Friday, April 24, 2015

Whatever you do...keep moving forward

Together North Jersey's final report on the Newark SafeGrowth training - photo from TNJ report
With great respect for Martin Luther King Jr’s famous words about moving forward, I am reminded of crime prevention work in Newark, NJ.

Crime prevention can be slow and grinding. Six years ago I paid homage to participants in our SafeGrowth training with whom I am continually impressed. They are the ones who slog away at their daily chores and yet still remain committed to moving forward with changes they map out during the training.

Those local heroes are everywhere in these pages. In the past year alone they include Saskatoon, Milwaukee, Christchurch, Melbourne, St. Paul and this week New Jersey.

Newark SafeGrowth teams auditing abandoned buildings - photo TNJ report
You may recall my posts last year about Together North Jersey, the organization that heads a multi-agency initiative to work with low income and high crime communities around Newark. Their goal: Teach skills in neighborhood revitalization, CPTED and SafeGrowth to help local groups help themselves. AlterNation was hired to head up that training and project work.

Now their final report is available. The report, Training community-based organizations in CPTED - Together North Jersey Micro Grant Program lays out the entire Newark process from top to bottom.

Project implementation is still underway and the work is unfinished. Yet team members persist at fundraising and implementation. Plus, in spite of vexatious hurdles like high crime rates they tell me forward momentum continues. This report describes how. It is one of the clearest road-maps to date on SafeGrowth in action.

Testing Wanso Im's community crime mapping software - Mappler - photo TNJ report
The report also incorporates a new addition in the SafeGrowth story - Wansoo Im's innovative community mapping software that we tested during the class. During training walkabouts team members used their smartphones to upload real-time site evaluations on crime and fear. When we returned to the class the finished maps were waiting for us online.

Screenshot of Mappler crime mapping options available on smartphones

Congratulations to all team members in Newark (and everywhere we have done this training). Thanks go to the organizers, funders, policy folks, community workers, police officers, researchers, and mostly the residents and local associations. Your commitment to a better future honors us and demonstrates what citizenship should look like in the 21st Century.

Friday, April 17, 2015

On the threshold of a robotics revolution

R2D2 patrolling the street in modern day California?

Whenever I read the classic sci-fi Oath of Fealty I think of that mirror world where privileged  insiders reside behind their technology fortress and the rest of us are the mob at the gates. Except we forget that in Niven and Pournelle’s novel their technology fortress was modeled on an arcology, a real-life creation of walkable, ecological, and community-based cities where people collaborate to survive.

Such is the paradox of security; exclusion vs inclusion is hardwired into the beast.

K5 - a mobile emergency "blue light" station - all photos by ©Knightscope, Inc. 2015
Ultimately intention is the key. It fits no one except cynics to claim human nature makes every invention retrograde. Aerial flight may allow militaries to bomb, but planes also allow millions to travel world-wide and experience cultures in every global nook. That arguably brings us closer together.


K5 is an autonomous data machine - aka, a security robot. Advertised by Knightscope as an autonomous neighborhood crime watch, the K5 appeals to both corporate and community. Tackling the high turnover in the security profession (by some accounts up to 400%), the K5 provide more reliable eyes-on-the street for everything from asset protection to identifying threats like armed intruders in schools. It then contacts police with real-time, reliable data and does so 24/7 without sleeping on duty.

K5 patrolling the Microsoft facility in California - ©Knightscope, Inc. 2015
The online promo describes automatic license plate recognition (for stolen cars), CO2 and temperature sensors (for fire), facial recognition with cameras, and low-light video sensors for night-time property monitoring. The gizmos on this robot are impressive; LIDAR, GPS, inertial and odometer sensors, geo-fencing for autonomous control, directional microphones, proximity sensors, and the list goes on.

I don’t really know what to make of K5: Big Brother’s Techno-Bride or R2D2’s charming bleeps? I suppose, ultimately, intention is the thing. True, removing humans from eyes-on-the street is scary. No doubt the robo-phobics will sound alarms.

On the other hand, who said people had to be removed just because they have their own K5 in their neighborhood?

Night-time patrol with low-light sensors - ©Knightscope, Inc. 2015
Knightscope warns us about epidemic crime. While rates are increasing in some places, crime science and police statistics say the opposite, all of which is beside the point. Even in a time of record-breaking crime declines security needs remain high. What bank doesn’t have security cameras?

