Strasbourg, 21 March 2006 CPL(13)5

Urban security in Europe

Rapporteur: Jean-Marie Bockel, France,
Chamber of Local Authorities
Political Group : SOC



1. Urban security in Europe : the main issues at the present time

The globalisation of the economy is accompanied by the globalisation of crime and violence. The paths of economic trade accompany or precede those of trade in human beings. Crime linked to economic transactions (fraud, payments, theft of goods) is quite quickly compounded by crime related to human settlements in towns and cities and illustrated by a trade in bodies. Drug trafficking caps everything, with its outlets in the streets of our cities.

The various crime networks, and the underground which sustains them, are hard to pinpoint, and while certain sectors or territories seem to have spawned organised criminal structures with activities and resources on a big scale, most forms of organised crime are perpetrated by small groups which disperse and then come together again as opportunity and interest dictate.

Added to this pattern of criminal activity is crime and violence which directly affect the lives of individual Europeans. All these types of delinquency cut across and feed each other. Crime is a fungus rather than a network.

Crime develops fast, both in the nature of its activities and in the modes of operation it employs, and simpler frontier formalities and easier trading practices enable criminals to use legal umbrellas under which to shelter their business. To this is added their speed and capacity for adaptation, thanks to mobile phones, laptop computers and financial dealings over the internet. Every set of regulations which offers commercial or financial advantages creates new forms of criminal operation. Forecasting in this field is still in its infancy.

All these factors demonstrate that twenty-first century crime is a complex phenomenon, calling for multiple strategies involving numerous areas and specialities – not just the police and the judiciary, but also other sectors of the administration and the social sphere. The more this crime harms persons, the more the strategies in response to it must resort to specialists from a range of professional circles and find application in different administrative territories, thwarting the conflicts of competence within states between the different public services.

But more important still, these strategies mobilise different levels of government – towns and cities, groups of towns, regions, the state. To these the European level has been added.

The conference table at which the strategies will be devised must be a large one, and if the fight against crime is to be effective, it is vital that the dialogue between the various levels of government and the multidisciplinary agencies concerned be properly organised.

The multiplicity of instruments for fighting crime devised by the international organisations, by states through bilateral or multilateral cooperation, by towns and regions and by NGOs is considerable. Nonetheless, while some sectors are well covered, others are definitely lagging behind as the result of cumbersome procedures, but above all because of the lack of a clear vision of the ways in which crime evolves.

Moreover, legislation often has to catch up and those who work at the grassroots naturally have a sharper view of these developments, which are often immediately visible in the streets and districts of our towns and cities. But their ability to work together at the international level is hampered by financial costs and by the need for action to be spread over the medium term if results are to be achieved, through individual training and structures.

This multiplicity causes overlaps, a constant “reinvention of the wheel”, and duplication of expense. In the absence of up-to-date information about practices and action taken, too much energy is expended in reconnaissance and identification of the real problems and situations, to the detriment of positive action which could be rapidly assessed.

A growing feature of the fight against crime and violence is recourse by the public authorities to private sector security services. This is a factor which has emerged in recent years, flourishing partly because of failings in the public security sector and the expansion of tasks in this field. The other reason for its growth is the rise in the cost of public security, which has made it impossible to maintain certain functions. Almost 2% of Europe’s GDP is taken up by these costs, and the impact of terrorism is bound to increase that percentage further. Without doubt, a large proportion must be earmarked to meet the general demand for security; the main problem is the risk of its developing without any check on the new roles which this sector plays in security (access to sensitive data whose later use it is hard to prevent, division of Europe into areas under private control and areas under public control).

2. A European resource centre for urban security: the background to the project

In 2001 the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly adopted Recommendation 1531 on security and crime prevention in cities: setting up a European Observatory.

That recommendation and its explanatory memorandum, drawn up on the initiative of Jean-Marie Bockel, a member of the Parliamentary Assembly and Mayor of Mulhouse, recommended the setting up of a “European Observatory on Urban Security”, with the following tasks in particular:

a) gathering, analysing and making available to all parties concerned information on crime and the operation of systems of justice in the different countries;
b) keeping a regularly updated register of the security practices which bring the best results;
c) organising exchanges between those in charge of security policies;
d) offering training courses for security policy agents.
In addition, in the context of the work on urban security which it has also carried out in recent years, the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities organised a seminar in Brussels in May 2004 on the need for a European Observatory on Crime Prevention and its role and functions.

That initiative was taken in the framework of the integrated project “Responses to violence in everyday life in a democratic society” carried out from 2202 to 2004 at the instigation of the Secretary General of the Council of Europe. The conclusions of that seminar supported the establishment of the Observatory.

Lastly, in the resolution adopted at the close of the ad hoc Conference of European Ministers responsible for the prevention of violence, which marked the conclusion of the integrated project (Oslo, 7-9 November 2004), the ministers confirmed the need to set up the Observatory and invited the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe to give their backing to this initiative.

