Life in Gurgaon

A sense of communal living helps moulding safer cities

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Last week the Gurugram Police released the crime report for the year. Motor vehicle theft is the most highly reported crime in the city with an average of 11 vehicles being stolen in a day. Burglary and theft are also high with more than two cases reported a day.

Apart from crimes like theft and burglary, most Indian cities nowadays are vulnerable to crimes against women and children. For the last year in Gurugram, crimes against women went up by 5% and crimes against children by 29%. But we must be careful when reading statistics of crimes like these. In many cases, crimes against women and children are committed by people known to them and therefore reporting is uneven. Increased awareness and media attention have also led to higher rates of reporting in the country.

In the years following the December 16 gangrape case, we saw an increase in reporting of crimes against women. So, in some instances, increased rates may only represent increased reporting which is a positive thing. Since there has historically been so much underreporting of these crimes, it is also very likely that the reported cases represent only a fraction of the actual cases. But, with better awareness and improved faith in the police and legal system, reporting of such cases will continue to go up. Crimes against the elderly is also increasing in cities. Such crimes are committed both, by strangers and by people known to the victim, especially family members. Addressing such crimes requires effort by the police that goes beyond the criminal justice system.

It is generally believed that cities, especially larger cities, report higher rates of crime than small cities and rural areas. The size and anonymity of cities are often cited as the reason for more crime. At the same time, those living in cities can also play a role in ensuring the crime and violence are kept in check. Involving citizens is important and neighbourhood watch groups are one means of doing so. But it is important that these groups do not become ways of making spaces exclusive, keeping people out.

Real safety can be built only when there is a sense of community. That is the difference between safety and security. Security is ensured through CCTV cameras and guards, whereas safety is a broader concept which involves prevention steps and citizen engagement. The police have an important role to play, respond promptly and ensure that justice is served. We all want cities where children can play freely and women and elderly can move around without fear. This cannot be built only with police and security systems.

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One way of reducing public crime is to build better public spaces.

Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) is a methodology that has been used in cities around the world. The CPTED is a set of design principles used to discourage crime. It includes principles such as natural surveillance where spaces are designed so that people in the community themselves watch the spaces. These could be residents, shops, cafes or vendors.

A second principle is to have well-maintained spaces, so that people feel both a sense of ownership and participate in the maintenance.

Crime and violence exist in all cities and all cities struggle with ways to deal with it. Innovative ideas are needed along with strong policing and criminal justice systems to build safer communities and cities. In this, a range of different actors need to be engaged such as RWAs, companies, NGOs and schools, among others.