HOW IT ALL STARTED?
This ‘project’ all started when I volunteered / was volunteered to be a representative of Bannerbrook Residents Association at the Police / Community monthly meeting in November 2016 at the Canley Police Station. It was made very clear to me that the level of Police officers in my local 4 ‘wards’ ( a group of estates) were to be very heavily scaled down, due partly to the lack of ‘Reported Crime’ in these wards. This information is generally compiled through the 999 emergency and newer 101 phone system, that is in place for non-emergency phone–calls. Even the senior officer chairing that meeting was retiring! (There is a big clue here to police response. Don’t just moan on Facebook about it, make sure you RING IT IN TO THE POLICE CONTACT LINE FIRST).
- Phone 999 for emergencies / criminal acts.
- Phone 101 for anti-social / other matters.
I have heard and voiced concerns that the 101 system may not be sufficiently manned and reporting an incident such as ‘anti-social behaviour’, for example, may entail being ‘on– hold’ for a period of up to perhaps 40 to 50 minutes before it is answered during busy periods! This matter needs seriously addressing, as it appears that an extended delay leads to a reduction in ‘reported crime’ , through ‘dropped calls’ (frustration leading to hanging up of the call from the complainant), therefore producing a reduction of actual ‘logged incidents’ and the matter not being properly recorded and addressed by the authorities. If you need to ring 101, and I stress, to please do so, then be prepared to wait for an answer, so your local officer receives a relevant log report on their next shift. If you are complacent reporting it, then the offence becomes ignored and will flourish.
At our last meeting with our local officer ( 10/03/2017) , we were advised that the 101 unit was recruiting more staff. We shall hope to see a far more efficient service in future. We are watching.
I returned to the Residents Association to report on this and made it clear to my attending neighbours that the days of 100% reliance of a Police response to incidents such as car or household crime may not even be responded to with a physical visit from an officer. I felt like just blurting out “we’re on our own now” but I’m not as blunt as I used to be so said “It appears we are pretty much on our own and best look to ourselves to police our estate”.
We were in a situation where a small group of residents (30+) had set up an estate chat group on the (Facebook affiliated) Messenger platform, an instant messaging network (similar to the WhatsApp platform I had been using regularly myself). As we were near a resolve with the issue, the group conversation had slowed dramatically and only intensified when an ‘event’ happened on the estate. The events were forming a disturbing pattern of anti-social and criminal events, so I proposed to the group that it’s primary purpose now be to alert us of ‘security issues’. We all agreed this was a good idea, so from this our network was born. As simple change of title to ‘Banner Watch’ was all that was needed, and we were in business!
There is little to choose between various messaging systems such as WhatsApp and Messenger etc, but there is a possibility that more users have Messenger installed on their smart–phone, as at one point Facebook actively added the platform as an integral feature. It is now an independent add-on or ‘App’ that can be downloaded in the normal way to smart–phones, laptops, notepads etc. And should not require a Facebook profile. In reality, the platform in itself, is not important, it is just a free service that provides a large group message feature. (It is suggested that Messenger had a limit of 150, but we have far exceeded that. I cannot seem to locate an actual limit online).
We established a simple agenda, that the group be self regulated and general chat to be kept to the minimum. The main criteria I chose to use is ‘ please add good guys only’, an American term that is pretty much self explanatory, meaning to use your judgement and only add people you know and trust. Youngsters seem to join and leave, not really understand that a quiet network is not exciting, but it is good. “No news, is good news!”. On this experience you will find members exit when incidents are low and re-join when they need you. People are fickle and everyone has their own reasons to join, as in all groups in life!
To support more general chat and for those that were alarmed by the constantly chiming messages when a concern is active (you can turn of notifications chime in ‘settings’) some of the more active members decided to set up a similarly named, ‘static’ Facebook page, also called Banner Watch so residents may visit for more historical info, much like a Neighbourhood Watch report. Members are free to relay relevant information from the ‘live’ platform and also other estate noticeboard pages that they may see any kind of relevant posts in the local areas. This voluntary sharing of relevant posts allows us to have a spiderweb of network info across a massive area of Coventry, and all info is welcome.