The final report on the above-mentioned integrated project stressed in particular that, in view of the difficulties encountered in collecting, analysing and comparing quantitative and qualitative data on violence in everyday life in the member states, there seemed to be an urgent need to set up a permanent structure for the development of a common methodology for collecting data, exchanging information on trends in national situations, innovative initiatives and examples of good practice.

The main aim of this project is therefore to demonstrate the added value of greater synergy among the agencies in this field, not to create new structures. In order to make this primary characteristic clear, it was also decided to use the term “resource centre” in preference to “observatory”.

It is also important to emphasise that the Committee of Regions of the European Union, in the Opinion which it issued on 14 April 2005 on “also repeats its call for a European Observatory for urban safety to be set up as a lightweight structure providing a European instrument for collecting, organising and processing data on the victims of crime and perceptions of insecurity, promoting and coordinating research, and designing policies. These measures would be used not just in areas of European Union competence, but also for building regional and local partnerships”.

Finally, it should be remembered that at the 3rd Council of Europe Summit of Heads of State and Government, on 16 May 2005 in Warsaw, the member states wished to mark their determination to guarantee the security of their citizens while fully upholding human rights and fundamental freedoms, in particular by combating terrorism, corruption, organised crime and cybercrime.

It was in the light of this consensus on the need to set up a European Resource Centre for Urban Security that your rapporteur proposed to the Congress and its Committee on Social Cohesion that a report be drafted on the subject.

3. The Resource Centre

3.1. Role

The overall picture of trends in crime and strategies for crime control in Europe does not receive the special, ongoing attention that would produce better decision-making on the part of towns and cities, states and the European Union. There is no objective knowledge of the problems, and continuous monitoring of the impact of decisions and their success or failure is sadly lacking. The goal of achieving a Europe of security, freedom and justice merits the creation of an instrument through which to share information, serving the whole of the community of players engaged in crime prevention. The existing tools are not yielding the expected results, because they are overly specialised in the fight against crime.

It is clearly apparent that crime prevention must acquire a framework that will provide information and help with decision-making at all levels of government.

The European Resource Centre for Urban Security, as proposed, would have the following functions, among others:

The present situation is rather confused, mainly because of the absence of common descriptors and methodologies for collecting quantitative data. Further, the circulation of information is unsatisfactory, because of the many public and private structures covering different fields or diverse geographical areas, without the data and conclusions being comparable as well as readily accessible.

The situation as regards the qualitative aspects of prevention policies is similar to that of the quantitative aspects. Work to analyse and highlight good practice is carried out by a great many bodies, both public and private. Existing data banks are little known, and the people in charge of them generally have no contact with each other, and the potential lessons that could be learnt in terms of experience and forms of action are usually fragmentary and not readily accessible.

Prevention policies increasingly resort to new approaches and new functions. Certain occupations see their role changing and growing richer, while others emerge. We should therefore establish tangible synergies between the bodies that provide initial and further training, so as gradually to define fresh contents geared to the changing roles and training of the people involved in prevention.

Systematic recourse to partnerships in national, regional or local policies on the prevention of violence is today recognised as an essential factor. Nonetheless, the analysis of numerous experiments has shown that, notwithstanding the good faith of potential partners, many difficulties arise in practice by reason of different languages and professional traditions, institutional snags and ethical issues.

Feelings of insecurity cause people to react badly. Action is misunderstood and there is often insufficient awareness of crime phenomena, which favours criminal activity.

3.2 Modes of operation

The Resource Centre’s “capital” would undoubtedly be the network from which it springs. The quality of the Centre’s information, and thus its credibility, will depend on the quality of that network.

It is important that “points of contact” should be created in each country. In the first instance they would be constituted by the Council of Europe’s present correspondents, that is to say the government structures responsible. The experiment, in 2003, of sending these correspondents a questionnaire on prevention policies revealed their very great responsiveness, and an ability to seek out information relating to several sectors. The fact that they come from different ministerial sectors is not a handicap. Further, bearing in mind the important contribution made by the World Health Organisation in respect of problems of violence, there should also be a local officer of that organisation, better able to keep watch on this sector.

The other “contact points” would be the territorial communities. A town or region should be designated to report on problems of crime and violence and at the same time on partnership policies for prevention. Although only one town would be selected initially, the aim would be to increase that number. It is important to stress that towns and cities are the places where operational principles of recognised effectiveness, and schemes that are inherently transposable, should be applied in a general way. The Resource Centre should not be just a place for centralising information but also an instrument for defining and giving effect to prevention and security policies in which towns and cities are indispensable allies.

Two other contact points must subsequently be identified in each country:

- a contact point in the form of a research body which agrees to act as interface between the Centre and other researchers in the country. This function entails a measure of representativeness, but above all a genuine commitment to capitalisation, dissemination and leadership;

- a contact point representing NGOs or the private sector, familiar with and informed about the sectors active in prevention. This body should agree to act as interface, and to circulate and analyse prevention and security practices inside the country.

