Examining Public Opinion To A Proper Response Criminology Essay

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Introduction safety and security issues in Slovenia. The paper is organised in the following fashion. First, ideas on safety/security from a general point of view will be presented; second, security threats in Slovenia will be presented and ranked; third security and new ideas about shared responsibility on local level in Slovenia will be presented and discussed. The goal of this paper is to trigger thinking of perceptions of security threats and ways of decision making when threats identified.

Slovenia's period of transition from the old millennium to the new one has been termed the transition period, as it is characterized by different processes related to economic and political transition, and to becoming a member of both NATO and the EU. While discussions of these processes try to present a comprehensive explanation and convincing arguments within the framework of European and world history, they fail to recognize that Europe, as well as the entire world, is facing a more long-term and far-reaching transition of the society from the modern era to the so-called post-modern era. The absence of a thorough understanding of this transitional period evident in today's world is also characteristic of the discussion surrounding Slovenia and its security both present and future.

Post-modern society is characterized by unpredictable and explicitly contradictory economic, political and social developments. Capitalist society today is characterized by: (1) economic and political globalization [i] , which is becoming increasingly similar to economic and cultural imperialism. Among other things, it aggravates the polarization between the so-called developed and undeveloped world [ii] , widens the gap between different cultures and civilizations, encourages religious fundamentalism and (consequently) terrorism, increases poverty (in the developed and undeveloped world) [iii] neglect and exclusion of vulnerable social groups (such as minorities, youth, the elderly etc.), diminishes the possibility of individual countries working out a strategy of their own economic and general development and thus face their problems etc.; (2) neo-liberal capitalist economy, which is forcing its functional, market and profit logic upon different areas of social relations (including those where it has nothing to offer); [iv] (3) political and economic integration efforts, in particular in European regions, which appeal to common goals and values, multi-ethnic cooperation, coexistence, tolerance etc. yet at the same time bring about a worrying increase in isolationism, xenophobia, populism, ideological and political (neo)conservatism; (4) digitalisation and informatisation of social processes which are changing the foundations of the modern world, as we are entering an era alternately referred to as the "information", "digital", "post-industrial", "post-modern" "hypermodern" "hyper-technological" and "cyber" age etc.; (5) a critical and sceptical approach in the field of social studies, which has undermined the authority of (social) studies and puts the emphasis on the relativity and limits of its (cognitive) potentials in search of the truth about man; [v] (6) the appearance of critical post-modern approaches in philosophy which stress the position that ratio should not be defined only as the central progressive force of historical development, but also as means and a tool that has been used throughout history in different, more or less subtle ways, by protagonists of different ideological and political backgrounds to dominate and to preserve the achieved social position. (Such trends have undermined the foundations of modern enlightenment's "big story" about the exclusive role of science and rationalism in the emancipation of mankind.); [vi] (7) transformation of social values and lifestyles, that has led to experimenting with life practices and their increasingly flexible, plural and atomistic nature. It has also strengthened ideological, religious and moral traditionalism; (8) a number of dramatic discoveries in astronomy, physics, genetics, and medicine, which have sharpened the contrast between largely liberal ideas about the world and man on the one hand, and more or less dogmatic (conservative) ideas on the other; (9) last but not least, the appearance of new, complex forms of extremely intensive and far-reaching threats to individual and collective security. It is this last item, these new threats to individual and collective security that comprises the subject of this article.

In such circumstances the general and political discourse, as well as the discourse in the security profession (which has to be underlined in this article), is becoming increasingly contradictory, ideological and inefficient. Inefficient, contradictory, legally and morally controversial also describe the approach to certain factors, which represent the central, most far-reaching and intensive threat to security in the present world, such as international terrorism and organized crime, both of which are becoming phenomena of global proportions. The official security discourse has focused largely on the abstract security of the international community and international organizations/institutions or individual states/state institutions. This ultimately implies security of the elite or members of those groups, which play a central role in society, security against "internal" and "external" threats, against criminal victimization etc., which are all widely held to be rooted in culturally, economically and socially deprived environments. Security is nowadays one of the most frequent words used and is often ideologically misused (Kanduč, 2003).