A by-product of members wanting to chat and physically meet lead to a number of Bannerbrook, community chat groups been formed as off-shoots, on parallel messenger groups, including a mother& baby group, ‘Bannerbrook mamas’. ‘ Bannerbrook Ladies’ and ‘ Bannerbrook Blokes’ which are social chat rooms with volunteers setting up support websites for all residents who wish to join and socialise within them. i.e. we have created a number of new and active estate online community chat forums and increased active membership of our voluntary Residents Association too ! We have brought our community closer together. People now walk past you and say ‘Hello’ and smile!
Another idea was to try to reach out to local CCTV system owners, so we created the ’CCTV Local Network‘ that allows owners to seek and collate security data, trade their private system information and also offer an advice forum for residents enquiring about D.I.Y. system purchase , professional fitting, servicing, tuning and upgrading advice and recommendations etc. We also have security system fitters and professional CCTV operators on-board that may be called upon to offer system or even legal advice if needed. This means, if my cameras didn’t get a good picture, my neighbour 2 doors up, or the ones opposite will. None of us sit all day watching screens, but systems continually record and if someone asks about a time window, you can guess 4 or 5 people will pool good information for them. The night vision on 1080 HD cameras is like daylight vision, but in black and white! One of our guys has his tuned so finely it can see in colour in the dark! I am still fine tuning my system and am researching new technologies such as ‘Nite Devil’ cameras.
PROMOTION OF OUR NETWORK:
The Messenger platform works by invitation, but each member has the ability to add their own members. I opted to promote the group with occasional broadcast messages, but not too persistently, with open invitations to add friends and family that are on the estate or overview the edges of the estate. They in turn can add their own members and in effect the Network is by invite only and promoted in the way Amway or Avon is , i.e. by word of mouth or opting in by a friend.
This has allowed our estate of approx 750 houses to develop an active membership of an average 200+ ‘Watchers’.
The network encourages helpers to add any skills or features they wish and you will find that some will perhaps offer to print posters or flyers or post them in their road and go out and tell their neighbours about it, or add other groups they are in en-masse. Some members find us after reading posts on other sites we have affiliated with and information can easily be gathered across many of the neighbouring estates from Eastern Green, Tile Hill, Allesley Park, Coundon etc. People will happily re- post relevant posts across to alert the general area of suspicious or criminal activity. Everyone does their little bit as they feel is necessary. Local shopkeepers are actively welcomed and benefit, as are pensioners, dog-walkers and mothers with babies as they are more often walking long distances, seeing everything. In effect, we have eyes and ears everywhere on the street and online. You can all play your part and be useful within your community by being vigilant.
We have only had to implement occasional regulatory roles. i.e. asking for volunteers for website set-up and administration, very occasional admin on Bannerbrook , to re-inforce the few very basic rules if it is felt someone is not working ‘with the group’ or says something that may be mis-interpreted by others. We have had no need to remove and members in the 5 months that the network has been active. If a heated online ‘discussion’ develops a simple message of thanks to everybody for their input, and reminder that the rule is to keep ‘chatter’ to the minimum seems to be the only ‘admin’ comment required! We all take this network seriously and are very proud of how tightly we police it. I suspect bigger groups will develop problems of their own as they develop. This is natural and people not deemed to be a benefit to the group can be removed with a click!
Members now seem to relish using their expertise and knowledge of online information sources to ascertain if suspicious vehicles are taxed and registered as the index (number) plate that they are displaying. There is now a very short period of group decision before nefarious characters watching vehicles or properties, ‘boy racers’ , vehicles touring the estate suspiciously, people been shadowed home etc are reported to 101 or 999 and then someone will relay it directly to local support Police Officers by email or text, so it is not overlooked.
