Measuring and mitigating citizens' feelings of insecurity
La Percepció Importa. La seguretat de les persones
Outbreaks of citizens' perceptions of insecurity can have political implications that require a rapid response specifically targeting causal factors. Such feelings of insecurity can result from a range of issues — from prostitution, to use of public space by vulnerable groups, to more systemic problems.
Common responses to insecurity rely on increased police presence and visibility, which generally don’t tackle the underlying problems. Such responses may result in a temporary cessation of criminal activity. For example, in Catalonia, a few weeks after a police raid, the local situation reverts back to 'normal'.
When researching the real-world problem on which their CCI Tool should focus, the Department of Interior of Catalonia decided to focus on the issue of groups of empty apartments being taken over by drug dealers and their customers — so-called 'narcopisos' — and the impact on citizens' perceptions of insecurity in one neighbourhood of Barcelona.
Despite recorded victimisation rates not having actually increased, citizens' perceive the risk of falling victim to crime as being very high. In January 2020, residents took their displeasure to the streets and demonstrated against their perceived increasing insecurity.
The Perception Matters Tool is a manual comprising five parts that guide local
practitioners through the process of understanding and responding to citizens'
feelings of insecurity.
The Tool outlines the ingredients of an outbreak of perceptions of insecurity:
The Tool supports public prevention officers and senior police managers
to properly identify the underlying causes of citizens’ feelings of insecurity and to articulate a comprehensive public response.
Analysis and response guide
Criteria for a quick response
Useful tools and methodologies
Criteria for mid- to long-term responses
Perceived safety and communication support
Municipal and regional prevention officers
Senior police officers
Municipal security managers
District security authorities
Expert teams — in regional and local institutions or service providers.
Tool Direction identified
Tool development & prototyping
Local implementation workshop
International implementation workshop
The Tool was informed by a critical review of the scientific evidence-base and the development of theoretical concepts and practical use scenarios. In addition, the following research was conducted:
Interviews with two police constables and two senior police officers responsible for a city district
Focus group with six municipal prevention officers
Interviews with two representatives of neighbourhood associations
Focus group with three researchers and one senior manager from the Barcelona Institute for Regional and Metropolitan Studies
Two scenarios were selected for use in the DesignLab. Using a structured creative process based on the CCI Feelings of Unsafety Lifecycle, ideas were generated for tackling feelings of insecurity related to the two scenarios. The results were analysed and concept directions identified.
The Tool was applied by prevention officers to the issue of 'narcopisos' — empty apartments in the old city of Barcelona being taken over by drug dealers.
The initial outbreak of citizen insecurity took place in January 2020 and manifested again during the Pandemic. Existing data relating to the demonstration area was compared, including police data; crime victimisation survey data; and calls to the 112 emergency call service.
Criminality (including occupied apartments where drug dealing took place) was notably reduced due to different actions and strategies.
Nevertheless, local residents felt overlooked by the institutions and believed that they were unsafe in their own neighbourhood. The Perception Matters Tool was used to identify the underlying problem — which was one of communication — and develop appropriate interventions.
Tool implementation activities during the CCI project
Tool implementation activities planned for the future
Buil-Gil, D. Moretti , A., Shlomo, N, y Medina, J. (2021) “Worry about crime in Europe: A model-based small area estimation from the European Social Survey”. In European Journal of Criminology, Vol 18 (2), pages 274-298
Davey, C.L. and Wootton, A.B (2019) "Feelings of Insecurity Lifecycle model" in “PIM Toolkit 4: Report on feelings of insecurity – Concepts and models”. Deliverable D7.2 EU-funded Cutting Crime Impact (CCI) project, available from: www.cuttingcrimeimpact.eu.
Doran, B.J. y Burgess, M.B. (2011) Putting Fear of Crime on the Map. Investigating Perceptions of Crime Using Geographic Information Systems. New York, Dordrecht, Heidelberg, London. Springer.
Ferretti, F. Pozza, A. y Coluccia, A. (2018) “Urban safety: A re-reading of the sense of unsafety through individual and ecological dimensions”. In European Journal of Criminology, pages 1-22 (DOI 10.1177/147737081).
Guillén-Lasierra, F. (2021). “The fallacy of objective security and its consequences”. In International E-Journal of Criminal Sciences. (https://ojs.ehu.eus/index.php/inecs/article/view/22531)
Research to identify causal factors and appropriate solutions is key to addressing outbreaks of citizens' feelings of insecurity.
Policymakers should support practitioners in understanding relationships between feelings of insecurity and specific situations and issues.
The Perception Matters Tool can support security policymakers and practitioners in understanding the range of responses available when addressing an outbreak of citizens' perceptions of insecurity.