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crime...oh really?
by richard cole

I was stopped outside a supermarket the other day by the police. Thoughts of man love and burly convicts flashed through my mind. Had I forgotten to pay for something or had my interesting past caught up with me?
“Don’t worry,” the police officer said kindly, seeing the look of panic on my face. She was, she said, doing a survey on crime in the area, or to be more accurate, the perception of crime. I visibly relaxed.

She asked me if I had ever witnessed or been the victim of a crime. I had to think about that one. I’ve lived here in Suffolk, England for near on 20 years and in all that time, I’ve only witnessed one incident. A young man from town had stolen a car and driven it out to where we live; only stopping when he crashed it into the house opposite, where it rather unhelpfully caught fire. He ran off, like they do, and left us to call the fire brigade and evacuate the old lady who lived there. She was shaken but otherwise unharmed and we looked after her. The firefighters dealt with the car and the police arrested the young scallywag standing at the bus stop. Since it was three in the morning, I don’t know when he thought a bus would come along.

Outside the supermarket, the police officer was amazed, asking where I lived and if there were any houses for sale around my neighbourhood! What amazed her more was that I have not been a victim of a crime in the last twenty years, nor do I know anyone who has. Now this is not due to me being Johnny-No-Mates, rather it’s the reality of this area.

In my district of 230 square miles, there are 87,000 people. There were 13 robberies and 761 attacks against the person last year (and the majority of those were amongst the 16 to 24 age group and range from pushing and shoving to murder.) There were 117 burglaries. Shock, horror? Well let’s keep it in perspective. The break-ins were a quarter of the UK average and attacks were half.

There was a news report here this week about a group of gun owners in Wisconsin who support the “Open Carry” approach. We saw a couple walking round the supermarket wearing guns in holsters at their hips. He looked beefy enough to never be attacked by anyone. She carried a hand gun with a pink handle, which is, I suppose, the gun maker’s equivalent of a Thai ladyboy.

She said she felt safer as it made muggers think twice. So is she actually frightened and only feels able to go out when carrying enough fire power to launch a military coup in a small African country, or is she genuinely facing a marauding herd of muggers in the car park? Well, according to the Wisconsin Crime Statistics in 2005, there were 72 robberies, 140 attacks against the person and 387 burglaries per 87,000 people.

Compared to my district, Wisconsin is a five times safer, but I’m a lot less likely to come home and find my house burgled. So perhaps she would be better staying at home, lurking in the bushes and armed to the teeth, waiting for the burglar, than worrying about the mugger in the car park.

What I’m getting round to is that actual crime and how we feel about the risk of crime are often vastly different. I don’t feel at all at risk. She claims she does. Yet I’m more likely to be attacked. Hell, I don’t even lock the cars on the drive at night. I don’t own a gun and the only person I know who does is the local gamekeeper.

So where does the perception come from? My guess is the media. If I didn’t watch the news or read a paper, I’d be floating along in a little happy bubble of security.

Perception and reality you see, two very different things.

If you enjoy these columns, more of my scribblings can be found at www.meerdog.co.uk


I live in Suffolk, England with my family. After teaching for years I ended up in a high octane job in London advising the UK government on educational stuff. I retired early to pursue my writing career. Now, I write and ride a ridiculously large motor cycle, although not at the same time.

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