Community Safety is relevant at both individual and community levels. This research report is about perceptions of safety which is different from an objective measure of changing crime rates, or of actual levels of risk. The reason for this is that it is our perception of safety, or lack of it, that will significantly influence our sense of wellbeing, whether we feel comfortable to move about freely, the view we hold of other community members, and the levels of participation in community life by ourselves and our families.
The research work included three different elements: an overview of existing literature and reports, focus groups, and a survey – the latter two focussing on West Auckland. Considered together, a number of themes emerge.
Many West Auckland people across all cultures, including the most vulnerable, connect with their neighbours, feel safe in their homes and on the streets of their communities, respect the role of the Police and have engagement with the wide range of people and events in their communities. Participants want initiatives for change from the Police, the Auckland Council and community organisations, but they also want to take responsibility for community safety themselves – to be offered opportunities for their visions and energies to have impact.
It is clear that there is not a single, nor a simple response that will be effective in increasing perceptions of safety. Initiatives that seek to positively influence it will need to be multi-faceted and long term oriented. Specific approaches that would have positive impacts, identified in this work, include:
• Community engagement or placemaking initiatives that increase connections between individuals and families at a local level, including inter-generational connection.
• Work that intentionally and positively connects people across cultural groups and that helps people feel less threatened or challenged by the relatively rapid growth in diversity, the arrival of new groups and increasing inequality.
• A discussion in all our community spaces about the contribution of media and social media to making us feel unsafe in our communities and what individuals and organisations can do to create a more positive vision of the communities that we live in.
• Investment in initiatives that allow people to increase feelings of control over their lives. This could include, for example, processes of participatory planning and budgeting that establishes priorities for spending at a local level.
• Continued investment in environmental work that provides attractive, well-lit, well-resourced and accessible public/community centres, streets, parks, footpaths and cycleways and other spaces that local people and visitors feel comfortable using.
Finally, and underpinning more specific recommendations or approaches, it is important to recognise that there are community wide issues of poverty, homelessness, privilege and inequality, particularly impacting families and children. The stress and insecurity that results from these is a critical factor reducing the sense of safety and wellbeing that people experience.
This report is the result of a partnership between Community Waitakere and Unitec and the work has been funded through the Lotteries Community Sector Research Fund.