Examining The Perception And Reality Of Security Criminology Essay

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Historically cities have been places of safety, defending their inhabitants from external threats by such means as city walls, moats and towers. "One advantage of the city was simply personal safety. One band of nomads might easily be destroyed by another, and a small settlement simply because it was a tempting, stationary target was even more vulnerable. But a city of several thousand souls was almost impregnable to random forays and could withstand any but the most powerful, purposeful enemy" (Hamblin, 1973, 9). Cities have always been integrated with dangerous elements, but throughout time people have been drawn to them due to the economic opportunities and the level of freedom they provide. In my essay I would like to assess whether cities, and in particular London, remain places of greater safety or whether terrorist attacks such as 9/11 have changed the population's psyche into seeing cities as targets for enemies and places of fear and insecurity. I will start by demonstrating how terrorism introduced a new form of violence to cities. I will then discuss why 9/11 was so globally devastating and what has changed subsequently in terms of security in London and similar cities. To conclude I will assess whether the effects of 9/11 have changed both the perception and the reality of safety in the city compared to previous generations.

If people first came together in greater numbers for reasons of safety it was focused on protection from large-scale, outside aggressors intent on major destruction. City fortifications provided this, but personal violence, for example muggings or burglaries, was a cost of city-life which country or village dwellers often escaped. Putting aside the issues of personal violence, I want to assess if the city, until lately, has provided its residents with greater security from major destruction. As recently as the middle of the twentieth century, cities have become the new battleground for an ever increasing urban world. World War II saw German bombers flying over the skies of London signifying a new and tactical change in Hitler's attempt to suppress England. Until this point the Luftwaffe had been targeting RAF airfields and radar stations for demolition in anticipation of the German invasion of the country. Hitler however began to consider the consequences of destroying the city of London and thereby heavily demoralizing the population of Great Britain. This tactic brought the violence of war straight to the doorsteps of a British citizenry, making the city a space of fear and anxiety. A shift had been made; in previous ages undefended villagers would flee to the city in times of war in search of safety and defence, but during the bombing of London people began evacuating their children away from the city, to the country, in hopes of a safer environment there.

It is fair to say that cities have always been a target for aggression but whereas the city was once regarded as a psychological bastion against insecurity, changes in warfare have altered our perception of cities as vulnerable to strategic attacks. Wide-scale urban terrorism introduced a further shift in the perception of a city's ability to protect its inhabitants. It is no longer simply a matter of repelling marching armies or squads of bombers. We are now faced with internal enemies within our city walls, those who walk among us, and as we can no longer keep people out of our cities we are now forced to monitor them from the inside. The very things that made cities most secure can now be seen to have made them their own worst enemies. "Defining terrorism in terms of acts of terror, it is suggested that cities are more susceptible to this form of political violence than rural areas because of the likelihood of greater impact and visibility" (Beall, 2006, 105). But the damage is far more than physical. Cities imbue the personality and power of a nation. Attacks on its infrastructure bring huge psychological destruction alongside the physical. This isn't just because of the increased numbers of people that are likely to be killed, though of course this adds to the damage, but the iconic nature of buildings within the city makes its inhabitants more vulnerable psychologically to their destruction. Terrorists have discovered that by targeting cities they can directly affect the entire nation and cause maximum damage. "Urban density means that each terrorist attack will wreak more destruction. And as global media centres, large cities provide instant communication of the terrorists' message to a broad audience" (Savitch and Ardashev 2001).

London had experience of urban terrorist activity prior to 9/11 with the attacks of the IRA which have been occurring since 1939. IRA attacks have targeted such iconic sites as the Houses of Parliament, the Tower of London and Harrods, demonstrating that even the early terrorists knew exactly how to gain maximum psychological impact on the nation. And yet the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers shocked not only America but also people around the globe, even those who had experienced acts of terrorism first hand. So what made 9/11 such a shocking event? The Twin Towers were the image of everything capitalist, western and non spiritual and so made the perfect target for a terrorist attack by a fanatical wing of Islam dedicated to the destruction of capitalism and the resurgence in religion. Towers have traditionally been viewed as a symbol of physical security, for example in medieval times, and so the collapse of the Twin Towers was hugely affective in showing western society at its most vulnerable. "Although by no means the first such incident, the collapse of New York's Twin Towers on 11 September 2001 dramatically demonstrated the susceptibility of cities to terrorist attacks" (Beall, 2006, 106). Destroying them can be seen as the equivalent to blowing up a cathedral or mosque; Bin laden recognised this and saw the towers as colossal symbols of all that is urban and atheist. The World Trade Centre was an iconic temple of the city which was recognised globally, and the terrorists realised that cities capture the imagination of people and have the potential to affect them deeply. "The destruction of these signature buildings that had come to represent some of the most powerful symbols of modern urban achievement showed the terrorists taking aim at the very essence of American cities" (Eisinger, 2004, 116).

