Running Out of Steam?

“I fear that the Sunday Telegraph’s campaign is running out of steam after only a few editions.” That’s what Lurch at the English blog Gun Culture thinks, and I think he may be right.

Today’s London Sunday Telegraph piece in their campaign to enact a “Make My Day” anti-burglar law is this sad article:

Burglar murders grandmother
By Karyn Miller
(Filed: 21/11/2004)

Police are investigating the murder of an 85-year-old grandmother, found dead after dialling 999 to report a burglar at her home.

Police found her collapsed at the bungalow in Longton, Stoke-on-Trent, where she lived alone. Attempts to revive her failed.

Police believe that her killer got in through the back of the bungalow and that her handbag may have been stolen.

Det Chief Insp Nick Baker, the senior investigating officer, issued an urgent appeal for information on behalf of the Staffordshire force and expressed his dismay at the pensioner’s death.

“This woman was a vulnerable lady who has been murdered as a result of her being considered an easy target,” he said. “This is now a murder investigation and we would like to hear from anyone who may have seen anything suspicious around the bungalows on Friday night.”

The victim was a widow and the mother of three adult daughters. Yesterday, frantic attempts were being made to trace them.

A post-mortem examination has been carried out, but the cause of death has yet to be disclosed. The woman had a heart condition, but it is not known if this was a contributing factor.

A team of 20 officers has been assigned to the case and yesterday carried out house-to-house inquiries.

Longton, one of Stoke’s famous “six towns”, is regarded as an up-and-coming area, popular with young families and the elderly.

In recent weeks, The Sunday Telegraph’s Right to Fight Back campaign has highlighted the cases of other men and women who have been viciously attacked in their homes and has called for a change in the law to give householders greater rights to defend themselves against intruders.

Now here’s a question I’d like everyone to sit and think about: How is an 85 year-old woman – with a heart condition – going to effectively defend herself from one or more burglars in a society that does not allow its citizens defensive firearms, nor even pepper spray? What weapon is allowed to her that will keep assailants out of contact distance? Hmmm?

That Telegraph piece also links to one from last week that I missed:

Community wardens are ‘the future of crime fighting’
By David Harrison
(Filed: 14/11/2004)

To her supporters, Liz Lovatt is the future – one of the first of what will eventually be 20,000 crimefighters who will transform our streets and relieve the pressure on over-stretched police forces. To her detractors, she is another example of policing on the cheap, a toothless non-officer who patrols a Kent village by day while the yobs rule the streets by night.

Guess which side I sit on?

Either way, Mrs Lovatt, 33, a community warden, is the only visible agent of law and order in Wye, near Ashford – a village of 2,000 people which, like so many others across Britain, is in the grip of hooligans and vandals after dark.

Mrs Lovatt is in no doubt of her contribution to David Blunkett’s war on anti-social behaviour. Taking a break from her patrol, she recounts her greatest success to date: “I caught a 12-year-old boy ripping flowers from a window box and he ended up so ashamed of what he had done that he re-planted the flowers himself.

Be still, my beating heart. How about the kid gets a good whipping after his gardening is complete?

What the hell happened to punishment?

“I don’t want to blow my own trumpet, but I got a vote of thanks from the parish council for that one.” This style of law enforcement practised by Mrs Lovatt is the Government’s answer to what many perceive as rising lawlessness in rural areas. There are 1,000 community wardens and 4,000 police-funded community support officers in Britain. Last week, the Home Office announced plans to increase those numbers to a total of 20,000 within four years.

On the surface this appears to be a good idea, but why does it remind me of the Soviet stukachi – the people who lived in apartment buildings and reported to the Party on the actions of other residents?

Mr Blunkett, the Home Secretary, describes these green-anoraked crusaders as the “new bobbies on the beat”, heralding the return of Dixon of Dock Green-style policing. His optimism is shared by Kent county council which trained Mrs Lovatt – a management with economics graduate – for eight weeks. But look beyond Mrs Lovatt’s undoubted dedication to her job and to the people of Wye and, critics of the community officer scheme say, you will find a tale of penny-pinching and gestures: Mrs Lovatt is paid £16,000 a year – a new police recruit can expect a salary of £4,000 more than that; she has no greater power of arrest than an ordinary citizen; she never works later than 10pm; and she lives 25 miles away from Wye – “to protect my family” from reprisals.

OH, even better! She’s not even a member of the community she’s “policing”! And the reason? TO PROTECT HER FAMILY FROM THE PEOPLE SHE INTERDICTS. That ought to give you the warm fuzzies!

Mr Blunkett pledged last month to give wardens powers to issue on-the-spot fines for anti-social behaviour including litter-dropping, graffiti and excessive noise at night.

