Why do Europeans feel unsafe?

The University of Barcelona coordinates the MARGIN project with research centers from Italy, France, Hungary and the United Kingdom.
The University of Barcelona coordinates the MARGIN project with research centers from Italy, France, Hungary and the United Kingdom.
Recerca
(18/11/2016)

Official data show that Barcelona, like other European cities, has low levels of crime. However, people donʼt think so, and safety is one of the problems that worry the most according to official surveys. The University of Barcelona is coordinating a project that aims to find out the causes of this imbalance between security and crime in several European cities in order to design proper public policies. This project is MARGIN - Tackle Insecurity in Marginalized Areas and has the participation of the Home Affairs Department of Generalitat de Catalunya, the Hungary National Institute of Criminology, the National Institute of Advanced Studies of Security and Justice (France), the University of Milano-Bicocca (Italy), the University College of London (United Kingdom) and the International Research Center EuroCrime.

The University of Barcelona coordinates the MARGIN project with research centers from Italy, France, Hungary and the United Kingdom.
The University of Barcelona coordinates the MARGIN project with research centers from Italy, France, Hungary and the United Kingdom.
Recerca
18/11/2016

Official data show that Barcelona, like other European cities, has low levels of crime. However, people donʼt think so, and safety is one of the problems that worry the most according to official surveys. The University of Barcelona is coordinating a project that aims to find out the causes of this imbalance between security and crime in several European cities in order to design proper public policies. This project is MARGIN - Tackle Insecurity in Marginalized Areas and has the participation of the Home Affairs Department of Generalitat de Catalunya, the Hungary National Institute of Criminology, the National Institute of Advanced Studies of Security and Justice (France), the University of Milano-Bicocca (Italy), the University College of London (United Kingdom) and the International Research Center EuroCrime.

“This discrepancy is not a “Barcelona-only” problem, other European countries have the same pattern, cities with low crime rates have inhabitants that donʼt feel safe”, says Riccardo Valente, researcher of the Interactive Media Lab of the UB and coordinator in MARGIN. “In these cases, the perception would not be justified by crime-related subjects, which means that lowering crime is not enough, but also improving other factors that lower peopleʼs perception of insecurity”.

Hidden crimes in statistics

The first stage of the project compared numbers of the registered crimes from police resources that provided data from victimization surveys, to analyze the factors that have an impact on peopleʼs perception of insecurity. These surveys were carried out in the 70s to detect what in scientific literature is known as dark crime figures, crimes that are not reported to the police. “We noted that old people and women show a higher insecurity compared to youngsters and men, or that people who have lived in the same neighborhood for longer have a major feeling of insecurity”, says Valente. “However, these results need a deeper analysis, since this is not a cause-effect relation. For instance, with the elderly, age would not be the only factor shaping this perception, since there are other factors such as health or an increase in vulnerability” says the expert.

According to the researchers, the victimization surveys are not useful to focus on the elements that influence insecurity in people, since they lack questions about socio-economic and socio-geographic factors that would enable understanding the relation between the survey respondents and their awareness.

To face these limitations, the project designed the MARGIN survey, in which there are questions on health, economic and family situations, integration in districts and other social and economic questions. “Employment precariousness, perception of poor health or being responsible for some people, among other situations, could influence the perception of security to check the relation we reflected on the survey” says the researcher. “The aim is to add these questions in the official surveys and try to add the surveys to all countries, since they differ in numbers and questions, and surveyed people” says Riccardo Valente.

MARGIN is used in a survey at a large scale in Italy with a phone test of about 15.000 people aiming to confirm the statistical value of the questions. In the other participating countries there will be one hundred face-to-face interviews to make sure the survey works in the different languages of the consortium.

Comparing districts

The project will be completed with a qualitative work with the aim of comparing the factors of the survey and define their influence on the perception of security. To do so, researchers selected two districts with high levels of crime, in five different European cities. These are compared to other districts but with opposite characteristics regarding income per head and educational levels. “On the one hand, according to the analyses of victimization surveys, education level could be one of the insecurity-related factors: the lower the education level, the more perception of insecurity. On the other hand, this comparison allows us checking if the perception of insecurity responds to different factors depending on the district” says the researcher.

This work will start with deep interviews to representatives of neighborhood platforms, employees from public institutions such as Mossos dʼEsquadra or representatives of districts as well as a third group related to marginal individuals. With the results of these interviews, a six-month observation work is carried out to study those places that could have insecurity problems. “The idea is to check if the factors that appear on surveys are seen in the street and if the perception of insecurity affects peopleʼs lifestyle, for example, if they avoid crossing certain streets or squares”, says Riccardo Valente.

The results will be commented on in a series of debate groups with representatives from institutions, civil society and marginal individuals. “The final aim is to propose a series of measures and public policies to lower crime and the feeling of insecurity among people” says the researcher.