Tuesday, February 27, 2007


Both of these signs can be found in Cookham village. They scream "Look out! There are criminals about!" to me. And yet, I don't get the feeling that Cookham suffers that much crime. Yes, I've read that some cars have been broken into for laptops, satellite navigation systems or mobile phones; but it's not like it's a huge number of vehicles.

So why the very visible signs all over the place? I would think that it's only common sense not to leave valuables out on display. Why do the police have to tell us? Is that their way of passing the buck back when someone reports a car break-in? A sort-of "we told you so"?

Britain has lots of these warnings. On the radio there are regular community announcements telling you to be careful of all sorts of things. People coming to your door and offering services or telling you to not put boxes of expensive Christmas presents out for the paper recycling collection too early or in one piece (in that criminals could scope out what you got and decide if your home is worth breaking into). There's a couple such ads on TV right now too. One has a couple showing a would-be burglar around their house, showing how their burglar alarm doesn't work, how their valuables are out on display, how flimsy their back door is, etc etc. The other has a guy in a bar showing the would-be thief his new flashy mobile phone and telling him he'll just leave it on the table while he goes to the toilet so he has a good opportunity to take it.

Coming from Germany, where this type of ad or warning isn't common, I don't know quite what to think. So rather than letting myself get worked up by an ad, I went and read the EU crime and safety survey. Actually, I didn't read all 118 pages of the report, I read the press release summaries for the UK and Germany and skimmed through some of the points in the report.

All in all, the UK does have a higher crime rate than Germany. In fact, the UK has the second highest level for theft from cars out of the 18 countries measured. Only Estonia is higher. Germany in contrast, has the second lowest rate. But that isn't quite as dramatic as it sounds. Germany's rate for theft from cars is just under 2% and the UK's is 6%. So four more out of every 100 cars will be broken into. I admit, I don't want our car to be one of those extra 4 (or the first 2 either), but I'm not sure it justifies the warning signs. I think having signs like that just creates an atmosphere of fear. Perhaps others think differently...

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