A council leader says there is a “real disconnect” between the actual levels of crime and the fear of it amid a fall in reported incidents in his community.
Gravesham council leader John Burden claims isolated violent cases are often “blown up” into something they are not and are fuelled by online rumours and misinformation.
The Labour leader’s remarks come after the latest figures show recorded crime incidents in Gravesham fell by almost twice the county average, despite the public perception it is rising.
Between September 2022 and August 2023, crimes reported decreased by 7.8% compared to the previous year, against a Kent-wide reduction of 4.7% – the third greatest decrease across all districts.
In particular, violent crime such as sexual offences is at its lowest since 2017 with 659 fewer offences and the number of robberies has dropped from 126 to 93.
Other incidents such as burglary affecting business have seen 36 fewer offences making it the second-greatest drop across any area and shoplifting has fallen by 4.8%. The county as a whole has seen it increase by almost a fifth.
Yet, in a report set to be discussed at the council’s cabinet meeting tonight (November 6), figures indicate the rate of total crime per 1,000 population is 100.1 offences, higher than the county average of 92.5.
Recorded drug trafficking offences have increased by 322.2% from 90 to 380 compared to the previous year. The county has seen an increase of 106.4%.
However, the report explains this is due to police actions to tackle supply and county lines activity, rather than a dramatic increase in offences.
It is a similar picture for anti-social behaviour offences which have risen by nearly 10%.
The council says this is due to it attributing such offences as a high priority and emphasising the importance of reporting of incidents.
Commenting on the report, Cllr Burden said: “What these figures show is there is a real disconnect between the actual levels of crime we are seeing in the borough and the perception of and fear of crime, which is often fuelled through rumours and misinformation being shared as fact on social media, where isolated cases of violent crime in particular can be blown up into something they aren’t.
“Anti-social behaviour from street drinkers and large numbers of school age children in certain parts of the town centre are also contributors to this overall perception of crime being on the rise, when it is in fact falling under nearly all measures.
“This is something we are acutely aware of and we are working hard with our colleagues at Kent Police to address.”
We understand that the few unacceptable incidents will always garner the most publicity, especially on social media, while the good work goes unnoticed
Cllr Burden added: “We understand that the few unacceptable incidents will always garner the most publicity, especially on social media, while the good work goes unnoticed.
“However, we must not allow that to mask the effort going on to continue to drive down crime in the borough, and the success that work is having.
“By just about every measure, crime is falling in Gravesham, whatever people’s perceptions may lead them to believe, and we will work to ensure that trend continues.”
He said the perception issue was highlighted by council officers who spent a Friday evening in the town centre asking people how safe they felt in the evening. The council says the most common response was a rating of 7 out of 10.
Cllr Burden added: “I suspect this figure would look very different if the question was asked of people who do not go into the town centre at night, suggesting that those using the town in the evening are more likely to feel safe than those put off from visiting by social media or local news stories.”
Earlier this week, a resident said she was left “traumatised” when her car was surrounded by a “masked and hooded” group in the town on Halloween.
While there were reports of anti-social behaviour, the local authority said this was kept to a minimum, with police patrolling anticipated problem areas.
District Commander for Gravesham, Chief Inspector Will Lay, said: “The reduction in crime over the last year is encouraging but we are not complacent and remain determined to tackle persistent and dangerous offenders.
“This work depends on assistance from members of the public and I would urge anyone who has concerns about crime or anti-social behaviour to make a report via our website.
“This will allow us to understand what is happening in the area and deploy our resources effectively.”