Speech at the National Association of Neighbourhood Watch National Conference "Participatory Security and Horizontal Subsidiarity" - 8 October 2022 - Venice
by Mauro Bardi (Member of EUNWA Board)
Here is some food for thought: today we are not dealing with a starting hypothesis and an ending thesis, but with the proposal of certain aspects that may be of interest for our general topic.
The first aspect we briefly wish to address is the content of the principle of subsidiarity.
The principle of subsidiarity represents a technique, of administrative nature, that aims at transferring functions (or even the mere performance of functions), typical of certain organs and traits of the central state, to other subjects and entities.
Within the principle one can distinguish:
- vertical subsidiarity, under which the central state may transfer certain functions of administrative nature to lower-ranking local authorities, i.e.: regions, metropolitan cities, and municipalities.
- subsidiarity, which can be defined as horizontal, whereby the central state and other public authorities (including local ones) can favour and strengthen the autonomous initiative of citizens, both individual and associated. Therefore, on the basis of this principle, certain functions typical of public authorities can also be performed by citizens, by private citizens in individual or associated form.
Having made this argumentative premise, we can affirm how the theory, activity and practice of Neighbourhood Watch can be inscribed within the principle of horizontal subsidiarity: Neighbourhood Watch, in fact, can contribute to the improvement of urban security (or sense of security) brought about and organised not by public powers, but by the initiative of citizens.
Now, we must go deeper and focus, first of all, on what is the basic mission of Neighbourhood Watch activity.
This is identified - first and foremost - in the attempt to set up strategies to prevent, or minimise the impact and effects, of certain crimes: in particular, crimes against property, commissions of house burglaries (and all the profiteering that can occur within the home).
Within this perspective (and set of intentions), Neighbourhood Watch (in its theory and practice) is concerned, first of all, with typifying (or cataloguing) offences against property (and specifically those indicated above) and then with identifying typical strategies relating to the prevention of such offences.
This activity leads, again in theory and in practice, to the typification of the behaviour, actions, and manners of the perpetrator in the context of the above-mentioned offences against property. At this point, however, there is a missing piece: there is an aspect to which the activity, theory and practice of Neighbourhood Watch should turn its attention the victims of property crimes.
Neighbourhood Watch actually only considers the victim of property crimes from one point of view: the one of the potential victim.
In other words, the victim is only considered in the space/time phase of pre-victimisation, through the identification of who could be an ideal potential or abstract victim: in other words, the ideal-physical victims of crimes against property. This way, in fact, all those environmental, material, and personal vulnerabilities that may favour or facilitate the commission of property crimes are also identified.
But as regards of the actual victimisation, the actual moment when the offence has been consummated and has created patrimonial or non-patrimonial damage to the victim, what prospects can we encounter?
Shifting the focus to the victims of crime (i.e., those who have immediately been victimised), leads us to rethink the function not only of all those strategies of preventive nature, but also of all possible interventions subsequent to the commission of the crime.
First of all, we can think and reflect on the question of criminal law, in particular on the function of punishment (generally, the criminal reaction). However, we do not consider this function in reference to the perpetrator and his harmful or dangerous actions, but in relation to the victim, in whose head vague expectations of justice often coagulate.
Therefore, we ask ourselves: what is the function of punishment from the perspective of the crime victim?
We may have different visions, different conceptions of punishment and criminal reaction.
Let’s examine them precisely in perspective and in relation to the victim.
One can introduce a retributive view of punishment: the view that the evil that has been committed by the offender with the crime must be answered with the corresponding evil that is an afflictive punishment.
Does this retributive view of punishment have either restorative or beneficial effects on the victim?
In view of this question, some doubts may arise.
On this point, one could refer to the thought of one of the most considered and esteemed scholars of criminal law, Giovanni Fiandaca.
The author states that:
"...the studies on victim’s psychology, currently available, highlight that the heart of the victims is crossed by contradictory reactions and partly dark feelings, to which real traumatic aspects are added in case of most serious crimes. In order to process the suffering and achieve moral reparation for the damage suffered, it is not enough for the victim to be satisfied by an afflictive punishment applied to the offender. Rather, the need for a psychological process of elaboration and for the grief of victimisation arises, and this has led to the prospect of a new track of criminal justice aimed at the re-education of lives".
Therefore, summarising Fiandaca's words, the application of punishment, understood as retributive and afflictive punishment, doesn’t necessarily have useful effects on the victim. The penalty, in fact, concerns the perpetrator, and the victim runs the risk of being left without satisfaction and reparation.