The official 'understanding' of security problems and the ways of solving them has been obviously biased towards the interests of the so-called civilized world, its well-to-do individuals and central (integrated) social groups. It is this 'security culture' that forms the basis of the current security policy that is building walls.

A part of such security culture are new developments of safety/security councils in local municipalities in Slovenia (Meško and Lobnikar, 2005a) which represent so-called new old strategies in local responses to crime and disorder problems in addition to everyday policing (Meško and Klemenčič, 2007).

Security culture and threat sources in present society

If general culture in the broadest sense refers to a certain lifestyle and habits that are carried over from one generation to another through learning and imitation, and political culture implies human psychological orientation in relation to political subjects, such as the constitution, authority (government), political parties and long-term political positions, beliefs, symbols and values (Heywood, 1997), then security culture refers to the possibility of perceiving real dangers and threats, an understanding of the need for state and civil society security mechanisms and instruments, as well as a willingness for cooperation and sacrifice (Sotlar, 2000). Security culture can be "imposed" by the state in the sense of promotion of certain values (e.g. glorification of military service in the defence of the state), or it can be effected, in part, through threat sources. The central issue related to security culture is what and to what extent, if at all, citizens are willing to risk and to make sacrifices in order to safeguard certain social (and personal) values.

In October and November 2005, the Defence Research Centre (FDV - IDV) carried out the "National and International Security 2005" opinion poll, in which 1002 people were surveyed. The results show that on average, Slovenians are willing to take risks and sacrifices themselves regarding the following values (Table 1).

Table 1 - about here

As seen from the Table 1, the values for which more than half of the polled are willing to take risks and make sacrifices are those values which place particular emphasis on wellbeing - political and social rights, freedom, peace, and environmental protection. These are followed by state defence, gender equality, fight against racism, etc. In light of this, it can be hypothesised that these results are to a great extent influenced by perceived threat sources in Slovenia.

Every day, states, societies and individuals face different influences that potentially pose many threats. That is to say that they represent a latent risk for their physical, psychical, spiritual, material or other type of security. Threat sources can be classified into military and non-military, internal and external, natural and antrophogenous etc. Protection against threat sources at the state level can be effected either by decreasing vulnerability, or by eliminating and preventing threat sources (Buzan, 1991; in Sotlar, 2000). Military, political, societal, economic, ecological and other threat sources (ibid) are among the most important. Here it has to be said that since the end of the cold war, military sources of threats have no longer been regarded as any more important than other threat sources in the political and social sense, as well as media-wise, though this does not mean that there have been fewer of them. The danger of global military conflict has largely ceased to exist, but there have been outbreaks of many other local and regional military conflicts, even in Europe, let alone in Asia, the Middle East and elsewhere (Prezelj, 2001).

It has been noted in the introduction that post-modern society is characterised by the fact that threats and dangers are individualised and personalised. Kanduč (2002: 7-13), for example, says that nowadays an individual is in fact not threatened by crime so much as by different forms of "structural violence"; in particular in the field of heteronymous work, consumer practices and family relations. This is partly due to the fact that security policy is still, to a large extent, related to collective entities (for example, national and public security), rather than to the provision of international legal and constitutional human rights. In addition, crime policy is too often limited only to the penal policy (criminal justice system). It is precisely because of such different ways of perceiving threats and dangers that security appears in different forms as a need, value, goods, commodity etc, with the notion of "security" surpassing its past "physical and repressive" context.