Whatever the case, for some reason when I look at K5 I am not reminded of Schwarzenegger’s cyborg in Terminator. I’m reminded of Huey, Dewey and Louie, those cute robot drones from the 70s enviro-sci-fi flick, Silent Running. And they end up saving us from ourselves.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Police "economics"? A different dream for my country

Police mobilizing for Toronto's G20 summit in 2010 - photo Jeff Denberg Creative Commons
GUEST BLOG: Tarah Hodgkinson is a senior researcher in the Integrated Risk Assessment Instrument Research Group in Vancouver, Canada. She is a member of the International CPTED Association and a certified SafeGrowth instructor. She is completing her Ph.D in criminology at Simon Fraser University.

I dream of Canada as a country that significantly funds incredible local crime prevention programs like SafeGrowth that engage the community and police as partners. Programs that put our neighbourhoods in charge. I want a country that encourages our universities and communities to use what we already know about crime prevention and policing by putting it into practice.

A few weeks ago I attended Public Safety Canada’s Economics of Policing and Community Safety conference in Ottawa. The conference started three years ago to respond to increasing policing costs in a time of fiscal constraint.

However instead of frontline workers talking about innovation and partnerships with their neighbourhoods, or practitioners sharing tales of their work in crime prevention, the conference room was full of senior police and policy people.  Where were the people driving change currently?

2015 Economics of Policing Conference in Ottawa, Canada's capital
The final conference discussions came down to future research and plans of action. However research questions focused on building a national framework and studying efficiency and effectiveness. Despite several calls for it, action was lacking.

Consider the vast amount of research on how such measures are useless because it is almost impossible to define efficiency and effectiveness without reducing them to response times and crime rates! Consider there has already been inconclusive police research about those very questions! Consider that a national research project is addressing this question already!

A different future unfolding elsewhere

Why not discuss how to expand successful, and proven, local crime prevention and neighbourhood safety strategies in Canada such as SafeGrowth? Why not discuss more innovative ways that the police can support and collaborate with neighbourhood-led change? Or better yet, use those limited research dollars to implement and evaluate these strategies?

I asked in frustration: “How can we talk about a national framework for Canada when we have a tiered policing system that ignores the size and role of private security and local non-police led crime prevention? How can we spend money on ANOTHER study on measuring effectiveness and efficiency?”

“How can we not do something in our neighbouhoods NOW?”

My questions may fall on deaf ears. But maybe that doesn't matter because here’s the more important question: Perhaps a different future must unfold elsewhere?

Saturday, April 4, 2015

From poppy fields to parking lots

Grocery store parking lot used for open-air drug deals

Zoom in for tight close-up 
Scene 1: Non-descript parking lot next to a grocery store 

Not long ago I was standing in the rain in front of a grocery store next to a country-side highway on an island in Washington State. I had been asked how CPTED might fix open-air drug deals in the parking lot. I was assessing sightlines, lighting, and access.

“What drugs are they dealing?” I asked the frightened storeowners.

“Black Tar Heroin. It’s happening all along the Island highway, not just here.”

Black Tar Heroin! The name conjures images of wealthy executives sneaking expensive drug habits into their secret lives. And how did $200-a-gram heroin (the most addictive drug anywhere) replace meth and crack as a street drug?

Zoom out for establishing shot
Scene 2: The I-5 Interstate freeway on the U.S. west coast 

This island highway is a short ferry ride from the I-5 just north of Seattle. The I-5 corridor is the main transport spine along the US west coast from Mexico to the Canadian border.

I discovered that Mexican drug cartels produce this Black Tar Heroin in response to the government crackdown on over-prescribed opiods like Vicodin and Oxycontin. That crackdown cut off suburban addicts from their over-prescription pipeline and created an expanding market for heroin. These addicts prefer an opiod high unlike Meth (though island cops say some now combine both). The perfect opiod replacement? Heroin!

Global routes for heroin - not a local problem

Zoom further out for overhead shot
Scene 3: The Sinaloan coastal plains, north-western Mexico

Mexican cartels use profits to hire chemists and create heroin mills with the latest technology that cuts production costs. My drug cop contacts tell me that over the past few years street heroin dropped from $200 to $30 per gram. Suddenly an isolated parking lot looks like a perfect marketplace for dealers up and down the island.

The 1-5 corridor links San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland and Seattle on the same route. The island parking lot in which I’m standing is a short ferry ride from I-5. It is the perfect storm for drug routes.

Where do cartels get such a large supply of opiods?

Afghan poppy fields - photo Resolute Support Media

Zoom out for panorama shot
Scene 4: Afghanistan's poppy fields

For decades 80% of the world’s heroin came from Afghanistan’s poppy fields. Opium derives from poppy seed pods. With the Taliban takeover, poppy growing was eradicated (probably the only useful outcome of that era). After the Taliban fled, poppy production soared.

Today Afghanistan is once again a majority producer of poppy seeds. Farmers there and drug runners here have opened whole new heroin markets.

I had no idea a wet grocery store parking lot would typify an expanding street heroin scene across the country. But that is exactly what is happening.