Err… Does she get to collect those on-the-spot fines? Even if not, will this become a major source of revenue for the State? Because I can see the path to major abuses of that power. And she knocks off at 10 PM. What about “excessive noise” after then?

But for now, a typical day for Mrs Lovatt consists of giving villagers tips on crime prevention – anything from warnings about bogus doorstep salesmen to reminders to cancel the milk and papers when going on holiday.

And possible littering fines for those who let newspapers collect on their doorstep if they don’t, for example? New York Mayor Bloomberg tried something like that not too long back.

She does look out for graffiti but merely arranges for it to be erased. As a former firefighter, she checks burglar and smoke alarms. She also gives occasional talks – a recent one was on “stranger-danger” at a primary school – and attends Neighbourhood Watch meetings.

The rest of her time is spent patrolling the village, “keeping an eye on things and just being a visible presence like the old-fashioned bobbies”, she says.

What Mrs Lovatt and all the country’s other wardens do not do, however, is tackle crime. “That’s not my job,” she explains.

“I’m more of a liaison officer. I’m the eyes and ears of the village, the link between the community and the police. A big part of my job is to reduce people’s fear of crime.”

Not actually reduce crime, merely the fear of it.

Many villagers are not impressed.

Understandably so.

There may not be many serious crimes but, they say, there are drugs, burglaries, vandalism and violence – even a rape not so long ago. Mrs Lovatt is very pleasant, they say, but they want “proper” police officers.

Peter Lee, 74, who has lived in the village for 14 years, says: “It’s not the fear of crime that bothers us but actual crime. The yobs rampage through our gardens and allotments, smashing fences, and ripping out flowers and vegetables and scattering them all over the place.

“They ride motorbikes across our gardens, break into sheds, and throw eggs at windows. It goes on day after day, night after night. Many people are afraid to go out after dark.

“If we say anything then we just get abuse. And they give us a warden who knocks off at 10 o’clock – and that when she’s working the late shift. Don’t we have the right to live in peace?”

Apparently not. Those behaviors would be actual crimes. Things outside the job scope of Mrs. Lovatt. The yobs have more rights than you do. And they know it.

The warden “is trying hard”, Mr Lee adds. “But we want real policemen who can stop the yobs ruining our lives.”

Unfortunately, it isn’t the police (even the lack thereof) that is the real problem. If you want a better idea, read an English policeman’s blog. The major problem is in the courts.

Around the corner, 78-year-old Louisa Gray answers the door nervously. Persuaded that we are not about to rob her, she speaks slowly: “I don’t think a warden is the answer. I called her last week about fireworks being thrown at the house and she said that she was on leave until November 1 – and it was November 1 when I rang her.

“I’ve lost count of how many times they have smashed my greenhouse. They use bits of wood, signs they tear down, pellet guns, anything they can get their hands on. It’s terrible round here now. I would move out tomorrow if I could.”

Elsewhere in the village, there is little support for wardens. Gill Moffatt, the manager of The Gift Horse gift shop, which has suffered smash-and-grab raids twice in the past seven weeks, says: “Most of the offenders are teenagers who are at school in the day. The trouble starts at night – when the warden isn’t around.”

Ann Sutherland, the chairman of the Wye business association, says that the warden “gives old people in particular someone to talk to but can’t really deal with crime”. Her husband Peter is more blunt: “Wardens are a sop to people to avoid providing proper policemen.”

Cynic. How dare you insinuate that your government would rather make noises than actually do something useful! Besides, vandalism? Smash-and-grabs? Actual crimes. Outside her job scope.

Heather Hooper, who has a home near Wye and one in London, agrees: “We’ve had a lot of burglaries around us and nothing ever seems to get done about it. Sometimes I feel safer in London.”

Given London’s crime problem, that’s significant. But talk to Mrs. Lovatt. Perhaps she can help you fear crime less.

At the Tickled Trout pub, Richard Bartley, a resident involved in community work, said wardens picked up vital information that people would not give to a police officer. “They can play an important role in preventing crime and binding the community together,” he said.

Can you give an example?

Any example?

(tick tick tick tick….)

Richard Stagg, the landlord, disagreed. “The kids know that she’s got no powers and they are laughing at her,” he said. “We should send a couple of proper policemen in full-time for two months. That would really sort out the yobs.”

Or, how about you do it yourself?

When did Sir Robert Peel’s seventh Principle of Modern Policing become completely forgotten:

Police, at all times, should maintain a relationship with the public that gives reality to the historic tradition that the police are the public and the public are the police; the police being only members of the public who are paid to give full-time attention to duties which are incumbent on every citizen in the interests of community welfare and existence.

Every single word in that article said “The job of policing the community is the job of the STATE, not the people living in the community.”

You want to know why England has the crime problem it does? That’s it, in a nutshell.

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