Litter and crime

Every now and then I read research showing that the presence of litter predisposes an area to the incidence of crime. There are sometimes dramatic conclusions reached.

‘The Elements and Prevalence of Fear’ written in 2007 by Professor Jonathan Shepherd and Simon Moore of Cardiff University, showed that as people’s perceptions of neighbourhood decline increase, so too does crime, and just as devastating, fear of crime. Litter, they claimed, was positively associated with fear of crime and personal harm. Professor Shepherd added, in a separate comment : “a disfigured environment sends messages that personal disfigurement may be next. Since fear of crime can be as corrosive as crime itself, litter disposal is likely to make us all feel safer”. And the Commission on Integration and Cohesion for its 2007 report, ‘Our Shared Future’, found that “factors such as litter and broken glass are seen as signs that people do not care about an area, or about each other “. That isn’t perhaps strictly related to the local crime figures, but it’s a pretty depressing claim.

I am really interested in the link between the presence of litter and the presence of crime and, just as importantly, the presence of litter and the fear of crime and the related feeling of not being safe. After all, is there a huge difference to the human mind between being terrified by crime having been committed and being terrified by the possibility that crime might be committed ? Don’t both scenarios cause us humans a considerable amount of mental agony ?

I want to explore the question of whether the presence of litter in their area makes people feel unsafe and, the flip-side of this particular coin, whether removing the litter from a badly-littered area does, in fact, make people feel safer.

So this issue is, in effect, on two levels – first, on the ground and in an objectively-measured way, whether it is the case that less litter equals less crime and, second, more subjectively, whether less litter equals people FEELING safer.

I would very much appreciate your help with this knotty problem, please. What do these issues mean to you ? Whether you live in a rural village or in an inner-city area, how do you feel about the presence (or absence) of litter in terms of feeling safer or not feeling safer ?

The reason that I think that this is such a key question is that, if it can be shown that there is a strong link between the presence of litter and both the presence of crime and/or the fact of people feeling less safe, then there is an even more compelling argument for getting rid of the litter in an area quickly. Simply claiming that “litter spoils the look of an area” isn’t any longer a strong enough reason to remove it urgently from certain areas. But if we can show that the presence of litter has a negative psychological effect on people who live in the area and also, perhaps, makes them more vulnerable to crime, then how can we possibly take any view other than that litter simply MUST be removed as urgently as possible, particularly from inner-city areas where its effects may be most damaging.

So – do please leave a comment below and let me know how litter or its removal affects your feelings of safety and vulnerability.

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