Sydenham got there first...

This morning Radio 4 did a piece on a pilot scheme in Middlesbrough where anti social behaviour is be dealt with by the use of ‘talking CCTV’.

So much for Middlesbrough being first; this has already been happening at Sydenham Station, although I don’t know how frequently! One evening last summer, I came into the station to go into town where a couple of young lads were sitting on the back of a bench on the platform, with their feet on the seat. All of a sudden a voice came over the platform speaker, saying something like ; ‘Will the young men on platform one take their feet off the bench. Yes, YOU!’

The effect was immediate, they got down and the rest of us in the station just sort of smirked at them; minor piece of anti social behaviour dealt with.

But as I crossed the bridge over to the London platform I was aware that, although instantly very effective, this did not bode well. It’s also not so hard to extrapolate from John Reid’s latest plans a world where our behaviour is monitored and controlled by the state. If that’s the case, we’re not really that far from 1984, are we? The thing to remember is as well, how easy to implement state surveillance is in this country, as we have more CCTV cameras per head than any other country.

However, it is not enough just to demonize CCTV; I know from my work with the local Safer Neighbourhoods Team in Crystal Palace that a CCTV camera, well advertised and pointing at the right place can transform the quality of lives of residents on estates. And let’s not forget that it can also serve the defence of human rights and civil liberties as Liberty’s calls for an IPCC investigation of the treatment of a woman by the police in an underground car park in Sheffield illustrate.

It is, though, a very typical response from the government, in the face of antisocial behaviour, to resort to a centralised state delivered solution; and how much more centralised do you have to get than a faceless voice over a loud speaker?

If however, we want a solution to low level anti-social behaviour we need to look to ourselves.

If we don’t like the behaviour of our fellow citizens such as putting feet on seats or littering we actually have a choice. We can either leave it to the government to sort out and hence not be surprised when we find ourselves being treated like children, or we can start to set examples and take responsibility as individuals and a community for the behaviour of our young people.

I’m not suggesting any sort of vigilantism and it is for the police and the safer neighbourhood teams to deal with violent, threatening or criminal behaviour.

But many times the situation is quite benign, so, instead of tutting (or as often happens with me ‘fuming’) to ourselves because someone has dropped litter or a young person has their feet up on the seat in the train, we should say something, do something, just provide a different model of behaviour for them to follow. It may not always be successful, our request may be initially ignored but even a failed request will have a bigger impact on future behaviour than none at all.

Anyhow, in many cases with teenagers it is a lack of awareness that such behaviour is antisocial than any deliberate intent. And OK, so maybe their parents should be teaching them how to behave, but that doesn’t absolve us from our community responsibility. That is certainly not an excuse that would have entered our heads 30 or 40 years ago - or even 20, if you happened to be an adult in the village where I grew up!

If each one of us just undertook one action, provided some sort of role model just once a week, then we would surely start to make a difference. This is not a policy but grass roots action, that I am advocating and it is a slow burn not an overnight solution - obviously!

I firmly believe that people don’t drink and drive as much now, not because they think they’ll get caught by the police, but that it is no longer socially acceptable – I’m looking forward to when speeding becomes an equal taboo.

We have an opportunity as individuals to have an impact on our community and I am convinced that the world most of us would prefer to live in is one where the community regulates itself rather than leaving it to someone a bunch of private security employees to bawl at us through a loud speaker.

I just don’t want naming and shaming; I want a strong, supportive and free community.


Jimmy said...
5 Apr 2007, 09:20:00

Could we have cameras in our kitchens to tell us if we are eating healthly and cameras in the living room in case we disagree with the views express but The Party spokespeople?

But I think your idea that we should all stand up to anti-social behaviour is a little dangerous. It may be okay in the small village where you grew up, but in the real world you should only do this if you are wearing a stab-proof vest. If everybody was middle-class then you would be fine, but Lewisham isn't quite like that.

Given the choice I would prefer to have CCTV monitored in the area rather than vast numbers of armed police roaming the streets, which is the solution they have used in New York and other cities.

Jo Christie-Smith said...
5 Apr 2007, 09:36:00

But I do stand up to anti-social behaviour -in Lewisham, in Penge in Crystal Palace; wherever I happen to be - I wouldn't be advocating it if I hadn't given it a go already. If I see a young person drop litter I ask them to pick it up, often they do, when they don't I don't make a fuss I just put it in the bin myself - it's about setting a model of how to behave at the level of an individual.

Clearly, you have to pick your moments and if you feel in danger then that would not be the time to intervene; violent or criminal behaviour is a matter for the police.

Don't assume that villages don't have similar problems around low level anti social behaviour - young people in villages can be, like in cities, very territorial. I remember one Friday evening about 20 years ago, walking home with my boyfriend and his mate and being set upon by two guys from a nearby village, our crime being that we came from the wrong village - it was quite vicious and not at all chocolate box.

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