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Street crime fight gets lukewarm response

Joan Wright, a councillor who heads a campaign against crime in Coventry summed up the common response to Labour's plans to ban young people under 10 from the streets at night. "I like the idea, but it would require massive resources. I don't think it would work."

Coventry has a youth crime problem. Shoplifting and vandalism are endemic. Mrs Wright, chair of Community Action Against Crime, which links the city council, the police, the probation service, Victim Support groups and tenants' organisations and other community groups, takes calls every week from residents plagued by gangs. Broken windows, graffiti and theft are constant problems.

Coventry has led the way in tackling crime with a ban on drinking in city centre streets which has generally been effective. "People just don't drink in the street in the city centre any more," a council spokesman said. "It's like a no-smoking rule. People just accept it."

The anti-crime strategy has also involved introducing a pass system in schools and a 24-hour watch which has reduced fires which cost Pounds 3.4 million in 1990 to a small bill for an accidental blaze last year.

Other initiatives include an agreement under which convicted drug dealers can be evicted from council homes, and a scheme to protect witnesses in criminal proceedings.

Coventry sees itself at the forefront of attempts to tackle crime. But its inhabitants are sceptical about shadow home secretary Jack Straw's plan to allow local authorities to pass by-laws giving police the power to clear children off the streets after dark. It was pioneered in the United States where it was claimed that crime fell by 40 per cent.

"What we ought to be doing is giving more attention to parenting," says Mrs Wright, who has 15 grandchildren. "Youth crime is a major issue, but a lot of it happens during the day so a curfew wouldn't make any difference."

"We need to let young people know that we care about them having a future . . . a good education and a job. But we also need to let them know that once they are in the hands of the police, they will be dealt with."

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