Sources of threats often appear to be abstract and distant, since they do not reveal to what extent their threat is real and to what extent it is only the result of perception by the experts in the field and by the general public. In short, the intensity and time frame of a certain security threat play a very important role in creating certain perceptions. In other words, if such conditions are not fulfilled, the potential sources of threats by the state, society and individual are not correctly assessed, which in turn decreases the possibility of a timely deployment of the necessary security mechanisms and instruments to counter the threat. Following the end of the cold war and the reduction of imminent military threats, developed industrial societies formulated the concept of security challenges and security threats; the main (positive) characteristic of which was to abandon the traditional thinking regarding the threat as immediate and imminent (Kotnik-Dvojmoč, 2000: 144). There is actually a scale of the intensity of threat sources with "security challenges" graded the lowest, which can be followed by "security risks" that can also act as an intervening factor for security challenges. "Security threats" represent the highest level, reached after security risks are transformed or aggravated (ibid).

The results of the aforementioned research, summarized in Table 2, indicate that in 2006 the great majority of polled participants (82%) felt secure and only 9% threatened, while 9% of those responding were undecided.

Table 2 - about here

Of even more interest is the data on the perception of threats to Slovenia, shown in Table 3. At first glance it is clear that two traditional threats - terrorism and military threats by other countries - rank as the least important factors of security threats to Slovenia! Those with the highest rank are unemployment, drugs, narcotics, crime, low birth rate and environment destruction (between 3.24 and 3.06), whereas the lowest values are accorded to domestic political instability, contagious diseases, conflict in the area of former Yugoslavia, terrorism and military threats by other countries (between 2.49 and 1.68).

Table 3 - about here

Threat sources always have a two-fold relation to the design of a national security policy. First, they are a part of such a policy, which has to answer the question of how the state will deal with individual sources threatening it. Second, in the process of designing and implementing security policy, security threats do not only play the role of an output, but also play a decisive factor as a "pressure tool". Therefore it can be argued that the process of deciding upon a security policy is determined also by the reality and intensity of the threat sources (Sotlar, 2000).

It would be ideal if the national security system were established on the basis of realistically perceived and assessed threat sources. The problem with the ideal always lies in the fact that it is difficult to find an ideal state in nature, let alone in society. The perception and adequate assessment of different sources and types of threats is therefore a complex, demanding and ungrateful task. In particular, if one is aware that it takes place at different levels - individual level, group level, expert level, institutional level, as well as the level of political elites, which have to provide a basic normative and legal framework for facing tackling security risks and threats (Sotlar, 2002).

If the general public can allow itself misperceptions and inaccurate assessments of threat sources, it is much more dangerous if the authors and practitioners of the national security system (police, the military, intelligence security services etc.), experts in the field (research institutes, universities), and those in charge of making decisions (the government and the parliament) do the same. It is therefore necessary for the political elites that exert power over the executive and legislative branch of power to shoulder additional responsibilities in this field. For only correctly perceived and understood sources of threats can lead to the designing of adequate and consistent policies and decisions which are then implemented by the actors of the security system. Above all, the elites should not use the security field to further their own interests, as theoretician Mills (Heywood, 1997) [vii] argued was the case with the elite in power in the USA.

Security solutions should be found at the system level, in the form of some sort of stand-by mechanisms to ensure that the security system would operate regardless of the security situation. Therefore it is necessary to anticipate different possible events and situations, which could take place in the parliament or its surroundings and would have a direct or indirect influence on the parliament. These can be grouped under the following three threats:

Military threats (in particular in wartime, when the country as a whole represents a military target, which comes before all else for its institutions of power)

Domestic security threats (crime - burglary, theft, robbery, physical attack on a person under protection, members of parliament or visitors; terrorism - attack on a person or persons under protection, MP's, the staff of the parliament and visitors; hostage taking, planting of explosives; other disturbing events - violent demonstrations, massive violations of public order, disturbing the work of the parliament, serious violations of the house rules)

Threats caused by natural and other disasters (ecological accidents, floods, earthquake, fire).

