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Does the fear of crime erode public confidence in policing?

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This paper examines the relationship between public confidence in policing and public perceptions of crime, disorder and social cohesion. Combining data from ten sweeps of the British Crime Survey, our analysis shows that public confidence is based less on instrumental concerns about crime and more on expressive concerns about neighbourhood stability and breakdown. Therefore, confidence is driven not by fear of crime but by lay concerns about disorder, cohesion and informal social control. Members of the public look to the police as old-fashioned representatives of community values and norms – as symbols of moral authority who address everyday problems and strengthen social order. To increase public confidence and decrease the fear of crime, the police need to re-engage as an active part of the community and represent and defend community values, norms and morals. However we conclude by questioning whether a pervasive (Loader 2006) police response to problems of low level social disorder is either fully achievable or fully desirable. The causes of public anxiety about disorder may themselves run deeper than a policing response can (or should) reach.

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