Is the drive toward security making us less secure?

Gang holding a dagger

Gang holding a daggerThere’s an interesting article on the BBC website by home affairs correspondent Tom Symonds. He describes how he was mugged at knifepoint and how the police then tracked down his assailant and arrested him.

During the process from investigation and arrest to prosecution and conviction, the police used a website to track Symond’s stolen iPhone and CCTV to disprove the suspect’s alibi.

Better security for our homes and cars has led to a reduction in these categories of crime, but is it a coincidence that street crime has gone up as property crime has come down? As homes become more secure, some people are dissuaded from committing burglary but the more desperate criminals resort to robbing people in the streets. Or hijacking cars.

On the other hand, perhaps that’s not an excuse for rolling back security technology: if we are engaged in an arms race with the criminals, then we have to keep innovating to ensure we stay one step ahead. That means better technology and a public consensus that we will deploy it wherever and whenever it is judged to be useful, as in the case of CCTV.

My fear is that you can’t make everything “unstealable” but in trying, we might raise the stakes to a point where we are increasingly targeted where we are most vulnerable.

The streets are where the law-abiding majority are put in contact with the criminals, but it is also where we have to face up to some uncomfortable truths about the nature of the society in which we live.

Surely it is no coincidence that the majority of violent street crimes are committed by people who come from the lower economic strata of our society. Being poor is not an excuse for being a criminal, and there are many poor people who are at least as much a victim of crime as wealthier citizens.

However, the data points to poverty and lack of opportunity as contributing factors in criminal behaviour, drug abuse and a host of other social malaises.

As well as reducing the opportunities for crime through better security, we have to reduce the supply of criminals. We could try to lock them all up (expensive and not very effective) or we could work to heal the rift in our society between the haves and the have-nots.

We should aim to make it increasingly difficult to lead a life of crime while opening up more opportunities to lead a better life.

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