HARD WORK PAYS OFF:
I have been highly impressed with residents coming forward in times of concern, instantly pooling identifying information, photographs, CCTV footage, exact locations and activity in real time alerts. We are a pro-active, instantly reactive, network of neighbours, that has the ability to react faster than the Police as we are at point of incident by default (we live here). We pool information, make fast decisions and do not doubt that anyone is not actively working for the benefit of their neighbours. The minimal times of ‘false alarm’ become ‘in-jokes’ and we do not fear we are making a mistake, because it can do no harm to an innocent person going about their business in a normal way. We are all getting to meet new neighbours as we work together and everybody has made a new friend somewhere along the way too.
At Christmas, as the new phenomenon of car door tryers emerged, basically criminals walking for miles each night trying every car door they pass. We put out regular warnings to ‘Not leave valuables in view, even coins. Don’t leave suction pad marks on windscreens and just shove your SatNav under a seat!’. This seems to have stemmed the flow of these low end criminals as it is a long walk across Coventry to Bannerbrook Park to come away with nothing at all. A simple message repeatedly posted worked!
FURTHER SUPPORT SYSTEMS:
I had written quite a few technical articles in specialist automotive magazines, so I decided to spend a good few hours writing a few basic (common sense) security articles on Home Security firstly and then another on Automotive Security. These are published on the Bannerbrook Residents Association website by other enthusiastic volunteers and many security concerns are referred to in these from a simple, ‘common sense’ starting point. We have covered basic D.I.Y security device fitting advice is also, if you have the skills to implement it, and others will gladly offer advice or help. I have also come across some startling information freely available on YouTube about how to break open padlocks easily, so wrote a further article on far superior designs of the humble padlock. It’s worth reading as it’s a bit of an eye opener, especially if you have a business and were not aware that insurers set a minimum standard for padlocks!
The theft of high value alloy wheels was partly stemmed by advice post about fitting aftermarket wheel locks as AUDI / BMW etc kits of standard lock keys are available online.
We do not profess to know everything, we are mainly keen amateurs, and all of us welcome any helpful additions posted or forwarded to the website admin and offer free distribution of all of the information to neighbouring estates in their efforts to promote ‘overall estate security’. Remember: ‘Security starts at home and looking after your neighbours, literally covers your back too!’ We have done this work, you can just re-post it on your own website and share anything your network produces. We have given you a ‘blueprint for success’!
You will note that as the network expands, it will appear that crime increases around you, in a seemingly worrying way, but in reality it does not, you just become much more aware of things that are and always have been happening around you. It’s like having an instant newspaper for your own estate, with its own little notification method so you see it in real time, rather than two days later in the Coventry Evening Telegraph. This does scare some people and I have seen numerous posts on various site where the writer cannot grasp that their previous ignorance to crime around them actually allowed it to flourish unseen! That’s a bit like ignoring the weeds in your garden and then wondering where you pretty flowers have all gone!
As your network grows and communication becomes more accurate and discerning, you will start to see your efforts begin to start paying off. Good inter-communication will begin to allow you all as a community to collate information and you will learn that a lot of problems begin to become visible as the result of certain character’s anti-social or criminal behaviour, houses or gathering areas like car parks etc. Then as a community you can begin to see patterns of behaviour, through information shared from things your neighbours have witnessed or heard and then you can request members review unseen CCTV footage between deduced time periods. You can then accurately gather and effectively pass on good information such as times, photographs off CCTV, index numbers to your local Community Police Officers, who will love you, as it makes their job so much easier. Information will come to you that would not be happily given to the authorities!
In one case a house robbery was basically ignored by police until we ascertained from CCTV footage from different 3 sources, that the attempted offence was by an organised gang of 5 males with 2 vehicles in support , one dropping off two two young watchers in hoodies on back roads who were then patrolling up and down our section of the street. The second car had a getaway driver with ( we presume) a professional burglar as passenger, dressed all in black, who walked up to the owners door and knocked it to ensure the house was empty to burgle again for the husbands Mercedes car keys. The house was occupied and they made their quick escape after asking if the wife “needed a window cleaner?”. Time spen pouring over 2 hours of footage showed up driving patterns of the same vehicles, identification of the vehicles and passengers who were picked up and dropped off to circulate around the area for 2 hours at midday, on that Saturday (yes, midday Saturday) and also supplied partial registration numbers and very clear photographs of at least 3 offenders. This revealed an organised car theft gang and a proper C.I.D. investigation was initiated. A result! We also broadcast those pictures. Why not, it helps everybody identify those low-lifes, right across Coventry.
