Tolerance and reactions to crime
This study is about the meaning of tolerance in relation to people's reactions to crime and disorder. I was drawn to this topic by curiosity about why people respond differently to local problems with crime and disorder. Some people choose to tackle crime, whilst others do not. This is quite remarkable given the fact that crime is considered by many to be an undesirable and unwanted attribute of our local communities. Crime can penetrate deep into the lives of people. We know that crime - or the threat of it, may affect our quality of life, the communities in which we live, the environments in which we work and the places in which our children play. As Garland subtly states: For most people crime is no longer an aberration or an unexpected, abnormal event. Instead, the threat of crime has become a routine part of modern consciousness, an everyday risk to be assessed and managed in much the same way that we deal with road traffic - another modern danger which has been routinized and 'normalized' over time (Garland, 1996: 446). As high levels of crime and problems with disorder are now an inherent feature of our society it is argued by some critics that the government has lost the fight against crime. Instead of relying upon state agencies, such as the police and courts to manage crime, the government has adopted a relatively new approach in prompting non-state agencies and organisations to shoulder some of the responSibility and take action (see for instance, Garland, 1996). The rationale behind this strategy is that the state cannot counter crime alone. Garland argues that this method of governing crime characterises a 'responsibilization strategy' and the language that is used by the state is indicative of this: Its key phrases are terms such as 'partnership', 'inter-agency cooperation', 'the multi-agency approach', 'activating communities', creating 'active citizens', 'help for self-help'. Its primary concern is to devolve responSibility for crime prevention on to agencies, organizations and individuals which are quite outside the state and to persuade them to act appropriately (Garland, 1996: 452). As a result in the past decade or so, there has been a noticeable shift in responsibility for the reduction of crime from the state to local communities. Legislation has been passed to encourage different groups and organisations in a community to work together so that crime may be more effectively tackled. The Crime and Disorder Act places responsibility upon various agencies to act as a collective force to tackle crime and related issues. People have also been encouraged to act collectively and set up self-help groups and crime prevention schemes in their communities. A popular example of this is Neighbourhood Watch which as a national scheme has the political backing of the state. Indeed, for quite some time ordinary citizens have been expected to perform 'quasi-police' functions themselves and assume an increased responsibility for the management of crime (Miers, 1992). The public appear to have responded well to this call for assistance by the Government to tackle crime, for there has been a decisive movement towards reducing the opportunities for crime. People appear to be more than willing to embrace any measure or method which may limit the risks of crime, that is if the booming private security industry is anything to go by. In reality the public appear to have little option but to 'manage' high levels of crime and the threat that this poses to them. Given this current climate I felt that it was an appropriate time to look closely at how people typically respond to crime and disorder in their communities. It would be interesting to discover the different kinds of actions they take in response to criminal incidents, and to understand what motivates them to react. However, even though crime or the risk of crime is ubiquitous, people do differ in their willingness to react to crime and disorder problems. These differences persist even at the community level. Whereas residents of one community are prepared to tackle crime and disorder problems, residents from another community may not be so inclined and prefer instead to shy away from such problems. There may be a multitude of reasons for this. Perhaps people's reactions are connected to their tolerance or intolerance towards different kinds of criminal activity and these in turn to the sort of environment and community in which they live. These kinds of issues about reactions to crime are intriguing and of importance since we live in a society which has yet to counter and control the tide of deviant behaviour. The reaction of the public to deviant behaviour attracted the attention of the sociologist Lemert (1951) some fifty years ago. Lemert then suggested that a concept known as the 'tolerance quotient' may be useful to compare how residents from different communities respond to increases in crime, although this concept (originally formulated by Van Vechten, 1940), is quite complex for it is expressed as a mathematical ratio. However, there is some value in drawing attention to it at this early stage for it had a part to play in directing this research. Lemert suggested that residents of a particular locality accept a certain amount of deviant behaviour, but there is some 'critical point' at which they will no longer accept more crime. When residents decide to respond to the deviant behaviour this constitutes the critical point or 'threshold' in the tolerance quotient. The idea of the tolerance 'threshold' raises some challenging issues about the reactions of people to crime. For instance, the tolerance 'threshold' for collective action may vary across communities. The notion of a 'threshold' may be applicable to the reactions of individuals to crime. There may even be instances where people's tolerance to crime changes, and if so, there may be particular reasons for this. Perhaps people's tolerance and their reactions to crime are predictable. The nature of these questions suggest that the concept of tolerance could be complex. This study will seek to determine whether or not this is the case. The aims of the research are to discover: (1) What factors affect the tolerance of individuals or collectives to crime or disorder? (2) What are the differences, if any, in the factors that affect individual and collective tolerance? (3) Under what circumstances does the tolerance of an individual or community change or vary? (4) How does the concept of tolerance relate, if at all, to reactions? (5) What kind of effects can reactions to crime and disorder have upon individuals and communities? To examine the relationship between tolerance and reactions to crime, a working model will be devised. The construction of a theoretical model is a challenging part of the thesis. It is the task of this study to examine whether the model stands up to empirical testing. In order to do this it is necessary to learn about how people respond to crime, and why they choose to do so. The suitability of the subject matter for community based research is for me one of the most attractive parts of the thesis. It is important to hear what people think about crime and disorder issues in their area. There is also a sense of discovery for people if they have to consider (perhaps for the first time) what they would do in response to certain kinds of crime and disorder. As people need to identify with an incident before they can respond to it, the focus is upon crimes and acts of disorder which are prevalent in our society. As a result the concern of this research is with the reactions of ordinary people to ordinary crimes. Since there appear to be good reasons to compare the reactions of residents from different areas, the fieldwork for this research will be conducted in several communities. As a result of engaging in an empirical 'adventure' it is hoped that the mystery and intrigue that drew me to the topic of tolerance and reactions to crime will be uncovered.