Glasgow crime rates down by 40% – but do we feel safer?

What do you think of when somebody says ‘Glasgow’? Still Game, deep-fried Mars bars, Kevin Bridges, or the harrowing realisation that you live in ‘Britain’s Most Violent City’? I remember the desperate efforts made by my friends and family to put me off living in a city with such a tarnished reputation.

They may now be relieved and surprised to discover it no longer holds this title. According to new reports, the most dangerous cities in Britain (outside London) are now Liverpool and Manchester. Perhaps most notably, violent offences in the city centre have fallen by 40% over the period 2004/05 to 2014/15. While these statistics are clearly something to be proud of, Fergus Welsh somewhat disapproves:

“just shows you there’s more filthy grasses in Liverpool. Well done Glasgow on keeping your collective mouth shut. Liverpool- yer full of flithy, grassing snakes”.

But hey, People Make Glasgow!

Jokes aside, he does raise an interesting question. To be a pessimist, are such figures failing to consider potential cover-ups? With CCTV installed pretty much everywhere, could it be that people are deterred by this, rather than becoming innately less violent? Pure statistics will not answer this.

Coming from a sizeable but relatively unknown town, I was admittedly nervous before moving here, particularly as a young woman. Sex crimes have seen a significant rise of 46% in the city and across Scotland in the past decade, yet, interestingly, were not included in the report. From personal experience it has become a force of habit to constantly check behind me to see if I am being followed when walking down the street. This could be slight paranoia on my part, but I do not feel 100% safe, despite the improving reputation. On a night out in September, I was walking along arm in arm with my friend down a city centre street, and my flatmate suddenly called out a guy for trying to steal my purse out of my bag. He’d gone so far as to undo the zip, and had his hand inside the bag. Understandably, this scared me, and brought home the fact that there is always a first time, and that my safety was no guarantee.

Having said this, I wouldn’t say I felt any safer back in my hometown, recently dubbed ‘homicide capital of the UK’, with the highest number of killings per head in 2013/14. Gang culture is particularly pervasive. The two-year anniversary of the brutal murder of young rapper Isaac Stone, just 19, left me feeling fearful for our generation. Researching further, I found killer James Hanratty, one of the last people to be executed for murder in the UK, hanged at Bedford Gaol in 1962. I also found that in Bedford, mental-health related murders were few but particularly violent in nature. Matthew Clarke, past teacher at my former school, and paranoid schizophrenic, stabbed his mother to death in 2007. In an unrelated but similar attack, the unprovoked street-stabbing of Boris Reavey by a paranoid schizophrenic in 2008 soon made me realise the place I call ‘home’ wasn’t so safe after all. This got me thinking. Could it be that improvements in healthcare and the diminishing stigmas attached to mental health have helped in bringing about the reduction in this type of tragic crime?

Adversely, is it just that the media seems to purport Glasgow’s old-age status as the murder and drug capital of Europe? It’s easier to reinforce a stigma than to diminish it altogether. A spate of murders involving the deaths of 10 Scottish prostitutes in the 1990s shows how, while crimes of this nature are no longer commonplace, the stigma with which they are treated remains. Regarding the omitting of sex-crimes from the survey, an ulterior motive can be suggested. Ruth Morgan Thomas, project manager of Scot-pep, said:

“some police officers see the violence as part of the job of a sex worker. No woman should have to accept that… Sex workers are dehumanised by the media and the general public and there is an underlying discrimination in the way they are treated.”

Prostitutes constitute the largest single group of unsolved murders. Ten years on from the murder of eight prostitutes in Glasgow between 1991 and 2005, no one has been brought to justice. Another case that really shook me to the core was that of Karen Buckley, murdered after a night out at popular student haunt Sanctuary. After almost a year settled in Glasgow, this case is one that remains particularly harrowing, and quite literally, close to home. My flatmate was slightly late home from work one night, and I found myself wracked with fear, to the point where I actually rang up her work to check if she was safe. I find I now walk a little faster, check behind me a little more, and it’s these small things that creep into your subconscious, and ultimately, make you feel unsafe.

[Serena Ruberto]

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