Friday, March 27, 2015

The neighbors next door

Criminology of Place shows how both neighbors and neighborhoods matter a great deal in preventing crime
GUEST BLOG: Tim Hegarty is a Division Commander with the Riley County Police in Kansas, adjunct instructor at Kansas State University and expert in police innovation. He is also a Certified Level II Instructor in problem-based learning. Here he reviews the Criminology of Place.

“Neighbors next door are more important than family far away.”

How important? This Chinese proverb opens The Criminology of Place by Weisburd, Groff, and Yang in which the authors present compelling evidence regarding the connection between crime and place based upon 16 years of crime data in Seattle.

Some numbers may be familiar from Weisburd’s earlier work, particularly the finding that roughly 5 percent of the street segments accounted for 50 percent of the crime. Other numbers not so much.

Overall they show both how strongly crime is connected to place and how stable crime remains at most places over long periods of time. So strong and stable that during the study’s 16-year period the concentration of crime stayed almost the same throughout the entire city.

Surprisingly, Seattle’s 24 percent drop in reported crime during that time was the result of significant decreases at only 12 percent of its street segments!

Riley County officers patrol a chronic crime hot spot
Their research reinforces the importance of place in addressing crime and I highly recommend it to everyone with an interest preventing crime. One conclusion should strike a chord with the regular readers of this blog:

“[Crime] prevention through deterrence is not enough… Police officers must be given the support and training to allow a problem-solving orientation to develop. Our results indicate the importance of the social and the physical environment in understanding why some street segments and not their neighbors suffer from high crime rates. These findings provide evidence that police should take a more holistic approach to addressing crime problems... ”

Bicycle officers working the neighborhood in Riley County
To police agencies that haven’t yet spent huge amounts of taxpayer funds on predictive policing software...this advice: Save the money!

Absent some fundamental change in the physical or social environment, the best predictor of the location of future crime problems is the location of past crime problems. Working with the neighbors next door, as we see reported in Greg’s blog, is one of the best ways to do this.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Tactical urbanism

Entry into the Market Street Prototyping Festival in San Francisco - photo by Greg Lindsay Next City
The latest tactical urbanism in San Francisco is called the Market Street Prototyping Festival. It symbolizes the 21st Century form of public engagement. Public engagement is a linchpin for success when it comes to placemaking, SafeGrowth and all sorts of good things urban. Safety and crime prevention too depend on it, at least if you believe in life beyond target hardening.

Tactical urbanism is the key.

Tactical urbanism, coined from the book with the same name, is what Portland  has been doing for ages during the Intersection Repair projects. It is a low-cost and learn-by-doing strategy reminiscent of so many social action strategies of the 60s except this time the result is physical changes within neighborhoods that avoid long planning processes.

San Francisco is the latest to try tactical urbanism by welcoming artists, urban designers and others to set up their innovations along Market Street. A few selections occupying the upper register of my cool-o-meter: Data Lanterns that glow brighter to announce arriving trains, metal walls that turn into a musical instrument on touch, and street seats made from compacted mushrooms for composting afterwards.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Stories from skid row in Los Angeles

The recent story of LAPD Sergeant Deon Joseph triggered a flashback this week. For 17 years Sergeant Joseph has worked in the skid row of Los Angeles, a cluster of streets with over 3,500 homeless in a city of over 50,000 homeless. The YouTube "Stories from skid row" says it all.

My flashback was to a conference years ago in Vancouver. I was in the audience listening to a well known journalist describe stories about policing. It was one of those ah-ha moments, at least for the audience.

First he told stories about his personal experiences about officers he knew or came across on the street. They were positive stories about how those officers were conscientious and diligent. People needed help and the police showed up to help. It was all very glowing.

Then he told stories about rotten apples and police misconduct. They were stories from headlines in  other parts of the city or from other cities. He had read those stories in the press and recounted them to us. His conclusion? There are two different sides of police work.



I pointed out to him that every positive story he told came from his life experience but every negative story came from the press. He knew his personal stories were true. So wasn’t he concerned that the press stories might be incomplete or biased? Nope! He seemed oblivious, probably because my point was more about the quality of journalism than the quality of policing.

Screenshot from Stories from Skid Row
There are plenty of negative stories about police. The federal investigation this week concluded racism is a part of the Ferguson police story. Also this week there was a tragic police shootings of a homeless man in Los Angeles. There are plenty of bad stories.

Yet occasionally the opposite shows up like the YouTube above or the NPR radio show that shines light on the complexities in Skid Row. No doubt those positive stories are forgotten in the bad press of the day. But the remarkable account of Sergeant Joseph and all his partners' exceptional work on Skid Row is important. That too is part of the real story.