According to The Croydon Guardian, at a recent meeting of the Croydon Community Police Consultative Group Croydon’s top policeman, Chief Superintendant Mark Gore, blamed local newspapers for the high fear of crime in Croydon (I say “According to The Croydon Guardian…” because they don’t actually provide a direct quote of what he said at the meeting). They’re running a poll to find out whether people think he was right or wrong.
If Mark really did say this, then I think that was an error of judgement. Many of the people I speak to while canvassing have either experienced crime or anti-social behaviour themselves or know someone who has. It is this experience that fuels their fear. And for the police to imply - perhaps inadvertently - that they think the real problem is the local media gives the impression that they don’t get it. That’s a great shame because I think that, given the constraints he and his officers are under in terms of the volume of paperwork and the courts failing to properly punish people when they are convicted, Mark Gore is doing a good job.
And there is a kernel of truth in what Mark is alleged to have said. The editor of The Advertiser is quite open about the fact that his job is to run stories that will sell papers. You can’t blame him for that - ultimately he has to focus on the bottom line, although for me journalism is about telling us what we ought to know as well as what we want to know. Stories about the most serious crimes sell papers so these crimes are always going to get a lot of coverage and that can give people a misleading impression of how dangerous their area actually is.
The issue of gangs is a good example. We do have a gang problem in parts of Croydon - it is not just a media invention. But because of all the coverage about gangs in the local and national media, many people now see any group of teenagers hanging around on a street corner as a gang - particularly if they’re wearing hoods - and as a result no longer feel safe in their area. In fact, most of the time they’re just teenage kids hanging around as teenage kids have always done (been there, got the ticket).
So if Mark was saying fear of crime is solely due to media reporting he’s wrong, but if he’s saying that there is a problem but the inevitable media focus on the most serious crimes leads people to think that it is worse than it actually is then I agree with him.