THE POLICE LOVE PEOPLE WHO HELP THEM:
In response to you setting up your own organised security network , your local officers will then want to interact with you, meet your local residents and introduce them to Neighbourhood Watch and WMNOW information services. They will respond to your intel quickly and give as much feed-back as their position allows. We have even had information regarding access to Police funding awards from certain schemes to help develop community and youth projects etc!
Word will spread and anti-social behaviour will diminish as will criminal behaviour as residents will feel empowered enough to know others are watching if they choose to challenge offenders.
We do not encourage or condone vigilante behaviour, and a dead hero is no use to anybody, but imagine if you were sitting in a car watching a house and someone walks up and asks what you are doing, points out CCTV cameras and tells you your registration number is now on record. I think you would be keen to move on even if innocent. We all hate that ‘been watched’ feeling, it becomes uncomfortable very quickly.
STRENGTH IN NUMBERS:
We do now have a strong enough network that if someone seriously asks for help, someone will come, even from across the other side of the estate if they have to. I have personally gone to single / vulnerable neighbours and given them security advice, helped fit up security devices and given them my personal phone number. You could do that! When neighbours go on holiday, we know that at least 3 near neighbours (probably the whole road) will watch their homes for them and at Christmas neighbours were retrieving badly placed courier parcels from neighbours doors and messaging that they had them and were safe. You can have this in your street too………. if you are willing to just do your little bit.
That’s it folks ! The secret is pick up your phone, make a group, invite people into it (you may have to show the elderly / uninitiated) how to do your bit, make your neighbourhood safe by taking an interest in it. Be aware and don’t be afraid to say to a ‘lurker’ : “Hello, can I help you? You’ve been hanging around for a while.” I did once have to walk down my garden path and be less subtle to a character taking a great interest in my next door neighbours BMW. I gave the impression I was talking on the phone, but was live broadcasting to the network his description and exact position in the road. After 25 minutes of him trying to be unobtrusive I decided the internationally recognised silhouette of the baseball bat was required and fetched my car lock out (see car security article or eBay). This produced a panic, a phone call and a fast exit via a run down the road to getaway car. People on the network were posting the could hear the car screaming off the estate. You may have seen his picture online. I really hope you have. He may be coming to an area near you!
WHAT YOU CAN ACHIEVE?
You can do what we have done, you can set up and promote your own network starting with a few clicks on your phone. You will gain your own rewards for yourself and your neighbours. Remember, it doesn’t have to be big to work, it just needs to be active. We cannot prevent all crime, but we know where every bad boy lives on our estate, and they are watched and mentioned if out and about. The teenagers dealing drugs near the shops have gone and so have vehicle crime (they are related). Bannerbrook now has more concerns over charity collectors knocking doors after 8pm. They have no idea how the work against their cause, when 20 people are online moaning about them!!
Large gangs of local children seem to gather from other estates, but we are now addressing this with new ideas to identify them.
Local shops seem to suffer (as all do) but now it is often from organised shoplifting gangs or children sent in from their parents cars hidden around the corner, to run out and drive away with massive baskets of shopping. YES, REALLY!
This is in reality for the large retail chain that owns one shop to address, with proper security personnel, as their staff’s safety is their legal responsibility. To sit in a room with 100’s of people , Police and Councillors and say ‘you should protect our shop because we don’t want to spend the money” will end them up in court when something unthinkable happens.
We have included all local shops in the network and do also police areas outside them as it our estate too. One member literally ran a ‘cashpoint beggar’ and his mate off the estate in their car and chased them up the road once. Postings and photos of any of these dodgy characters are shared immediately and they do not tend stick around long when shop keepers look out or someone challenges them! We do not exactly condone this, but after a crime wave has hit your estate, some people can get quite ‘over enthusiastic’ if they chance across someone ‘disturbing the peace’.
