In fact, there are. Street Watch, a scheme that began in East Hampshire, England, and Street by Street, a programme developed by East Belfast Alternatives, are both community policing initiatives designed to help citizens take back their shared spaces from petty crime and young people committing anti-social behaviour.
Street Watch is the creation of Chief Inspector Philip Kedge, a police officer who was concerned about the level of disruptive behaviour and practices of young people in his town of Four Marks. On his own time, he began to put together plans for an organisation that would get citizens involved in patrolling and monitoring their own neighbourhoods.
When Street Watch began in 2008, it was initially met with scepticism – what could middle-aged, middle-class adults do about young people drinking and partying in the streets, or doing drugs in the town green spaces after dark?
As it turns out, they can do quite a lot. From 2008 to 2010, two areas of criminal activity were significantly reduced: vehicle crime by 47%, and criminal damage by 30%. Complaints of rowdy behaviour also dropped by 17%.
The programme itself involves recruiting community members to join the organisation and sign up for monthly shifts. The volunteers are put through training and paired up to go out, equipped with bright yellow, reflective vests and notepads to keep track of what they observe.
Feedback from both the volunteers and the young people they encounter has been positive. Speaking to the Telegraph, one 19-year-old said that he ‘used to be typical of teenage ‘hoodies’ that locals were frightened of’ but that Street Watch had made a real difference in how he and his friends acted.
‘Our attitudes towards [Street Watch Volunteers] changed – we became more respectful, and if they ask us to do something, we’ll happily do it. It’s all about the way they approach you. If they are polite and respectful, taking a genuine interest in you, we’re polite and respectful in return.’
Inspector Kedge says that while the reduction of crime is a hugely positive step for the programme and the community, ‘the scheme’s [real] success lies in a reduced fear of crime in Four Marks.’
A similar scheme was adopted in Belfast last year by an organisation called East Belfast Alternatives (EBA), a branch of Northern Ireland Alternatives, which is a restorative justice-based outfit that works with youth to divert them from crime and anti-social behaviour as well as reconciliation between offenders and victims.
The EBA model is called Street by Street, and performs essentially the same function as Street Watch. Trained and highly visible volunteers patrol their neighbourhood streets Friday and Saturday nights, on the lookout for potential problems.
Volunteers with Street by Street are well aware of the tensions between the communities they work in and the PSNI. Often it is the volunteers, not the police, who will have better luck deterring or stopping petty criminal activity taking place because they have taken time to build up relationships with people in their neighbourhoods.
Both of these programmes are quick to say that their aim is not to replace the police or form a vigilante citizens’ group. They are about ‘good citizenship,’ getting community members involved in their own neighbourhoods, and creating safer places for all people. And while they do have working relationships with the police, involving them when actual crimes have occurred, both groups say that often their presence alone is enough to put off trouble.
Street Watch has been so effective that it currently has ten schemes in operation and has attracted the attention of Home Secretary Theresa May. Why it works, Inspector Kedge says, is because it ‘works as...a partnership model and approach between the community and police where residents are empowered...Street Watch enables residents to take a stand whilst supported by police.’
Speaking on the BBC’s Politics Show, Maz Heebron, one of Street Watch’s founding members, had these last words about Street Watch: ‘...when you actually get out there and engage with the youngsters, 99%of them are fantastic. Let’s get to know them, see what their problems are.’
What do you think about these programmes? Do you think they would be effective in your community? Do we need strong community-police relations? How can we build them?