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The real message

This poster can be seen all over London. In it a young man standing at a bus stop chats on his mobile phone, a sight one sees all the time on London’s busy streets.

What the Metropolitan Police are saying is that doing this, talking on a mobile phone in London, in public, is unwise behaviour. Okay, fair enough, London is a big city and all big cities have their fair share of street crime, so what is the problem with this message from the boys in blue?

The problem I have is that this poster is not warning criminals who might attack us and steal our phones of the sure vengeance of the law. Not it is calling on us all to refuse to tolerate thieves in our midst and to resist to the best of our ability. Hell, how about suggesting “if you have a mobile phone in your hand and you either witness a mugging in progress or think you are in danger, dial 999 and the Police, whose paychecks and cars with flashing lights come from your taxes, will come rushing to the rescue”.

No, it does not say that at all. The real message here from our appointed protectors is not “we will protect you from crime” and certainly not “protect yourself from street crime”, but rather HIDE from street crime.


The state cannot protect you, it will not permit you to protect yourself effectively, so all it can do is offer advice… and the advice is hide. Do not show anyone you have something worth stealing. I expect we will soon see posters across London saying “it is safer not to wear Armani suits, you might get mugged” and then “don’t wear short skirts, you might get raped” and finally “don’t go out at all, the streets are not safe”.

Perhaps when the state has taxed everything and we no longer have anything left to hide, we will indeed have ‘safer streets’.

The state is not your friend.

31 comments to The real message

  • J

    Was thinking much the same thing yesterday on the tube, when I saw a similar poster asking me to help the police reduce crime by making myself inconspicuous and rescinding ownership of anything of value. Or maybe that’s just the way I read it.

  • It is not just the way you read it, J.

  • I’m sorry, but I just can’t believe that this is going on. I mean, geeze, what’s happened to England? No wonder the English cricketers are going so poorly. Out of sight is safer when your facing Glen McGrath, but it’s no way to get the Ashes back is it?

    Advance Australia Fair is all I can say…

    Great post though. Seems like you got a lot of work to do though 🙁

  • A_t

    It’s just plain common sense. Mobiles are pretty valuable things. A while ago, very few people would have been carrying things of that worth around with them. Now they tend to walk around, utterly blind to the fact they’re flaunting property that others might want.

    It’s way too easy to nick somone’s phone & run off into a convoluted estate; happens round me all the time. The police *may* be inefficient, but what do you propose they do? If they’re right at the scenewhen it happens, fair enough, but if all they’ve got is a sketchy description of some guy, and the fact that he ran off down an alley 10 minutes ago, with goods which are easily resellable & very hard to trace, what are they supposed to do? It’s all very well saying ‘we pay for you… protect us’, but do you have any useful suggestions as to how they could go about this better? Do you think the police don’t give a damn about fighting crime? That they wouldn’t be happier if they were arresting tons of thieves & muggers, & having all of us pat them on the back? Fact is, it’s DIFFICULT.

    It’s plain common sense that, if you’re in an area of very mixed prosperity (and that applies to most of London now), you try not to flaunt your wealth in a public place. There will always be criminals, & they’ll generally go for the most obvious targets. The number of utterly oblivious people i see parading £300 phones past crack addicts is unbelievable. If you don’t even take the most basic precautions, don’t come crying to the state when someone nicks your phone. To me, openly showing your phone as you walk down the street is equivalent to leaving your front door open, & your dvd player in the hall.

    If you want to feel safe walking the streets, you’ll need more than a more effective police force; some kind of social change will be necessary, and until such time as you or someone else thinks of a brilliant solution, stay personally vigilant.

  • Sorry but you have missed the point. Yes, it is important to be ‘streetwise’ but quite frankly if I kick the crap out of someone trying to nick my phone, odds are it will be me who ends up in front of the beak.

    But I do agree with you that what it needed is social change… which is to say the de-politicisation of society and the re-socialisation of it. People need to find it socially unacceptable for the state, which does not allow effective self-defence, or criminals, to make it unsafe to walk the street with your own damn property.

    Yes, I have all sorts of ideas about crime. I do not want the police on every street corner but as I cannot carry a weapon to defend myself in Britain, I expect the people who have disarmed me to bloody well do it… which of course they cannot.

