Tuesday, April 30, 2013

CCTV, Boston and T.S. Eliot

Boston lockdown after terror attack last week (photo - Sacramento Bee)

If Boston proves anything it proves we need more CCTV, right? Yet police, CCTV, and the community working together caught the terrorists, not CCTV alone. We presume CCTV will cut crime and make things better. Crime might drop (which is good), but things don’t always get better.

The CPTED 3-D method (I don't teach it) states the design of a place should reinforce its designated use so that "illegitimate" users are kept at bay. Yet Jane Jacobs wrote that, if given the chance, people make spaces work in their own unique ways. That is what makes them safe.

Similar questions were posed a decade ago in Keith Hayward’s "Space, the final frontier: Criminology, the city and the spatial dynamics of exclusion."


Hayward threw down the gauntlet to the Criminology of Place crowd- situational crime prevention, environmental criminology and by association (not mine), CPTED.

Unfortunately Hayward wrote in the gibberish of post-structural "Foucauldian" prose, an academic fad popular among a small group of academics in the UK and Canada. Tragically it delivers little to those preventing crime except unreadable text. That's a shame because Hayward has a brilliant mind with important things to say.

He attacked theories of the then-emerging community of crime analysts and crime mappers. Today crime analysts populate every major police department. They desperately need this message.

Top down crime maps and CCTV can distract attention from what matters most

One part of that message: Spatial patterns - robbery hotspots, burglary densities, crime displacements - miss the point. More accurately, they are such a small part of the point that they distract attention away from the keys to prevention - causes behind criminal behavior.


Hayward's corrective is theoretical: link the individual experience of victims, offenders, and other citizens with the urban, social and cultural facts that create conditions for crime.

I think it is simpler. It’s the corrective Gerry Cleveland and I offered a decade earlier in Second Generation CPTED. Blogs on descriptive symbols and articles on Second Generation CPTED spell this out in detail.

Street life in Tijuana, Mexico - center of a narco-war?
Here are some starting places:

  • Crime analysts should create a picture of crime motives in each neighborhood and link that to groups who might mitigate those motives. Otherwise they should stop calling themselves crime analysts and instead call themselves Imosprs – Incident-Mappers-of-Selected-Police-Records!
  • Traditionalists tell me that community "culture" strategies in CPTED are beside the point. They say cutting the opportunity is the thing. They are wrong! Both are essential…concurrently! 

A friend of mine likes to quote T.S. Eliot: "We had the experience but missed the meaning." Let’s not miss the meaning of Boston.

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

  1. AnonymousMay 03, 2013

    Once again- an excellent blog. I remember getting to know Roger Depue at a conference in Montreal back in the 80’s. He observed that after taking over the Behavioral Sciences Unit at the FBI he immediately changed the name to the Behavioral Analysis unit thus, he quipped, “taking the BS out of our work”.

    This intense focus on statistical analysis appeals - it seems to me - to the largely military minds in law enforcement because it affects the guise of “hard science”... none of that sissy "human behavior" as a factor in crime stuff.

    For 37 years I have heard the sneers of hard-liners who I believe fundamentally distrust and are dismissive of the basic principles of crime prevention.

    The "Empty Holster Brigade" is what I have heard more times than I can count.

    While hot spot or place criminology offers value, without understanding the human factor it neither means - nor can it accomplish - anything of value.

    J.R. Roberts

  2. AnonymousMay 03, 2013

    Thank you John for your observations.

    I love how your personal reflections show the vast gap between the actual world of preventing crime and the theories of crime analysis/mapping. I couldn't agree more.

    In response to "empty holster brigade" comments I usually title those critics the "Ready-Fire-Aim" crowd...also known as Combat Cops.

    But I don't blame them for not getting the message straight. They are not trained in analytical - strategic thinking or crime analysis. At least I've never seen any basic academy training teaching crime analysis. I have seen PBL-based curricula teaching that, but PBL is still waiting for most police curricula designers to discover it.

    instead my real concern is with the technical crowd - the academics in particular - who take this position and "prove" the case with empty stats and a pocketful of descriptive symbols in the place of actual causation theory.

    As King Lear notes: That way madness lies.


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