I will assess what has been cities' response to the heightened threat of terrorist attacks, in particular after the events of 9/11. I believe one of the most significant changes can be seen in public attitudes and awareness to danger in cities now. "Since the attacks of September 11th, a number of bulletins have been issued by the FBI warning of an increased potential for terrorist attacks in cities. In these alerts, the public is warned to be on the watch for suspicious activity and to maintain a heightened state of alert. However without specific guidance, these types of warnings have created a state of confusion and frustration by the public and local authorities who, until recently, have never confronted the threat of terrorism" (Gundry, Public Awareness and the War on Terrorism, Accessed April 2010). It seems clear that public awareness and the supposed importance of terrorism amplify greatly following any terrorist attacks. Since 9/11 incidents in London such as a couple being banned from a shopping mall for taking pictures and police stopping photographers, one being a BBC journalist, for taking a photograph of St Paul's Cathedral in fear they were terrorist related, demonstrates how public authorities' fear has risen and shows the irrational way officials are attempting to deal with these fears. In 2005 Charles de Menezes was shot dead in Stockwell underground station by metropolitan police who mistook him for one of the fugitives behind several London attacks that had occurred days earlier. He in fact turned out to be completely unrelated to these events and was simply a Brazilian electrician travelling on the London Underground. "The City of London Police joined with the MPS to produce a publicity campaign for Greater London to encourage people to report suspicious activity to the Anti-Terrorism hotline. The campaign's two main aims were to educate the public that they are the 'eyes and ears' of counter-terrorism and to publicise the number to call if they had information" (City of London Police, Accessed April 2010). Equally there are many more public service announcements in tube and train stations warning of baggage left unattended or asking people to report anything suspicious. Police and municipal authorities' reaction to the threat of terrorism clearly affects people living in London, but how much? "The more people talk and know about terrorism, the greater the chance reason rather than fear will dictate their reactions" (West and Orr, 2005, 93). So although people living in cities are now more aware and perhaps suspicious of potential terrorist attacks there seems to be no evidence people have changed their lifestyles in any significant way. People are still working in high rise buildings in the middle of the city, commuting on public transport daily and continue to live in urban areas. In 2006 less than a year after the London bombings The Guardian released a report showing "House prices in London are rising at their fastest pace for six years, and the gap between property values in the capital and the rest of the country is now the largest ever recorded" (Jones, The Guardian, Accessed March 2010).

One fundamental thing that has changed, especially in the city of London, is that places that were once considered safe are now seen as dangerous and vulnerable to attacks. A prime example of this is the London Underground system; in July 2005 there were a succession of coordinated suicide bombings on London's public transport system. The city is an area of mass transit and the transport's destruction creates a monumental statement especially the more disruption it causes. Bombing the London Underground caused massive disruption and had lasting effects on how people perceive this iconic infrastructure. Ironically, during the Blitz in World War II the London Underground was seen as a major source of physical security, serving as bomb shelters for roughly 177,000 people. But even then the underground stations, which may have been safer than the city surface, were far from immune to attacks. As they were not purpose built air raid shelters many of their features were detrimental to those seeking safety and many were killed through bombings and even drowning when water mains exploded. Georg Simmel noted that if key transport systems in cities are disrupted the whole city falls apart, demonstrating his recognition of them as crucial mechanisms of urban life. Has the vulnerability of London's transport system affected the city in a major way? According to Transport for London, commuter numbers after suffering a small decline immediately following the 2005 bombings are actually on the rise, "On average the number of people travelling on the Tube is increasing by around seven per cent per year" (Transport for London, Accessed April 2010) and according to Glaeser and Shapiro this is not surprising. "Since warfare and terrorism often specifically target means of transportation, violence can increase the effective cost of transportation, which will usually increase the demand for density. Evidence on war and cities in contemporary society suggests that the effect of wars on urban form can be large, for example, Berlin in World War II, but more commonly neither terrorism nor wars have significantly altered urban form. As such the effect of terrorism on cities is likely to be small" (Glaeser and Shapiro, 2002, 205).