  • Mobiles are not necessarily all that valuable things. You can buy a cheap one (without handset subsidy) for 50 pounds, which works just as well for the things people actually use it for (ie phone calls and SMS messages) as a 300 pound Nokia. People carry more expensive phones with them because they have become fashion items and status symbols (and this has been made worse by the fact that the networks subsidise the cost of hadsets for their good customers). If this is the case, being conspicuous with them and flaunting them is to some extent the point. Therefore, people are not going to do what the police suggest, and this campaign really is not going to work.

    That said, having an expensive phone is no different from having an expensive watch, and people are entitled to have any phone or watch they like. People really should be able to walk down the street without having their property stolen from them, even if it has some value. The police should spend their resources on actually catching criminals rather than running advertising campaigns. I certainly hope that if I were to come into a police station complaining about having been mugged, they would not tell me that I had been asking for it because I was using my phone too conspicuously.

    (My phone was stolen last week. It fell out of my pocket in a cinema when I was watching a film, and I decided to just leave it on the floor until the end of the film. However, at the end of the film it was gone. I (perhaps naively) was astounded by this. The manager of the cinema was sympathetic, but said that things like this happen all the time).

  • Excellent piece, Perry. Peter Hitchens has made the same point regarding those “pickpocket” warnings:

    “Pickpockets may be operating in this area”.

    Why not use police time catching and jailing them instead of making posters?

    The trouble with this poster is, as you say, that it almost blames the victim. It’s pretty absurd the way the police and others who offer such advice effectively tell you not to use your mobile phone anywhere but indoors, where there tend to be phones connected to walls, unsurprisingly.

  • Ian

    Michael’s right about the cost of mobiles. Every unemployed person I know has one, and it’s not as though walking down the street with a mobile is in the same league as leaving the door of your Lamborghini wide open in the middle of a sink estate.

    And for f***’s sake, the whole point of a f****** mobile is that you use it while you’re on the move. If you can’t use it unless you’re indoors, what’s the point?

    The answer? Decriminalise all drugs, and the price will go down, so less motivation for addicts to mug and burgle.

    Ah, I see Peter’s already made the point about phones indoors.

  • A_t

    ok… ” The police should spend their resources on actually catching criminals rather than running advertising campaigns. ”

    but what if, in terms of crime reduction for your money, it turns out that the posters are more effective? Surely this means less money in the hands of criminals, and less victims of crime at the end of the day.

    People *should* have the right to have whatever phone/watch they want, & people should also have the right to smoke whatever they fancy. Neither of these things are the case in the real world, though at least one of them would be easy to sort out.

  • zack mollusc

    This may be an effective crime reduction in the short term but surely crims need a minimum turnover (ha ha) and will switch tactics/targets?

    How prevalent is this crime in the gun-happy states?

  • Jacob

    It is a fashionable idea these days that every problem can be solved by a publicity campaign. This poster is worrying because it shows the police believes in this nonesense. If your government and it’s police are that dumb – it’s bad.

  • My concern is that if I come into a police station having had my mobile stolen, they will tell me: “You were asking for it. Look what the poster says” and that the presence of a poster somehow moves responsibility to the victim and absolves them of the need to do actual police work. In the case of a stolen mobile, there isn’t generally much that can be done, I agree. I simply do not like this idea that the government should advise me on my behaviour. And I really do not like the idea that everything can be solved with a publicity campaign.

  • Peter Schiavo

    In Center City Philadelphia there was a problem with cars being broken into and loose items being stolen. It turns out it was the same bunch of 6 to 8 people doing all of the crime. The Police concentrated on catching them and the city prosecutor got them convicted and sentenced to long prison terms. I’m sure the cell phone and jewelry snatches are being commited by a relatively small group of career criminals. Catch them and jail them. Form citizen groups to hector the prosecutors and have members attend all of the court sessions to insure that justice is done. Make it clear that somebody cares what the outcome is. Write letters to the newspapers outing lenient judges. Get a crusading reporter to write a series of articles on judges who free career street criminals. Get their pictures in the morning papers along with the criminals and their victims. Make them choke on their corn flakes.

  • Scott

    It kind of reminds me of those people who advocated see-through handbags back in the eighties (so would-be thieves could see that those particular women had nothing of value). Even to this (at-the-time) young country lad, the logic behind the bags seemed flawed. Good police work is pro-active, not reactive.

