Calculating Criminals

If you live around West Hampstead, you’ll know that it feels fairly safe around here. Of course, we’re still in an inner-London borough and it’s not as if you’d leave you front door open but I never worry about personal attacks here any more than I would anywhere else.

This is why the news earlier in the week of armed men running through the leafy streets of West Hampstead in broad daylight came as such a surprise. The BBC, Camden New Journal and the Ham & High all reported the story (even the Daily Mail covered it), which was tweeted live by some my followers.

In the wake of this story, the West Hampstead Conservative Group posted a message on twitter saying crime was a “serious issue” in West Hampstead, later clarifying that “burglary rates and car vehicle theft rates are higher in proportion to other areas in the immediate vicinty.”

A visit to the Metropolitan Police’s website confirms this statistic. But statistics are funny things. It’s possible to cut stats in all manner of ways.

To start with, only Westminster has a worse crime rate of the Met’s boroughs. Camden’s poor performance is largely due to its central London wards of Holborn and Bloomsbury, together with the well-known problems of Camden Town. Compared to these hotspots, West Hampstead fares well but they are hardly a good benchmark. Of Camden’s 18 wards, West Hampstead has the 9th lowest crime rate. Of course the West Hampstead ward does not equate exactly with the area people think of as “West Hampstead”. The other local wards in Camden are Fortune Green (2nd lowest), parts of Swiss Cottage (6th lowest) and Kilburn (14th lowest/5th highest).

Lets look at different types of crime, specifically those that are crimes against people: personal robbery and violent crimes. I accept (and know from personal experience) that burglaries and thefts are unpleasant experiences for the victims. We should work hard to minimize these crimes, but they are part and parcel of living in a big city. I am far more concerned with robbery and violent crime, which would make me feel unsafe walking around the area.

In August 2009, there was one personal robbery in the West Hampstead ward. In fact, it ranked as the second safest ward in the borough on this measure. Taking a longer perspective, we can see that after a big drop in robberies from 2006/7 to 2007/8 of 55 to 30, there was a rise in 2008/9 to 34. For violent crimes, West Hampstead is the 6th lowest of the 18 wards, with both Fortune Green and Swiss Cottage ranking lower. As with robberies, there was a big dip in reported violent crimes from 06/07 to 07/08, before a small increase in 08/09. Both the Brent and Camden sides of the Kilburn High Road all ranked worse for violent crime in August 2009, and this has held true for the past three years.

Rather than dissecting the statistics every which way, one guide to the crime problems in the area is to look at the Safer Neighbourhood teams’ priorities. For West Hampstead they are burglary and motor vehicle crime. Fortune Green adds anti-social behaviour to these priorities. Kilburn’s priorities are motor vehicle crime and anti-social behaviour by groups of youths, and finally, Swiss Cottage has those two, plus burglary.

So, what does all this tell us. Crime rates are rising in Camden, unsurprising in a recession. However, West Hampstead is a long way from being a crime hotspot and in terms of personal safety, it still “feels” safe, which is important for quality of life.

What do you think? How concerned are you about crime in West Hampstead?