I mentioned previously that cities have historically drawn people to them due to the economic opportunities and levels of freedom they provide. Indeed urbanism can be seen as something of a lifestyle choice in the way that it encourages acceptance and toleration of differences which some argue is at stake under the pressure of terrorist attack. "These modern beliefs are essential in the struggle against terrorism. The main threat to cities comes not from terrorism but from the policy responses to terrorism that could undermine the freedom of thought and movement that are the lifeblood of cities" (Swanstrom, 2002, 135). In 2003 the Oyster card was introduced in London. Oyster is a type of electronic ticketing that can be used on public transport systems within the Greater London area. Although it has never been declared as such many people believe the Oyster card is a means by which the government can track peoples' whereabouts and activities. If this claim is accurate it is still uncertain whether it is its citizens or its enemies that are being monitored, however that line has become so blurred with acts of terrorism that some argue it is necessary to track both as they are often intertwined. This idea of undercover surveillance feeds into another change in London and no doubt other cities around the world since 9/11.

There is one CCTV camera for every fourteen people in the UK, and people living in London are estimated to be caught on cameras three hundred times a day. Though there is no significant data on how CCTV surveillance has increased since 9/11, "There have been technological advances, declining costs, and heightened security concerns following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks which have led to rapid diffusion of both CCTV surveillance and biometric technologies. For example, CCTV video surveillance is widely used in public schools to monitor student movement and detect illegal activity and at street intersections to catch cars running red lights" (Nieto et al, 2002, 5). Many argue our civil liberties have been eroded in the name of homeland security but perhaps this is a necessary sacrifice in the war on terrorism. "After 9/11 it seems likely that many more cities will follow the city of Chicago's lead which, in September 2004, announced plans to install more than 2,000 surveillance cameras in public places" (Hunter, 2004). After the attacks on 9/11 George Bush announced in a speech, "Freedom and fear are at war", this is nowhere more true than for those living in cities. "Counter-terror measures can contribute to an atmosphere of fear and a culture of surveillance that have consequences for social control and freedom of movement" (Coaffe and Rogers, 2008, 101). Simmel spoke of how urban life couldn't function without protective devices and so felt there was inevitably always going to be a dilemma between freedom and security. CCTV acts as not just a means to capture terrorists but as a preventative measure for other crimes such as burglary and personal violence, so increases security of the city against other incidents. Likewise bomb checks have been found to increase the amount of weapons found on people, so cities can be seen to be more secure in some respects but less secure in others. The high concentration of cameras in cities may act as a deterrent for criminals but the very nature of a city makes it a high target of attacks due to the maximum impact it has on its civilians and the nation.

I will lastly look at how London has altered its security methods such as increasing police present on the streets and in stations, eliminating rubbish bins in the underground and the impending possibility of identity cards for citizens. "In recent years police have been given greater surveillance powers in response to perceived threats from crime, drugs, and terrorism. Several legal and criminal events have facilitated a re-evaluation of the balance between police surveillance authority and civil privacy protection. In the post 9/11 era, changes in federal law, court interpretation of privacy safeguards, and technological advances have expanded the circumstances and methods by which the police may engage in surveillance of civil activities" (Bloss, 2005, 208). Many people believe the terrorist attacks of 9/11 were a watershed event that supplied the catalyst for the increase of not only police surveillance but also search authority. In the early eighties all public access rubbish bins were removed from London Underground stations and platforms as well as main-line British railway stations in response to a series of bombings conducted by the IRA. The government claimed its intention was to give citizens reassurance that bombs could not be placed in them and go undiscovered. In a recently renewed desire to "go green" and be particularly environmentally friendly the exclusion of bins runs the risk of increased littering, but in a bid to prevent terrorism security has proved more important than any environmental concerns. There is even talk of compulsory identity cards for citizens, and although some see this as a positive step towards greater security many see it as an invasion of privacy and a law reminiscent to when the Jews were forced to carry identity cards under German occupation in Europe.

Since the advent of weapons of mass destruction, the perception of the city as a place of safety has been seriously compromised. London was considered less safe than the countryside during World War II and there was a widespread evacuation of children out of London into the country. So whereas 9/11 has changed how we react to the threat of violence in the city, the reality is that cities have for some time been targets for outside aggressors to make a poignant statement. I believe people who lived through World War II in Europe probably don't think of cities as any more vulnerable than then but for those who were born after the War the perception is that now cities are more vulnerable than ever. I feel although the tragic event of the terrorists attacks on September 11th were devastating and have spurred on a level of increased security in cities I do not feel London can be seen to have altered dramatically in terms of its level of safety. Eisinger feels there has been little effect. "Cities have taken on a range of new responsibilities focused on homeland security, urban economies were initially hurt by the declines in tourism and business travel, but most cities appear to be recovering. Few lasting effects on city life are evident" (Eisinger, 2004, 115). I feel this neglects one important aspect: technology. The difference since 9/11 is that as technology improves, governments' ability to respond to threats takes on different forms. Widespread surveillance is up, which poses a direct threat to personal freedom. And so I feel it is unlikely civil liberties will ever return to pre 9/11 levels.