Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS

Keeping an eye on security

Public perception of crime plays a significant role in shaping policies and interventions. An EU-backed project developed a system for deepening our understanding of the factors that influence how citizens view crime.
Keeping an eye on security
Combating crime is a common challenge for all EU Member States. People's sense of security or insecurity is not just influenced by actual crimes committed, but also by how crime is perceived. People often feel more threatened than the crime statistics would suggest, and sometimes the reverse can occur.

Given the important influence of public perception on policy, this is an area that requires greater attention. The 'Changing perceptions of security and interventions' (CPSI) project created a standardised, adaptable methodology to collect, analyse, interpret and monitor data on actual and perceived security in relation to crime.

Financed by the EU, the project developed, tested and validated a conceptual model, research methodology and a data warehouse. CPSI also explored related ethical issues.

Among CPSI's significant results were the differences it uncovered between countries with a high 'social fear' of crime and those with a high 'personal fear'. The Netherlands, Austria and Sweden were among the first group, where crime is perceived as a societal issue 'out there'. In these countries, the personal fear of crime was lower than would be expected based on the number of offences reported.

In contrast, countries in the second group — such as Bulgaria and Italy — have average victimisation levels but below-average reporting of crimes so under average social fear of crime. Therefore, personal fear of crime is more detached from actual security than social fear of crime.

With the exception of Germany, France and the United Kingdom, EU citizens do not have a significant level of fear when it comes to crime. Thus, it follows that, with the exception of Italy and possibly the United Kingdom, combating crime is seen as a predominantly national, not European, sphere of action.

CPSI has provided significant insights into how public perception of crime is shaped as well as its influence on policy. Moreover, the system and methodology developed can be adapted and applied in many other contexts.

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