If you’re reading this, the chances are you’ve already been warned about Nottingham.

You probably know that it’s got the worst crime problem in the country. You’ve probably heard that gangs roam the streets, that Lenton boasts the most burgled street in Britain (Kimbolton Avenue), and has the cashpoint with the most muggings in the UK (Barclays). Maybe you’ve also been told that Nottingham has the highest rate of car-theft around, or that it’s the country’s official Gun Crime Capital. I expect you’ve heard all this already. What you probably haven’t heard is that none of this is true.

Nottingham’s reputation seems to spawn an endless stream of hype and hysteria. Newspaper headlines paint a picture of “Shottingham, The Most Dangerous Place to Live in Britain”. People who’ve never been here before conjure up images of some post-industrial urban nightmare – when I told my brother I was going to Notts his response was “enjoy being stabbed” (thanks bro!). Even the students seem to buy into it all. There’s a kind of faux-stoic sense of pride in being here: we’ve braved all the dangers, we can return home as survivors. This is, of course, brilliant. Brilliant, in all except that it’s not based on the facts.

So why, then, does Nottingham have such a bad reputation? Probably the biggest reason in recent years has been a damaging report from the think-tank Reform. This report looked at 54 cities in England and Wales, and placed them in rank-order based on their rates for six major crimes. Nottingham topped the overall list, and gets a section of its own in the report entitled “Most Dangerous City”. Nottingham also came top of the tables for three of the six individual crimes investigated – murder, burglary, and vehicle crime. If crime were like football, then Nottingham would have done the treble.

The report provoked a number of headlines at the time, and is largely responsible for Nottingham being dubbed “Crime Capital of the UK” ever since. But it is misleading at best, and downright wrong at worst. The reason for this is simple: the researchers used dodgy population figures. The authors set Nottingham’s population at 249,584 – significantly less than it actually is – and include all the most dangerous parts of the city while omitting safer locales (the entire Clifton area, for example, is simply ignored). This is a pretty basic blunder, and it skews the figures in a way to make Nottingham appear worse than it actually is. To worsen things more, the report actually analyzes many other cities using populations from their outlying suburban areas, or sometimes even beyond that. Jon Collins, a Nottingham Councillor, points out how “In Leicester they’re talking about the whole of the conurbation and some areas outside the conurbation; for Derby, they include the conurbation but they also include the whole of rural south Derbyshire.”

This means that the report doesn’t compare like with like, and because of that the whole analysis falls apart. When Nottingham Council ran the same study taking their entire conurbation into account,
Nottingham dropped from 1st place to 15th in the rankings, and was no longer worst in any of the six crime categories. Despite calls for them to do so, Reform have refused to withdraw their report. “It’s easy to say they stand by their figures,” says Councillor Jon Collins, “but their figures are wrong.”

Now you might be thinking: “sure, 15th place isn’t as awful as 1st, but it’s still pretty bad!” And of course you’d be right. Certainly the council isn’t proud of it: when you drive into the city you don’t see many signs saying “Welcome to Nottingham – 15th worst place for crime in the country.” But while Nottingham does have a crime problem – which nobody denies – a very large chunk of it is concentrated in areas of the city that you will never go to. Nottingham’s gang culture, and the violence that comes with that, is mostly confined to areas such as the Meadows and St. Ann’s. I spoke to Val Culley, from Nottinghamshire Police, about this point. She told me that “Most of the stories you hear involve locals in areas students never visit…It’ll be someone in that area shooting someone else in that area, or someone committing a violent crime in that area against someone else. It’s not normally something that affects students.”

In fact the only crime that students ever really experience is robbery, and even this is extremely rare. “The classic scenario”, says Culley, “is a male student walking back home at night, and they might get robbed for their phone or their wallet but they’re never usually hurt.” There are only a handful of cases like this each year, and all of them could be prevented if people just chose to take a cab.

If there is one crime you should watch out for, it’s burglary. Students come to university with expensive mp3 players and fancy new laptops, and these are just the kind of things that thieves are looking for. Quite often, preventing this is just a matter of common sense: lock your door when you go out, don’t leave your valuables on display, and, most importantly, close the window. Out of 585 burglaries against students last year, 188 were attributed to overt negligence by the students concerned.

You might hear people saying that crime here is spiralling out of control, or that the police are losing control of the streets. In reality the situation is getting better, not worse. Since 2003, crime overall has fallen by 12%, burglary has been reduced by 23%, and the number of shootings in the city per year has fallen from 51 to 13. In the last academic year alone police reduced the number of burglaries against students by 124 – a drop of 19%. And for those living on campus, things are particularly promising. According to Gary Stevens, chief of security at the university, “overall crime [on campus] has reduced by half in the last five years…with major reductions in the number of break-ins to student accommodation”. These break-ins, he says “have reduced from around 130 per year to a current figure of 20.” If Nottingham does have a crime problem, then it seems at least to be getting better.

So what can you do to avoid being a victim? The bluntest answer is: don’t be an idiot. I learnt this lesson the hard way when I locked my bike up in a dingy and deserted corner near the Broadmarsh Centre, and returned a couple of hours later to find a vacant railing and a discarded bike lock. A lot of students come from places where crime is almost unheard of, and it’s easy to slip into the blasé, happy-go-lucky attitude to security that works fine back home. But don’t make that mistake. Be streetwise, shut your windows, and make use of any alarms or property-markers the police at Freshers’ Fayre give you. And, almost more importantly, if you’re going to leave your bike somewhere, make sure it’s in a place where people will notice someone slicing the lock with a hacksaw.

But don’t worry about it too much. Nottingham is not as dangerous as you might imagine. It’s really no more dangerous going to uni here than in any other major city. No student at the university has ever been shot or killed, in spite of the grief we give the locals. The vast majority of people have no problems whatsoever. So long as you’re streetwise, and relatively sensible, you’ll be fine. Don’t be an idiot, but don’t be afraid either.

For more information on crime prevention in Nottingham visit www.easily-done.co.uk

– Rob Barham

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