  • Peter Schiavo: What you suggest makes sense and would certainly get some results as opposed to inaction. However, money is stolen from me i.e. taxes, that are supposed to be spent on police and security, precisely so I don’t have to do this. That is what the police are for. If they can’t do it properly, I want my money back…

  • A_t

    Personally, i very much doubt that ‘a few’ career criminals are responsable for the mobile phone crime in london… & I suspect a lot of it’s opportunistic. Much of it’s done by under 18s. These guys don’t necessarily have yearly/monthly targets; they’re just plucking fruit that’s easily available to them. If the supply runs out, most of them aren’t going to start robbing banks, or holding up people at gunpoint; they’ll probably just make do with less money.

    & as to keeping valuables out of sight… is *anywhere* much better? I mean, yes, if you live in Switzerland, you can flaunt gold & everything’s cool, but do any of you know anywhere where poverty and ostentatious wealth operate side-by-side with no robbery? If arming the population’s the solution, how come the US isn’t free of theft? This has been the situation forever; think highwaymen etc. etc.

    No-one’s *ordering* you to hide your phone; you’re perfectly entitled to walk wherever you want, flaunting your web-enabled, colour-screened, polyphonic-ringtoned wonder.

    I take this campaign on a similar level to food safety etc. campaigns. Just as they’re not a substitute for hospital treatment when someone *gets* food poisoning, so this isn’t supposed to be a replacement for good policing; it just means a few less people might need to go to the police in the first case… & personally, I’d rather the police had more time to deal with serious crime.

    The idea the police will blame you for the theft of your phone is very weird & to my mind utterly unrealistic, especially as the government introduce a raft of dubious measures to make the justice system ‘victim-oriented’. Just as, even if you’ve not been totally careful with kitchen hygene, or eaten in a dubious kebab shop, nurses aren’t going to scorn you for having food poisoning.

  • J

    Hardly poverty and ostentatious wealth! We’re talking about mobile phones, as prevalent as watches and at about £50 not far off the price of a half decent watch. If there was a poster campaign advising that everyone takes off their watches when going outside it would be considered laughable. The two people that I know who had phones stolen both had budget free with contract phones that can’t have been worth anything for resale.

    And as for concentrating on ‘serious crime’ I think that being knocked down and robbed in the street or having a knife pulled on you is pretty serious. If assault and robbery doesn’t count as serious where does serious crime actually begin? Actually being stabbed? But then the victim was probably asking for it by refusing to hand over their property. Fancy not only using your phone in public but trying to hang on to it when challenged!

  • The number of utterly oblivious people i see parading £300 phones past crack addicts is unbelievable.

    riiiiiiiiiight. It’s the exact same for me, man. Every damn day.

    Bottom line – The campaign does send the wrong message and the money for it could have been spent elsewhere. Mobile phones – cellphones anyone? – are to be used while moving. You get a call walking down the street, you, what? duck into a shop to answer it?

    Good post. Good comment discussion – except for No. 18 here.
    The art of social rhetoric is doing fine.
    Previously Self-Titled Journal to the (spacial) left there, now http://www.templestark.com

  • Brian

    This is so very reminiscent of what we in the states went through. Back in 1993 NY Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan saw a sign on a car reading “No Radio”. He wrote an essay about how crime had become acceptable and, in his famous phrase, we were “defining deviancy down”. Here’s the link. (I hope).

    All our mistakes are being repeated and Europe seems to be ever so slowly, creepingly turning into the New York of the Death Wish/ Taxi Driver era.

  • A_t

    I’m sorry, but we’re two different countries, with different cultures, different circumstances, different degrees of ghettoisation. I’ve heard too many Americans make the glib assumption that Europe’s basically America 10-20 years ago. We’re not.

  • Moynihan’s essay, drawing on Durkheim, is essentially a philosophical theory about a social dynamic that takes place in all societies, not something specifically American. It seems to me to be just as applicable to the UK now as to America in the early 90s.

  • Henry

    One thing I wanted to mention to A_t : you asked why the US isnt free of muggings, as though all Americans can carry guns. The truth is, in most large cities its very difficult for regular folks to get a permit, if possible at all. Luckily I live in Pennsylvania, which is one of the few states that has a shall-issue law. I used to live in Philly, and attempts have been made to rob me. Notice I said “attempts”, because I carry an USP compact in .40 cal. And I’ll tell you this also: hot robberies and home invasions are practically non-existent in the US compared to you guys, because here burgulars know to wait until the house is empty or they’ll get shot. To get back to the original point, the states and municipalities here that have the least strict gun laws have the lowest crime rates.

