Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The new amnesia


by Greg Saville

A new amnesia is creeping into crime prevention. And we are left with criminal justice fads: programs that are little more than old wine in new bottles; police “enforcement” teams as ineffective as they are discredited; new, unproven security technologies ad naseum

Few remember that, once upon a time, well-established community crime prevention and problem-oriented policing strategies actually cut crime. They were not abandoned because they no longer worked on modern problems. They were abandoned because the latest generation did not learn the lessons of history. In truth, new leaders obsess on foisting the latest fad on an uninformed public.

Someone forgot to teach them history.

BOOK REVIEW – DESIGNING OUT CRIME

Case in point: The book Designing Out Crime edited by Len Garis and Paul Maxim (2016).

There are some intriguing chapters in this book like Peters’ “Transitions and Social Programming”, particularly the discussion on homelessness. Another by Plecas and Croisdale is equally compelling: “Doing Something about Prolific Offenders”.

But then the story sours. Jordan Diplock’s chapter on “Designing Out Opportunities for Crime” is particularly narrow. It limits itself to a target hardening version of 1st Generation CPTED (including the discredited broken windows theory or the pseudo-scientific routine activity theory).


Target hardening with fences

It mentions how cities like Saskatoon established CPTED review committees to implement CPTED, but it fails to mention that Saskatoon's version of CPTED is actually called SafeGrowth and all design guidelines incorporate the social programming inherent in 2nd Generation CPTED.

The chapter also bypasses the literature of 2nd Generation CPTED, ignores theoretical progress in the last 15 years, and overlooks the practical progress made by hundreds of practitioners who promote CPTED around the world (including British Columbia) within the International CPTED Association.

This historical amnesia is surprising since the book proclaims, “Crime prevention is a societal matter that relies on a commitment from the entire criminal justice system plus the community at large”.

That's well and good, except it then presents chapters on technology, administrative tactics, and regulatory approaches that, while interesting, stray far from that proclamation about the community at large. Particularly worrisome is the obsession on target hardening, technical security devices, and other tech glitz, for example, a chapter on “Designing Out Crime Through the Use of Technology”. There’s not much community at large in that!

Technology can help or hinder - community engagement is the key

GOLDEN AGE 

Most disappointing is this: This book was written in British Columbia. In the 1990s British Columbia was the site of Canada’s first police academy Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) course taught to hundreds of officers, Canada’s first national POP conference, and its first government Commission recommending POP and crime prevention. 

That Golden Age of Crime Prevention and POP faded to dust, as demonstrated by books like this. It faded when police leaders and politicians lost focus and then defunded workable community crime prevention. It fizzed away like a bottle of stale Canadian beer.

This is the new amnesia. And it’s not restricted to British Columbia!

Why is this so?

To the credit of the book, a quote by a retired RCMP Sgt. Brian Foote offers the best answer. I worked with Sgt Foote in BC teaching CPTED years ago. Brian is among the most outstanding prevention practitioners anywhere. When Brian speaks, I listen.

“Overall, all we have ever really done is tinker superficially with crime prevention. As a consequence most of our crime prevention efforts are now on a pile of abandoned and untested criminal justice fads.”

How true that is. And how sad. Collective amnesia! We must learn this lesson and look elsewhere for a better future.

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