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October 9, 2013

How fruit and veg cut crime

The phrases ‘co-production’ and ‘taking an asset based approach’ have become the new jargon of many public sector bodies when describing how they want to work with communities.  No longer the top down, take it or leave it provision of public services, this new approach requires a very different mind-set to be adopted by everyone – none more so than communities.  It can take time to bed in but the results can be startling.  Who’d have thought setting up a fruit and veg shop could slash crime rates in half?


How fruit and veg cut crime

Sunday Herald 6th October

SETTING up a fruit and vegetable shop seems an unlikely way to tackle crime. But in one deprived Scottish housing scheme, it has helped cut crime by nearly half.

In official language, the initiative is known as an “assets-based approach”. Put simply, it is a “hearts and minds” operation which sees the police helping locals to take greater pride and responsibility for their community, in turn building trust between local people and officers, which results in more tip-offs being passed to police and thus leads to a cut in crime figures.

The results so far seem impressive. There were 66 incidents of crime recorded between January and April in Gowkthrapple this year against 124 during the same period the previous year – a drop of 47%. In April, there were 56% fewer crimes and 70% fewer calls to police relating to anti-social disorder compared with the same month in 2012.

The project in Wishaw is one of several pilot schemes by Police Scotland. If it proves successful, it could be rolled out across the country.

The initiative involves the local police and representatives from North Lanarkshire Council regularly meeting with residents to get them to think about how they would like to see the area changed. Officers then advise residents on how to get plans off the ground.

At the first gathering, the official representatives outnumbered the locals. But now there is an established Gowkthrapple Voluntary Action Group (GVAG), which is setting up events such as barbecues, cooking classes and computing courses to bring residents together. Officers also helped residents who said they wanted a shop supplying low-cost fruit and vegetables.

Robert Stewart, vice-chairman of GVAG, has lived in Gowkthrapple for 44 years. He said: “It used to be if you were seen talking to the police you were ostracised. Now we don’t actually think of them as police officers at times … They give to our community, so we accept them as part of the community.”

The approach was introduced by Chief Inspector Tony Bone. He said: “I think the main difference is that people see the police as people. It’s a very simple concept.”

One recent example involves information about a burglary suspect, which was given to the community police officers when they dropped by the fruit shop. It resulted in an arrest being made for five housebreakings in the area.

Social psychologist Dr Fergus Neville, a research fellow in public health at St Andrews University, is helping to evaluate a similar project in Hawkhill, Alloa. He said: “When people have a sense of common fate, this can lead to a recognition of shared identity.”

Neville said this could lead to a shift in collective “social norms” to having community pride and looking out for neighbours.

For Joanne Langford, chairwoman of GVAG, the difference is simple: “Before you wouldn’t let your weans out and about – you wouldn’t as much as go to the corner shop and back at night.

“Now we can walk to the shop when it is dark, we can put the weans out to play and they can actually enjoy the playpark.”