Public Perceptions of Safety Influence Quality of Community Life

In every neighborhood the quality of life is directly linked to how safe the residents feel. Where fear of crime exists, quality of life drops and residents tend to stay isolated in their homes while knowledge and trust between neighbors withers. But when residents feel safe with their kids in their backyard, walking to the store or jogging in the park, the neighborhood becomes more vibrant with stronger social connections. This advantage is clear, particularly for crime prevention teams who then are working with a more aware, observant and involved public.

But when it comes to fear and perception of safety, it matters little whether major crime is actually a threat or not. Residents may see small indicators of a declining neighborhood, such as litter, illegal trash dumping, burglary, or first signs of tagging, graffiti vandalism or other nuisance crimes. As this occurs, it erodes the sense of safety.

Police departments are designated not only to make people safe, but also to make people feel safe. If people don’t feel safe, the unfavorable implications take root and grow politically, economically and socially. Law enforcement skilled in apprehending criminals may be tempted to depend on the statistical drop in the crime rates to boost the community’s feelings of safety and security. However, as U.S. Department of Justice findings show, addressing actual crime alone does not of itself change the public perceptions of safety or fear of crime.

Over many years, police have learned the value of crime-mapping, of gathering and analyzing data to target areas of crime. But what about utilizing fear-of-crime mapping? Do you use localized surveys, neighborhood meetings and key discussions with individuals, to yield valuable data? This kind of fear-of-crime data and analysis is very beneficial in focusing attention of your department and targeting the problem with precision —the same thing done in crime targeting. While it requires effort, you are equipped to precisely address and alleviate residents’ feelings of fear, while educating them on the accomplishments of crime prevention by the department.