In my last blog I dealt with the changing partnership landscape that confronts police efforts to tackle crime and disorder. Here I would like to address a second theme emerging from our Police Effectiveness in a Changing World project, namely how the changing dynamics of the housing market are impacting on residential burglary and violence.
In the case of residential burglary, while it has been falling significantly in recent years at a national level, high burglary rates still persist in local communities characterised by socio-demographic and economic instability, particularly high population churn (turnover of residents) and a high incidence of low quality private rented accommodation.
Demand for the latter in towns like Luton and Slough, where we have been working, is rapidly increasing as the benefit cap, bedroom tax and rent increases force poorer households out of Greater London. Private landlords have no incentive to invest in residential security as they can rent out their properties in almost any condition; the proliferation of poor quality uPVC front doors, which are easy to break into, is a case in point.
So while most of society is getting safer, those at the bottom, who lack the financial resources to improve their own circumstances, find little help from elsewhere to protect themselves from victimisation. Significantly, the same pattern is not seen in social housing, where standards of security are higher and much more uniform.
A key question, therefore, is how the police and partners can work with the private rented sector to improve security standards, particularly as there seem to be no economic and very few legal levers to pull (local authorities have some powers under the Housing Act 2004 to serve an Improvement Notice to reduce the risk of burglary, but these are evidently weak and rarely used).
A slightly different problem concerns the growth of Houses in Multiple Occupation (HMOs) where higher rates of violent crime, especially non-domestic violence, occur in conditions where strangers live in close proximity to each other, share facilities such as kitchens and bathrooms, and also entertain friends.
Friction inevitably results. HMOs have not been a priority for the police and their partners, or received much in the way of effective problem solving, but are clearly rising in prominence and importance.
These findings point not just to the importance of identifying and working with the most vulnerable members of local communities, but also to the need for police and partners to identify and respond to wider social and economic trends. With social housing in decline and an expanding private rented sector these kinds of problems are only likely to worsen.
Gavin Hales,Deputy Director, The Police Foundation
This blog was originally published on 25 July 2014 by Police Oracle