer and longer. Only this morning I was listening to lawyers saying criminal cases can take five years or more to come before a court, so large is the backlog. Is it surprising people have lost confidence in the State to look after them? The Social Contract is well and truly broken.

Yet, the conventional political response to this is just to pass more laws and continue to cut resources. Passing laws enables politicians to claim they’ve done something, even though the cut spending prevents what they’ve done being implemented. They continue to get themselves elected on the simple lie that legislating and cutting taxes will make things better when in reality everything just gets worse. When will someone tell the truth — you can’t get ought for nought? Good government needs to be paid for, and we are no richer if we pay less tax only to pay higher insurance premiums and repair costs and have to buy better locks and alarms. More money to spend, and more we need to spend it on, while we all become less safe. No, let’s be willing to pay more in tax and get a good place to live. Do we really want to live in a lawless country with minimal taxes or in a higher-taxed but calmer one? Maybe we should compare tax and service levels with the World Happiness Report rankings.

About the Author

K J Petrie has a Full Technological Certificate in Radio, TV and Electronics, an HNC in Digital Electronics and a BA(Hons) in Theological Studies.

His interests include Christian and societal unity, Diverse Diversity, and freedoms from want, from fear, of speech, and of association. He is a member of the Social Democratic Party.

The views expressed here are entirely personal and unconnected with any body to which he belongs.

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