Thursday, March 6, 2014

Reassurance policing and useless studies

Sir Leon Radzinowicz was a giant in criminology. Escaping from the Nazi’s in WW2, he founded the first-ever department of criminal science at Cambridge in 1941 and then the world famous Cambridge Institute of Criminology in 1959. He wrote some of the most influential works in criminology, spoke multiple languages and was knighted for his excellence in British criminology.

In 1999, a year before he died, I watched one of his last lectures. He was formal, insightful and he spoke with such élan! He was remarkable! His topic: the increasing repressiveness in the justice systems around the world.

That was before 911 security laws, exploding US prison populations and the ascendency of the combat cop over the community cop. Radzinowicz was a latter-day soothsayer. He nailed it!


I thought of Sir Leon this week regarding another trend he feared: the increasing paranoia by new scholars to publish simply to keep their jobs. In his last interview (below) Radzinowicz spoke of the then new publishing climate where studies provide little value and where statistics are overused and say nothing.

Then I read a recent study about reassurance policing, an academic fad with UK academics regarding so-called signal crime, or how disorderly behavior disproportionately increases crime fears. Kind of a BBW…Brit-Broken-Windows.

Their study examined how well mall shoppers identify cops and security guard uniforms from photos of cops and security guards. Their goal: find out whether different uniformed patrol officers patrolling in shopping malls created “different effects on feelings of safety about crime.”

The results? Uniform police officers might foster anxiety among some members of the public because they suggest crime is a problem, basically what Wendy Sarkissian reported in her guest blog last year. But they also found uniformed police officers reassure other members of the public because they signal formal "guardianship" (I’m not making this up! Honest!)

Sir Leon, please forgive us! I can just feel him cringing.


How about we actually make the community safer and involve the community doing so? Maybe they can co-design their spaces with designers, co-manage the space with property managers, and take some defensible space ownership of their shopping venue!

That way they would be safe and they would feel safe since they would have a hand in making it that way. It would be “reassurance policing” without so much formal “guardianship”, fancy uniforms and more useless studies! And then we can let Sir Leon rest in peace.

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