Comment: Housing associations are a crucial part of the crime fighting family

With a new Beating Crime Plan striving to create safer streets and homes, housing associations can help beat serious organised crime.
Darren Burton

With a new Beating Crime Plan striving to create safer streets and homes, housing associations can help power partnerships that beat serious organised crime, says Forbes’s Darren Burton.

The Government recently launched its policy paper for tackling crime in a bid to create ‘fewer victims, peaceful neighbourhoods and a safe country’. This forms part of the Prime Minister’s wider ambition to address regional disparities in living and employment to ‘level up’ the UK.

Crime, and its underlying causes and far-reaching impacts, poses a serious challenge to such positive intentions. Criminal activity can create fear in communities, damage legitimate businesses and undermine education. It can have long-lasting social and economic affects that significantly impede prosperity, which is why the Prime Minister is keen for the Beating Crime Plan to give everyone security and confidence. These factors could prove the bedrock for ‘levelling up’.

To make communities safer, part of the Plan focuses on cutting homicide, serious violence, and neighbourhood crime. This involves aligning the crime fighting family – the police, prosecutors, prisons, and probation services with partners such as schools, clinical commissioning groups and other organisations to adopt a consistent, data-driven approach to crime prevention. Housing associations are uniquely placed to form an intrinsic part of this collaboration.

Registered providers of social housing have the eyes, ears, and connections to be able to spot the early signs of criminal activity. They have existing and effective processes for the reporting and recording of resident concerns, which can prove an important source of information for pinpointing serious organised crime. As such, housing associations are naturally placed to support, as outlined in the Beating Crime Plan, targeted interventions to address places, people, and criminal enterprises.

Seemingly minor crimes such as burglary, criminal damage, common assault, and possession of drugs, may be reported to housing associations. These crimes can sometimes cause less alarm if levels of damage and injury are minor but are often indicators of more serious organised crime and the consequences of established criminal networks.

County lines drugs, for example, often leads to violence, theft, criminal damage and anti-social behaviour. During his ‘levelling up’ announcement in July this year, Boris Johnson singled out this crime and drew attention to the misery faced by children affected by county lines gangs.

Vulnerable children and young adults are often exploited by gangs which want to establish drug supply networks (lines) throughout communities nationwide. The National Crime Agency believes 1,000 such lines are in operation across the country, with some estimations that they move hundreds of millions of pounds worth of drugs each year.

Whilst exploited young people are often the unfortunate front of county lines, the more hidden back-end of the operation will be controlled by large-scale criminal gangs, which operate nationally and internationally. The activities of these gangs will often extend beyond drugs into other areas, funding an ongoing cycle of crime and continuing to negatively affect people and communities.

Analysis and investigation of minor crimes in communities can help to piece together and address the much larger issue of organised crime. For this to be successful, housing associations need to be at the heart of crime fighting partnerships.

A collaborative approach will create greater opportunity for registered housing providers to share information, which can support a wider evidence-based approach to cutting crime. This ethos underpins the connections we are forming, not just here in the UK, but in Ireland as well. In November, a webinar will bring together police forces including An Garda Siochana, housing associations, university academics, local authorities, community groups and representatives from across the political spectrum.

This webinar will discuss the valuable role of housing associations in tackling crime, considering the barriers to this and how these can be overcome. It will also explore the full range of legal enforcement and preventative initiatives undertaken by partner agencies in both nations, ranging from the work of the Criminal Assets Bureau, through to locally based projects designed to build trust, protect victims and improve life chances.

Involving housing associations in the crime fighting family can also share on-the-ground knowledge about the most effective ways to encourage people to turn their back on crime. The Beating Crime Plan, along with the Safer Streets Fund are striving towards an end-to-end approach that drives down demand for drugs. Less demand means less money for criminals, which starts to breakdown down the cycle and influence of organised crime.

Government funding is being invested in practical crime prevention measures including CCTV, improved home security, neighbourhood watch schemes and street lighting. In addition, it’s also being used to fund initiatives such as grass roots sports facilities and programmes to provide vulnerable children with the support and incentive to turn away from county lines gangs.

Housing associations have valuable insight about how effective these measures can be and what else is required to support those people most at risk of organised crime. Beating crime requires a joined-up approach and housing associations can play a key role in supporting this to proactively address and prevent crime.

Darren Burton is head of housing consultancy services at Forbes Solicitors and is organising a joint UK and Ireland Housing and Organised Crime webinar for 17th November 2021. For more information, click here.

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