3.3 Organs

Three essential, representative organs will have to be established:

1) The first organ would be the Resource Centre’s Steering Committee, comprising representatives of territorial communities, international institutions, states and the private sector. This Committee will meet at least once each year to define the Centre’s programme and its relations with the institutional environment. The membership of the Committee must reflect the “contact points” established in each country. Its chairperson must be representative of the role of persons holding elective office at territorial level in the functioning of the instrument.

The Council of Europe, through the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities, the European Crime Prevention Network, the World Health Organisation, and the United Nations, through its Vienna office, will be the principal representatives of the international institutions; Unesco, Interpol and Europol should perhaps be added to the aforegoing.

The private sector would be represented by the NGO sector and private partners involved in security questions, such as insurance companies or foundations.

2) The second organ would be an “Insecurity Analysis Board”. It would be responsible for the continuous analysis of various kinds of insecurity in Europe. Since these take a variety of forms, they require that “round tables” be set up to compare approaches from different disciplines. This opening up of the field of security to a range of specialists is the only way of putting in place the necessary analytical tools to follow developments in forms of insecurity. A forward-looking approach must also throw light on the present. The predictability of crime trends has its basis in social, political and economic analyses which are not commonly conducted in this sphere. Membership of the Board will be limited to a maximum of 20 or 25 persons, constantly renewed around a more slowly rotating nucleus. This arrangement affords a minimum of stability in order to ensure consistency of approach, but also a measure of renewal to allow for the geographical area covered and the requisite disciplines. The Board’s proceedings should be published at regular intervals.

3) The third organ would be a variable-geometry Scientific Council. Its task would be to capitalise on research in Europe and suggest the Resource Centre’s main lines of research. It is to be hoped that its legitimacy would enable it to point international funding in the right direction and to form international teams in response to calls for tender.

3.4 Combining existing initiatives

The Resource Centre would not be created out of nothing. Some of the functions that would be assigned to it have started life in different frameworks which can easily be changed to make an initial “set”.

The decision to create the Resource Centre would be a decision to expand, consolidate and combine these functions.

For example, the impact of the integrated project “Responses to violence in everyday life in a democratic society”, developed by the Council of Europe, was considerable in terms of the number, quality and variety of the players mobilised in every country. There is an expectation and a desire for this first move to be made permanent.

Furthermore, the statistical work done in several Council of Europe sectors on crime, judicial measures and terms of imprisonment and partly reproduced in the European Sourcebook would provide a firm foundation for the regular, long-term development of knowledge about situations of violence and insecurity.

The projects carried out in various countries of the European Union by the European Crime Prevention Network have given some of the people involved in prevention a fairly stable framework for exchanges.

For this reason, the European Resource Centre for Urban Security should in particular be the focus of closer cooperation between the Council of Europe and the European Union, each of these two organisations having built up a wealth of experience in various fields relating to urban insecurity, performing different but complementary roles.

The Council of Europe has leaned more towards the use of law in preventing and combating crime; the European Union, for its part, directly supports judicial and police cooperation efforts and crime prevention programmes implemented by field workers. Through the Congress of Local and Regional Authorities of Europe, the Council of Europe has helped to introduce partnership and development methodologies and defined the role of towns and cities in these prevention programmes.

The geographical framework in which the Council of Europe operates and the European Union’s various cooperation agreements afford considerable potential synergy and a stronger operational capacity for the development of prevention policies.

Finally, let us remember the activities carried out in the framework of the European Forum for Urban Safety (EFUS), which has been working in this field for nearly fifteen years. Among the results of its work are:

- the strengthening of a network of towns and territorial communities accustomed to comparing notes, discussing ideas and firmly implementing local policies covering every kind of insecurity;

- the recording local urban security practices in every field, validated by those involved;

- the adoption of common positions on security and strong belief in the construction of a common European policy.


The project to create a European Resource Centre for Urban Security today meets the need, as a matter of priority, to combine in a network the knowledge and practice acquired in this sphere and to reinforce the synergy between the different agencies at work in the field of urban security and the related prevention policies.

Over and above creating a common framework for data, information and thinking such as to enhance knowledge and facilitate decision-making, the establishment of such a Centre should make it possible to improve both quantitative and qualitative data collection, provide initial and further training for those working in prevention, foster an exchange of good practice and, lastly, promote public debate in Europe on questions of security and violence in order to combat the population’s feelings of insecurity.

Similarly, this Resource Centre should offer a set of tools for local authorities which will assist them in their prevention policies, whether setting up specific partnerships among the players concerned, particular environmental or educational schemes or developing the economy and social services.

It is essential that this project for the creation of a European Resource Centre for Urban Security should today receive strong institutional support from the Council of Europe and the European Union, especially in the light of recent events in certain member states which have pointed up the urgency of finding new solutions to the problem of urban violence.