A survey on values, fears and perception of "real" threats in Slovenia was conducted on a sample of 1100 respondents by the first author of this paper at the end of 2003 (Meško, 2003, 2006). All studied items are presented from the highest to the lowest rank as follows: Values: family, health, personal happiness, love, friendship, money, education, employment/work. Fear of: illness, death, war, natural disasters, violence, unemployment, failure, bad social conditions. Perception of threats: pollution, congestion, violent crimes, psychological pressures/stress, illnesses, drugs, questionable politics, inefficient economy.

The example of local securitisation on one hand and democratisation of local community on the other are recently established local safety and security councils, which take place in about one-half of Slovenia municipalities (Meško and Lobnikar, 2005a). The role and other characteristics of such councils will be described in the following section.

Local crime prevention and safety efforts in Slovenia

Recent trends in crime prevention and community safety in Slovenia have been characterised by the influence of ideas of crime prevention in Western societies, especially with the idea of community responsibilisation and involvement of local administration in setting priorities in safety/security efforts and prevention of "everyday criminality" and communal disorder.

The safety councils have been situated within the local town/city/municipality administration as a consultative body in crime and safety matters. The legal basis for such councils are the Police Act (paragraph 21) and the Local Self-administration Act (paragraph 29). It is necessary to stress that both paragraphs are more or less "recommendations". Therefore, a consultative body (a safety council) can be established by a municipality council. No piece of national legislation determines the obligations of such councils (Strategy of Community Policing in Slovenia, 2002).

This paper presents research findings on some aspects of the definition of local crime prevention, community policing, disparities between proclaimed goals and reality, everyday practice of crime prevention, the role of safety councils in everyday life, conducting a criminological analysis of local crime and safety problems, the influence of the police presentation of crime problems and public opinion about the root causes of criminality in their environments, etc. Research findings also show whether the respondents are more inclined to the ideas of authoritarian communitarianism and avoidance in common efforts in solving crime and safety problems« or of moral minimalism (Hope, 1995: 67-68). More specifically, groups of people involved were studied in the sense of crime prevention activities and safety councils in Slovenian towns.

The studies of local safety councils in Slovenia

Before 1991, when Slovenia was a republic of the Socialist Federative Republic of Yugoslavia, safety councils were situated in every local community. With the independence of Slovenia in 1991 all such councils were abolished. Between 1991 and 1997, no such councils existed in Slovenia. Since 1997 more than 100 local safety councils have been established, the establishment of which has been initiated by the police. In this sense we can discuss "new old" strategies of crime prevention and public safety which "once upon a time" were directed by the communist party (Social Self-protection, orig. družbena samozaščita) and now by "responsible" individuals and groups of local communities and sometimes populists. These efforts can also be described as a story about help and support vs. power. I assume, from my personal experience as a member of such a council in the capital of Slovenia, that these activities are sometimes characterized by the ideas of informal for the purpose of formal, thinking globally and reacting locally without substantial financial support (Meško and Lobnikar, 2005a). This study was an attempt to gain information on the extent to which the European Urban Charter (1992) and 'Prevention of violence - a guide for local authorities' (2002) might be applicable to local communities in Slovenian cities. In addition, the study aimed to explore the ways in which the local safety councils were started and established, and how they performed.

Meško and Lobnikar (2005b) dealt with the western ideas of community policing and other modes of policing imported into Slovenian police and security practices. They consist of community policing and problem oriented policing; both forms of policing consist of the analysis of "security threats" before taking action. The main characteristic of community policing in regard to democratisation of police function is the inclusion of other partners into setting priorities in crime prevention and crime control activities.

Reflection upon the studies of local safety and security

General perception of solving local safety problems

Part one of this study shows that the respondents perceive safety/security problems in their communities by far as the biggest problem, which is typical for an average Slovenian community. Local safety/security problems in their communities are solved on the basis of a temporary partnership and use ad hoc approaches without a profound analysis of the problems. A common sense approach prevails. More than one-half of the respondents are of the opinion that the police are the most active in this field, while other institutions are seen as more or less apathetic. A feeling of security and reassurance is good where police officers appear to be in the streets and interacting with local citizens. Social policy is not balanced with the needs of crime prevention.

