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Give more credibility to designing out crime

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As one of the co-authors of Thames Valley Police's research document 'Youth Shelters and Sports Systems - A Good Practice Guide', I felt I must write concerning the article by Stuart Waiton entitled 'Penned-up emotions' (AJ 17.5.01).

I feel he has misread the concept of providing amenities for youths. Over the past four years we have been promoting the idea of providing youths with their own facilities; we have researched the subject and worked closely with the University of the West of England.

In this country we have a high crime rate and youths are responsible for most of it (75 per cent is committed by the under 21s). But what facilities does society provide for young people?

Every new development, existing estate or village provides a play area for young children, but where do they go when they become too old for that facility? What do we provide, apart from a youth club a couple of hours one night a week? Take the trouble to ask them and they will tell you that 'all we want is a place of our own to meet and socialise among our own friends'.

But as nothing is provided they have to hang around the shops/bus stops or return to the play area where for a number of years they had ownership.

Waiton states he cannot imagine kids hanging out only in designated areas. Why not? If the area has been designed with their needs in mind and they have been fully involved in the project then they will have an ownership of the locality.

How can public space be lost when all we are providing is a seating area with a different design to the traditional park bench?

How can providing a seating area - and preferably some form of games activity, such as a play wall or basketball court - be a recognition of the problem of youth crime and anti-social behaviour?

It actually has the opposite effect: youths become bored as they do not have the facilities of their own and this is when problems occur.

For a number of years, in my role of designing out crime, I worked with local authorities to remove low walls from outside shops and put down cobbled surfaces in the pavements to stop youths from sitting there and hanging around.

But we were not addressing the issues: the concept of providing youths with somewhere to meet and socialise must be addressed in new developments and on existing estates. The police moving the youths on and imposing curfews does not solve the problem.

We should look at how we treat the next generation of adults, not merely keep criticising them or the police when we try to promote a basic concept that has been fully researched and evaluated.

At the beginning of May the Home Office Affairs Select Committee visited a number of youth shelters, and is expected to report back to parliament in a positive way on the need to provide these type of facilities.

DC RD Hampshire Crime prevention design adviser for Oxfordshire, Thames Valley Police

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