In the Media

Soon nobody will intervene to stop gumen like Peter Reeves, warns criminologist

PUBLISHED July 10, 2012

Dr Natalie Mann, a Lecturer in Criminology at Anglia Ruskin University and who lives in Clacton, says if society does not change its egocentric ways soon nobody will step in to help.

Dr Natalie Mann a criminologist from Clacton

Until yesterday afternoon, Clacton-on-Sea was best known for its holidaymakers, its pier and its annual donkey derby; however, as tragedy struck, our small seaside town was pushed into the full glare of the national media.

The initial incident and subsequent murder of PC Ian Dibell has shocked the community, and sent ripples of fear through what is essentially a sleepy seaside town.

The events of yesterday were incredibly quick to unfold and the use of social networking sites were central to the immediate and widespread acquisition of knowledge.

With minute-by-minute developments brought to us via the internet, our community was deeply involved in this crime as it unfolded before our eyes.

In the past we would have wondered what the police helicopter in the sky was searching for and not known until we watched the news or read the paper the following day, but in an age where media is so mobile and individuals have the power to create news stories via sites such as Twitter, we become a feature of the story itself, and receivers of the minute details which ultimately make us scared.

The actions of PC Dibell are testament to the community spirit which does still exist in small towns such as Clacton-on-Sea, and yet he paid the highest price imaginable for taking such actions.

As a criminologist and as a member of a small town community, my fear is that in the not too distant future, people will stop coming to the aid of their neighbours because of a fear for their own safety, and self-preservation will eliminate humanity.

As our society has modernised and individuals have become more mobile and dispersed, our sense of solidarity, those shared ties which bind us together, have been all but lost. We live in an age of individualism and increasing egocentricity; no longer tied together by those common daily exchanges.

One need only travel on the London underground to witness first-hand the complete loss of human interaction amongst a group of individuals who no longer have anything in common with each other.

The dangerous effects of individualism and self-preservation are perhaps most hauntingly conveyed in the case of Kitty Genovese; a 28-year-old woman brutally raped and murdered in New York in 1964.

The prolonged and horrific attack was witnessed by over a dozen people, some of whom were Kitty's neighbours, but not one of them attempted to help her or alert the police until it was too late.

The omissions of the witnesses have become a prime example of what is termed 'bystander apathy'; essentially the failure to act in an emergency when there are others present.

Bystander apathy has been strongly linked to group membership and collective identity; it appears that when the bystander has little or nothing in common with the person in need, they are much less likely to help.

In the case of Kitty Genovese, as a group of individuals, rather than a collective community, the witnesses to the murder felt absolved of the responsibility to act because no other bystander was acting.

Small towns like Clacton-on-Sea offer some sense of hope in the fight against what has become known as the 'me culture'; we do still have things in common, we still share a sense of abhorrence when a major crime is committed and we still unite against those who are intent on destroying our community.

This may not be the tightly-knit solidarity of the past, but it is solidarity none the less. So let the brave 'gut' reactions of one off-duty police officer inspire us to help others in our community, and not compel us to become uncaring and insular individuals as we have seen in the past.

So, how does a small town community deal with such a horror? The answer is in the actions of the brave and selfless off-duty officer who lost his life.

We need to remember that PC Dibell heroically intervened to protect his community and it is as a community that we must deal with what has happened.

We need to pull together in that old fashioned way to help support those who need it. But we must also remember that these violent crimes are still very uncommon and hope that one day soon our town will once again be known for its day-trippers, holidaymakers and donkey derby.