In the respondents' opinion, the police force is seen as having the greatest responsibility for the control of local crime and safety problems. However, this responsibility is no longer seen as the sole monopoly of the police. Other agencies are also seen as responsible in this field. The first to be mentioned is the local city administration, followed by individuals, schools, social services and family. Most respondents think that the police and local administration should co-operate more closely in solving local safety and crime problems. Priorities in the prevention and control of local problems should be set in co-operation and this is seen as a shared responsibility.

Analysis of local safety problems and crime is not an everyday practice in the towns studied. Only about forty percent of the respondents say that they do an analysis of problems before taking action. It is significant that police officers in particular say that they conduct analyses of the local problems of crime, disorder and safety. These are then presented to local citizen safety councils. The dominant position of the police is also reflected in the fact that these analyses are mainly based on police statistics. As a rule, the police undertake these analyses of crime and local safety problems either monthly or quarterly and in towns where local safety councils have been established, the police deliver an annual safety and crime report. If necessary, this report is produced to cover a shorter period.

Most appropriate preventative activities

Social crime prevention measures are recognised as necessary priorities in local crime prevention. In addition to the professional (accountable) policing, we can see that respondents understand crime and disorder problems as activities of the young and neglected citizens; those alienated from their communities and "problem" pupils/students at schools. The least appropriate preventative measures seem to be citizen's patrols (holding a notion of vigilante-ism), private security at schools (despite the fact that school area is being more and more controlled by private security), police repression and strict law enforcement, designing out crime (almost impossible due to suburban neighbourhoods characterised by high blocks of flats with a high density of population), private security (affordable only to the well-off), situational crime prevention (seems to be too impersonal and costly) and personal and property insurance.

Proximity of dangers and everyday routines - perception of local dangers

Violence (including domestic violence, violence in public, at school or committed by youth, in combination with bullying and vandalism) is the most urgent and serious safety problem, followed by drugs (alcohol included), traffic safety, property crimes, and public disorder. These findings imply a very narrow understanding of threats or security issues.

Who is responsible for problem solving?

Responsibility for solving these safety and security problems is attributed to the police, who should cooperate with other institutions, civil society and local administrations. Analysis of local safety problems is still performed mainly by the police and it is also the police who are supposed to reassure citizens and reduce fear of crime with their presence in local communities. In this sense we have a paradoxical situation - the majority of the most appropriate crime prevention activities are of the so called "social crime prevention". The attribution of responsibility to perform these activities lie with the police which seem to be a universal "solver" of societal and social problems. The ranking of responsibility for solving local safety/security and crime problems is as follows: the police, social care institutions, prosecutors office, courts, other law enforcement agencies, NGOs, and lastly educational institutions. In solving problems of the young, at least one representative of the young should take part in reaching a decision about any actions. The results of the study show that a low level of responsibility, seriousness, co-ordination, slow response, training, knowledge, etc., are the main obstacles in common efforts in local community safety and crime prevention efforts.

Suggestions for better policing of their communities are related to more police officers on the beat in local communities, greater visibility and approachability of police officers, better co-operation and communication between the police and local citizens, adequate police training in communication skills, social diversity and multicultural society. In the view of the respondents, to promote 'community policing' it is necessary to pay more attention to professional policing, learning skills for solving problems, the development of a sense of belonging to the community, and solving social problems.

The respondents familiar with the idea of community policing emphasize citizen-police co-operation, support of local citizens in organising "crime control networks" and educating them in what anyone can do for his/her safety and other kinds of problem solving.