On the basis of another concept, punishment can be considered from a preventive perspective. It can therefore be understood as an instrument of dissuasive (deterrent) pressure against the commission of offences. Again, this function of punishment does not have any particular beneficial or useful effect on the victim of the crime. Deterrence and dissuasion, in fact, are specifically directed against the potential perpetrator or, in the case of special prevention, against the actualperpetrator, but do not immediately and directly involve the victim and the harm he or she has suffered as a result of the offence.
In the same way, a re-educative view of punishment is not able to deploy particular effects towards the victim of the offence, but focuses considerably on the offender, understood as a subject in need of social rehabilitation.
It is therefore necessary to introduce a more modern perspective and vision, a vision that calls into question the so-called restorative justice: a series of procedures and interventions that, involving - also in a dialogic form - the offender, the victim, and the observing community, are able - as much as possible - to overcome the negative effects of the criminal conduct and to mend the communication and comprehension gap that the offence has created.
Having made this premise about the function of penal reaction (and ordinal reaction), about the perspective of punishment in relation not so much to the offender but rather in relation to the victim, we can ask ourselves a question, a problem; which is not only a problem but also a challenge.
Remaining within the framework of the principle of horizontal subsidiarity that we set out earlier, can we transfer the commitment, theory, and practice of Neighbourhood Watch to the area of victim-centred care?
In the introduction, we presented the concept according to which, the theory, the practice of Neighbourhood Watch deal with prevention, typification of prevention strategies, typification of offences, and typification of offender behaviour. The offence victim is only considered as a potential victim: therefore, the space/time phase of pre-victimisation is mainly, or almost exclusively, examined. Generally speaking, we can therefore observe how the theory and practice of Neighbourhood Watch do not deal directly with the actual victim, those who have actually suffered harm as a result of the crime.
At this point, we can introduce a normative source which, for the purposes of our general argument, may be very relevant.
In particular, we refer to Directive number 29 of 2012 of the European Union (which has been transposed in a not particularly complete way within Italian law by Legislative Decree number 212 of 2015) establishing minimum standards on the rights, assistance and protection of the victims of crime (it should be noted that, within the category of crime victims, all those who have suffered prejudice as a result of a criminal offence are included, and not only the victims of certain crimes - such as, for example, domestic violence or gender violence).
We refer in particular to Articles 8 and 9 of the aforementioned directive.
Article 8 identifies victim support centres and services. In particular, paragraph 4 states that victim support services may be established as public or non-governmental (i.e., private) organisations. In this section, the principle of horizontal subsidiarity is recalled, within which subjects that do not belong to public organisations are involved in carrying out activities that are typical of public authorities (i.e. assistance to victims of crime).
Therefore, Article 8 of the Directive indicates that assistance to victims of crime can be carried out by private people, also in the form of voluntary work, in the form of a ngo organisation.
Article 9 of the directive, then, identifies the assistance provided by the victim support services, and centres, in particular:
- information, advice, and assistance on the rights of the offended person
- information on possible and relevant specialist (social and health) support services;
- emotional support, where available psychological support, advice on financial and practical aspects deriving from the crime;
- advice concerning the risk and prevention of secondary victimisation and, in particular, of re-offending.
Now, let us come to some sort of conclusion.
First of all: we are faced with two structures that denote a certain parallelism.
On one hand, we have the Neighbourhood Watch groups that, as part of the horizontal subsidiarity principle, are concerned with the prevention of certain crimes (as detailed above).
On the other hand, we have the crime victim support centres which, again as part of the implementation and application of a horizontal subsidiarity principle, deal with assistance to victims of crime.
We can ask ourselves, then, can the centres, the subjects that deal with Neighbourhood Watch, also deal with the victims?
We have already noted that these two structures have some parallels.
Neighbourhood Watch and Neighbourhood Watch practitioners are distinguished by certain specialisations towards the prevention of property crime. Victim assistance centres, on the other hand, are characterised by a specialisation in victimology, as working with crime victims is an extremely delicate activity. One of the sayings of victimology is indeed 'first of all no more harms'.
Is it possible, however, for Neighbourhood Watch groups to provide initial assistance to victims of crime (first to victims of property crime, then possibly also to victims of other crimes), so that they are properly directed to victim support centres for competent and specialised care?
In this sense, Neighbourhood Watch centres could become victim interceptors and could direct victims to the assistance centres. It is clear that a certain organisation is needed to carry out this design: an organisation within the Neighbourhood Watch centres, and an organisation within the crime victim assistance centres, and especially a continuous coordination and dialogue between these two structures.
 G. Fiandaca, Prima lezione di diritto penale (First lesson in criminal law), Laterza, Bari-Roma, 2017, p.16.