  • A_t

    ” the states and municipalities here that have the least strict gun laws have the lowest crime rates”

    but which is cause, & which is effect?

  • Bruce Rheinstein

    Whatever happened to Secure Beneath the Watchful Eyes?

    You mean with all those “watchful eyes” people aren’t even safe in public in broad daylight? Sheesh, Big Brother would not be amused.

  • Peter Schiavo

    “” the states and municipalities here that have the least strict gun laws have the lowest crime rates””

    “but which is cause, & which is effect?”

    Since gun ownership preceeded(sp?) gun control by about 250 years, it is the states and cities that have progressively restricted the lawful ownership and bearing of firearms that have the crime problem.

    The real problem is since the War on Drugs is largely fought in the cities, and the residents of those cities are predominately minorities, gun crime is disproportionately falling on those minorities. White Americans have a gun crime rate comparable to the European gun crime rate. If you remove the financial incentive to deal drugs, the use of firearms to defend that lucrative business will disappear.

    If the hypocritical middle class(Black,White,Hispanic) of this country would allow the justice system to prosecute their children with the same zeal that it uses on poor children(Black,White,Hispanic) the drug war would soon be brought to a close. There any number of programs that the middle class uses to opt out of prosecution. Not to mention, if you can afford a $10,000 lawyer who lunchs with the D.A. every week, you’d be surprised how many searches become ruled invalid and felony possession charges get knocked down to misdemeanors.

    The War on Drugs has become the War on Guns and the War on the Poor.

  • Stephen M. St. Onge

    A_t: Guns and crime, what’s cause and effect?

    Some years ago, Morton Grove, Illinois, banned all firearms in their township. This stimulated Kennesaw Mountain, GA, to require the keeping of firearms in their homes.

    Morton Grove’s crime went up every year for several years afterwards. Kennesaw Mt.’s went down.

    Oh well, when I read about the ever rising English crime rate, I just say, “Brother, you asked for it.”

  • Me

    Well, If you shoot a few of the son of a bitches, that should slow down the punks!.

  • David Caplan

    In my opinion, based upon historical research, the sorry situation in the Britain (the 1967 abolition of the common-law rules on justifiable use of force), aping that in the USA (The 1962Model Penal Code), has resulted from abolition of the common law on carrying arms and justifiable, as opposed to excusable, homicide. Only when a Conservative Governmnet in the UK and in the USA will the situation change for the better.

  • I foresee a cottage industry in mini-pagers which can render the phone inoperable in seconds if stolen.

    My personal preference would be for a half-ounce of C4 to be detonated by said pager, thus ridding the world of one scumbag, but that’s just me…

  • Doug Matthews

    Is there anywhere you can buy the “Secure Beneath The Watchful Eyes” poster?

  • Shane Matthews

    “I’ve heard too many Americans make the glib assumption that Europe’s basically America 10-20 years ago. We’re not.”

    It’s one thing to say it, A_t. It’s another to prove it, and that’s where you come up short. I’m Canadian, and I hold the same view. Europe is still mired in disco, for heaven’s sake, and they’re still puffing away like chimneys while Americans are butting out. It’s been a while since Europe was on the cutting edge of anything, and people on this board have made some very cogent points. Complaining about social inequality doesn’t cut it.

    Crime rates in the U.S. are in free fall, even as those in Europe head through the stratosphere. The U.S. began liberalizing in the 1930s and didn’t stop until well into the 80s, when the pendulum began to swing the other way. Crime trends followed the liberalization closely, spiking dramatically in the 60s and 70s and now dropping to the lowest rate since the 19th century. In Europe, meanwhile, liberalization is in full swing with no end in sight (except perhaps in Germany, which, incidentally, can now report a DROP in crime). Expect crime levels to follow suit.

    The degree of lawlessness in the United States shows a strong correlation with immigration levels. The higher the levels, the higher the crime rate. It’s not politically correct, but it’s true. And since America has now effectively slammed the door, immigrants are turning to the EU as a consolation prize, and the EU is in no position to turn them away. In order to offset declining fertility rates, the EU will need to import 1.5 million immigrants a year. In order to maintain the ratio of workers to retirees, they’ll need to import 13.5 million a year. Most of the takers at the moment are Muslims, many of them radicals. I hope Sharia appeals to you, A_t.