- a new service to cut violent crime

21 February 2012

The charity Witness Confident has launched, a new website to help cut violent crime.The site allows victims of street robberies and attacks to post witness appeals and warn their local community by pinpointing the crime on a Google map. People who witnessed the incident and are able to help can then get in touch with the right police team at the click of a button. 

By guaranteeing a secure, private channel of communication between victims or witnesses and the police, the charity hopes will galvanise more people to help the police keep our communities safe. Early indications suggest the public are keen to help reduce street violence and will welcome this independent community service that allows them to contact the police 24/7 from the convenience of their home or workplace.

The site also aims to cut the fear street violence often causes as it will provide accurate information about the circumstances of the incident and those involved. For example, this means people can see if the attacker was a stranger or if the incident occurred at 4am or at 4pm, so helping them judge whether it raises any real concern for them or their family.

Witness Confident - which is funded by the Nuffield, Allen Lane and Wates Foundations - will operate the service across London free of charge for a year.  

Guy Dehn, director of Witness Confident, says “As a way of telling the police you can help, the site is a welcome alternative to hanging behind at the scene, standing around at a police station or waiting in line at a call centre. This matters as there’s little chance the police can make our streets safer if witnesses don’t come forward.”

Street violence and fear: the facts

Four in five of the street robberies that are reported to the police are never solved and the position for attacks by strangers is no better[i]. In London – where last year the Met Police recorded 36,615 robberies[ii] – the offenders were apprehended in 16% of cases.

The British Crime Survey estimates that there were 248,000 robberies across the country last year, of which just under half were reported to the police.  Violent attacks by strangers were more common: with an estimated 885,000 such attacks in England & Wales, of which only 40% were reported to the police.[iii]

While street violence is undoubtedly a serious problem, fear of this kind of crime is seven times greater than the actual risk[iv]. The Home Office estimates that 19% of city residents believe it is very or fairly likely they will be robbed or attacked by a stranger in the next twelve months. In the more deprived areas of England & Wales, this fear of street violence is held by one in four people[v].

How will help

By providing descriptions of the incident, by adding links to any CCTV and photo-fits and by enabling witnesses to contact the right police team securely and easily, this groundbreaking service will deter opportunistic street violence and help the police catch the few individuals who commit most of these crimes.

The charity also hopes the service will counter some of the misplaced fears about street violence by allowing people to see whether any given incident is a cause for concern for them and their family. As it also lets victims publicly thank passers-by who helped and enables the police to update posts on the site with arrests and convictions, it provides the good news as well. The site is also integrated with Twitter, and this will help bring the benefits of social media to the fight against crime.

Witness Confident has designed the sitefor and around victims, witnesses and the public. It has adopted the approach used by businesses to attract and engage customers online: The service is secure, convenient and simple to use. 


[i] data for the year to March 2011 for personal robberies both nationally and in the Met solved. (Please note that while the police record statistics for robbery, they do not collect data on stranger attacks, as these are not distinct offences from domestic or acquaintance violence and so are not counted separately.   As this Briefing explains, there is no reason to assume the proportion of stranger attacks solved by the police is higher than that for robberies).

[ii] - 36,615 robberies in the twelve months to Dec 2011.

[iii]  Crime in England & Wales 2010/11 – Table 2.01 (p.39) for the level of robberies and stranger attacks; Table 2.11 (p.54) for the proportion of robberies (49%) and stranger attacks (40%) that are reported to the police.

[iv]  Public Perceptions of policing, engagement with the police & victimisation  (HOSB) 19/10, p. 45.  While this records the fear of street violence across England & Wales at 15%, it erroneously say this is five times greater than the risk (3%).  As the question asked (p. 44) was about the fear of being robbed or attacked by a stranger (street violence), the figure for the actual risk erroneously included victims of domestic and acquaintance violence.  As the risks of being attacked by a stranger and of being mugged were 1.4% and 0.7% respectively (see Crime in England & Wales(2009/10), page 65, Table 3.05), the finding that 15% of people across the country fear this happening the them in the next 12 months means the fear is seven times greater than the risk.

[v]  Ibid, p 55.