We all know to have our phone cameras ready to take pictures or video secretly and then you can, quite literally, post a notice as you walk away. You don’t need to engage or provoke them, or even let them know the phone in your hand is videoing them. This provides descriptions and actual evidence instantly. Why not? It’s there in your pocket and a good network can relay good solid information to the police if necessary. Every one reading this should prime their family members to get your phone and secretly photo or video anything they see as suspicious or threatening. It can do no harm, but could do a lot of good if needed.
IS THERE A DOWNSIDE?
I haven’t found one yet, except my wife thinks I put too much into it. In reality I work in the back ground, keep a low profile and have made loads of new mates who drag me down the local, kicking and screaming! I write articles with friends and publish them anonymously, as we all do. Like my CCTV cameras, what is better than an unseen watcher?
Facebook is leading a similar initiative in the USA / here called something like My Neighbourhood. Use that as a figurehead / focal point if you wish. Just do something, and go and do it right now. Start with your own road and just let it naturally grow. You don’t need charm, good looks, leadership qualities or money. You need to ‘ just do it’, like Nike said when selling trainers! Use what you have, this is about survival of your way of life. Take what you have and use it, someone will help you if you are trying to do good, and in the same manner you will enable good people to find a way to stop people doing bad, you just need to give them a conduit to use. You don’t need to go to war to be a hero, you don’t need to be aggressive to win, you just need to know that if the day comes that you have to stand up and be counted, there will be tenfold that stand up behind you and say “ that’s not right and I am here to tell you that too”.
In my head I had a little scenario that if someone had a problem on a road on my estate, they would pick up their phone and half the doors on that road opened and someone stepped out and said “I’m here for you”.
Regarding the gang of ‘Good-For-Nothings’ in their cars , smoking pot in the corner of the Spar car park, I imagined a ‘Flashmob’ of Watchers surrounding them and explaining in short, choppy sentences, why they should leave and never come back! The reality is, we did not have to even get that far. Even the dumbest criminals ( lets face it, they ain’t clever!) know to stay away now. It’s a bit like ‘Moron’s Monopoly’ : If you land on Bannerbrook, you go straight to Jail!
YOU CAN DO THIS TOO. We are not an estate of superheroes, we are just like you and have had enough of people thinking we will look away. We have taken it back, We have had enough . we will stand up if we need too and know we are not alone. We are empowered. We are a community.
WILL ANYONE HELP ME?
Yes, anyone who wants a normal life back will recognise what you are doing and will help.
Once you start it off, people will help , some will come forward as figureheads, others will talk crap and disappear. Some will want to set up ‘ patrols’. Just leave them to it, it will peter out after a couple of days, because normal life gets in the way. This is called natural selection. The heroes will talk big, the luvvies will say you shouldn’t say that and the do-ers will take up the mantle and help you make it work.
THANKS FOR READING THIS FAR
I can only add that you should protect your family and property as you feel is appropriate. Being realistic, will a burglar really take you to court saying:
“ well I was just trying to burgle this house and I cut my finger really badly on some barbed wire in their garden and couldn’t got out robbing for weeks? The days of a Police Officer visiting you to say “that broken glass on your 6ft wall is a bit naughty because your wall is too low”. Get real!
If you ring 101 and say I think there’s a burglar bleeding to death on my wall, they will have someone free next week……………………..maybe if you are in at 1pm on Friday because they’re a bit busy!
Remember the old joke:
A man rang 999 and said there are burglars in my garden right now ! The operator said, sorry there’s no-one available to attend!
The man hung up, then rang back 2 minutes later and said “don’t worry about the burglars, I’ve shot them !”
3 minutes later there was 30 coppers in his garden and a helicopter over his house as they arrested the burglars.
The Superintendent walked up to the house owner and said “ I thought you said you’d shot them?”
The house owner replied “ I thought you said no-one was available?”
I try not to criticise, but lets just say, this used to be called a joke. Nowadays its called reality!