The results imply that the most significant obstacles in local safety endeavours are as follows: the unclear roles of institutions and representatives of civil society in such activities, diverse understanding/conceptualisation of safety problems, diverse understanding of partnership, vertical relations among partners, "just a discussion on diverse problems and the lack of executive powers, lack of political will and departmentalism", one's questionable willingness to listen to those who do not share the same view of the problem, feeling that such councils are an extended police arm (in all cases the police initiated the establishment of such councils), ignorance and apathy of local citizens (crime prevention is not an attractive and "profitable" activity), centralised arrangements and local problem solving (no firm legal background), "informal for the purpose of formal" - cooperation based only on good will of representatives on state/local institutions, local administration and civil society without any responsibility or legal framework.

Advantages of such councils could be: democratisation of formal social control and control over the police; cooperation of (responsible) citizens and knowing each other; development of more active cooperation between all local key persons; facilitating of "safety consciousness" and discussions on local problems and "communities that care" mentality.

Implementation of local safety efforts

Since 1997, more than 130 such councils have been established. Some of the councils have overcome "child diseases" and are setting goals and using modern knowledge and information-based approaches in solving local safety problems (i.e. Ljubljana). Recently established councils are still in the stage of defining their mission.

The comparison between police officers and other respondents shows that about one-half of the police officers do not believe such councils are effective, whereas the majority of the other respondents think that these councils serve the community and contribute to a greater social cohesion and safety in the area. This is a remarkable finding because the local safety councils were initiated and facilitated by the police. The police seem to have too high an expectation of the safety councils. Their view of the councils as an expanded 'police arm' is probably too ambitious. Instead of this, the meetings of the councils are rather a place for democratic debate and the exchange of different views on local problems. Sometimes the views on solving local safety problems of other partners involved differ significantly from those of the police. A recent solution for such a disparity is the Local Police Act [viii] which requires a local annual safety/security plan which should be prepared by local administration in with cooperation with the police.


Planned, systematic and co-ordinated communal/common crime prevention and efforts for local safety/security are still at an early stage mainly due to the problems of centralised local institutions and consequently of the financing of activities on the local level. The results imply that a role of local municipalities in the field of crime prevention and local safety has not yet been clearly defined. Despite all of these obstacles, numerous activities take place at the local level, especially those of the local governmental (state) institutions, NGOs and civil society initiatives. A national crime prevention programme, which should stress the organisation of crime prevention and local safety/security efforts, has not yet been adopted. Due to its complexity, a consensus on its contents has not been totally agreed upon. It is also necessary to learn from others' experiences that witness that crime prevention and local safety/security activities can become a subtle "people friendly control". It is only about net-widening and has nothing to do with the "real crime prevention" and reassurance. Authoritarian and non-democratic organisation of such activities can only lead to "police-isation" of the local communities where the primary goal is serving the police with information for criminal investigation and order maintenance. Other functions of common safety endeavours are neglected in this scenario. Such scenarios can be prevented if institutions, agencies, and representatives from all parts of society are included into local decision-making bodies; i.e. safety councils.

An effective safety policy depends upon close co-operation between the police and the local community. This is also the main principle underlying the concept of community policing. With regard to the role of local safety councils and community policing, the police have contributed substantially, perhaps even too eagerly. A crucial question is the extent to which the police can achieve consent with local citizens in solving crime and safety problems. There are still substantial obstacles, resulting from the current formal rules (which do not allow police discretion in the field of achieving 'police-community consensus') and from the restrictive policing mentality, which relies upon the idea of law enforcement and control. Co-operation of the police with local communities and local administrations is still limited to informal communication without any obligation and real consequences for everyday practices of the involved institutions. It seems that these activities have more influence on the reduction of fear of crime or feelings of insecurity than on the reduction and elimination of crime in the community. It will take quite some time for the police and the community to learn how to co-operate and solve problems together more effectively.

It is also necessary to emphasize that local experts in security issues and crime prevention perceive problems from their local perspective and often neglect the global perspective of their local safety and security problems. It is necessary to learn about global and local trends in security threats for more effective provision of safety/security and crime prevention on the local level.