Leicester 'guerrilla knitting': The science behind police attempts to 'reclaim communities'

Taking back the community: Police unleash their 'guerrilla knitting' initiative on the Leicester public (Leicestershire Police) (Leicestershire Police)

In the modern era of crime-ridden corner and 'ASBO' gangs loitering on streets, police are thinking up ever more inventive ways to deter criminals and reassure residents.

The latest attempt, by Leicestershire Police, saw the East Midlands force attach hundreds of knitted 'pom-poms' to trees and lamppost to help reduce fear of crime in an area of the city.

The 'guerrilla knitting' saw dozens of inoffensive woolly baubles strapped to tree branches in Bede Park and Great Central Way, Leicester.

Police wanted to encourage people to use the two areas of Leicester - but opinion appears split as to whether it will make any difference.

Criminologists say making the area look cosier will make it feel safer, but residents in Leicester appear unconvinced.

When asked if the decorations made them feel safer, one resident told BBC Radio Leicester: "I don't understand why wool would change people's perception on crime and stuff like that.

"I don't understand why woollen balls are going to fix something."

Police say part of the logic behind the pom-poms is that the perception of crime in the area is much worse than the actual figures.

Professor Carol Hedderman, from the University of Leicester's criminology department, agrees, and says initiatives like this might help tackle residents' 'disproportionate fear of crime.'

Professor Hedderman told Yahoo! today: "Fear of crime is often more debilitating for people than the actual crime itself.

"A lot of people, particularly the elderly, feel disproportionately fearful about crime compared to their actual chances of being attacked.

"This can often limit their chances of going out into their communities, but initiatives like guerrilla knitting try to change that.

"What violent crime there is tends to hit the headlines, and it makes people feel that crime is more prevalent.

"Guerrilla knitting addresses that and makes people feel their community is a nice area where they can have fun."

Professor Hedderman added that there is psychological method in the madness behind putting knitted baubles on trees.

She said: "'Broken window theory' states that if you make an environment appear more pleasant and keep it nice, people will take more pride in it.

"It approaches crime prevention in the complete opposite way to the deterrent approach by taking back public spaces and seeing them as welcoming areas.

"Crime prevention like CCTV and buzzers in shopping centres is focused on trying to deter potential offenders, but the difference with something like 'guerrilla knitting' is that it's intended to make the community feel safer."

Other councils, police forces and residents' associations have employed similar methods to try to either deter offenders from problem areas or make them feel safer to residents.

In 2009, Layton Burroughs Residents Association used bright pink lights in a Mansfield underpass to drive out unwanted loitering teenagers.

The bright pink lights - also used by beauticians to highlight blemishes - were said to have a 'calming' effect on residents, and were also seen as 'uncool' by teens - not least because the bright beams showed up their acne.

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