As police numbers are slashed and crime threatens to rise, has the UK Government given any thought to how private security helps reduce crime? Putting aside the causes of crime for a moment, could the Chancellor attack crime at the root by giving homeowners and businesses an incentive to invest in security?
Private investment in security has arguably done more to prevent crime than anything else. It’s common sense: from locks on windows and doors to burglar alarms, access control, CCTV and security staff, security is the first line of defence. A 2010 study in the Netherlands found that requiring new homes to be fitted with burglar proof windows and doors led to a 26 per cent reduction in crime.
Given the evidence that security reduces crime, a responsible government could either follow the Netherlands’ lead and impose regulation or find ways to encourage people to invest in security.
The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors is calling on the Chancellor to cut the rate of VAT from 20 per cent to five percent on the repair and refurbishment of buildings. If this were extended to security, it would stimulate an increase in the sales of security products and services, making our homes and businesses more secure.
Of course that’s fine for households but businesses have a responsibility to look out for themselves, don’t they? I would argue that by securing themselves, businesses help make society in general more secure.
One of the greatest boons to crime fighting in the UK in the past 10-15 years has been the growth of private CCTV. Of 1.85 million cameras in the UK, 92 per cent are privately owned.
The Metropolitan Police MetCU unit uses images from cameras to good effect, identifying several thousand suspects from CCTV images taken from shops, petrol stations, pubs and other sources.
But you only have to look at the quality of some of the images they have to work with, or watch an episode of CrimeWatch, to see how badly we need to upgrade the private camera infrastructure in this country.
Financial incentives such as tax credits to businesses to improve the quality of CCTV and other security devices would save police time and money and make it harder for criminals.
With high quality evidence, police can solve crimes like shoplifting and robbery more quickly and effectively. This not only sends a signal to criminals but also gives the police more time to focus on solving and preventing violent crime and anti-social behaviour.
For a small sacrifice in tax in a relatively small economic sector, the Government could stimulate a resurgence in security spending which would save money, reduce the burden on police and make people feel more secure.