Friday, May 25, 2018

To "Phoenix" - We can help you do better

Walking Manhattan streets on a rainy day last week
by Gregory Saville

Last week I walked rain-soaked streets in Manhattan and in ten blocks, 15 different homeless people approached me asking for cash. A few suffered mental illness, some a demon intoxicant, and others the unfairness of circumstance. One reached out for dollars with his left hand while he clutched a cell phone in his right. Everyone's story was different - except they were all on the street.

I often feel an apoplectic irrelevance at moments like that. Why does homelessness persist? What can be done? We have blogged many times about homelessness in Reducing homelessness, part 1 & 2, Sidewalk sleeping in Toronto, Hostile architecture and CPTED, and Dignity Village.

I’ve coauthored an ICA White Paper, on the topic, and Tarah Hodgkinson heads an ICA Homelessness committee to seek alternatives. But blogs and White Papers don't solve the problem. What can we do?


Big cities have always had homeless but for the first time in a very long time, the number of unsheltered homeless people is rising. Bucking a decade-long decline, homeless numbers have been increasing since 2017.

No surprise: New York and Los Angeles - the largest cities - had the largest numbers (over 130,000 combined).

Big surprise: Seattle and Silicon Valley’s San Jose had the 3rd and 6th largest homeless populations. Apparently, street living in those high tech cities bypasses the riches flowing from companies like Amazon, Microsoft, Google, Apple and Facebook who also reside there.

Of the smaller cities, all but 2 of the 10 worst homeless cities were in warmer climate states (Florida, California, and Hawaii) where winter snows are absent.

Hostile architecture in the affluent Upper West Side, NY
Overall, numbers are down. Some kinds of homelessness continue to decline, child homelessness and veteran homelessness. Further, some states do much better at taking care of homeless people with overnight shelters. New York and Massachusetts house almost all of their homeless overnight (95% each). On the other hand, California, Nevada and Mississippi house overnight only 49% to 68% of their homeless populations.

Since 2015, the Canadian city of Medicine Hat, Saskatchewan (population 60,000) has eradicated homelessness in their city.

Rain lifting from a foggy NY evening. Lifting homelessness
from city streets - a lofty and worthy goal.
Clearly, negligent cities have much to learn from others, including the homeless themselves.

SafeGrowth advocate Kallan Lyons worked at a Toronto homeless shelter and helped produce Streets to Script, a book of writing in the words of those in the shelter. One resident, Phoenix, writes:
I sit and ponder,
Why life has turned out this way,
I had thought my life would turn out differently…
I will make a better life for myself,
So I sit and ponder,
How my life can move forward.
Yes, Phoenix, you can move forward. We all can do better.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

The beginnings of crime prevention in Canada – Professor Irvin Waller

by Tarah Hodgkinson

The story of crime prevention and victim’s rights advocacy in Canada can be traced back as early as the 1800s, but many authors claim that the beginning of the crime prevention era in Canada began in the mid-1960s. A large part of that story begins with our friend and past SafeGrowth blogger, Professor Irvin Waller.

This week Irvin reached out to let me know he was retiring. He probably could have retired years ago, but he remained dedicated to making places safer and defending the rights of victims of crime.

And good thing he did. If Irvin retired when he should have I may never have gotten involved in crime prevention and, in turn, SafeGrowth. Irvin was the first criminologist I met who showed me that I could take everything I had learned about crime and cities and people and translate that into making real change. I write this blog in celebration of his amazing career and consistent support of other changemakers.


Irvin Waller is not what many would call a traditional academic. He didn’t spend his career focused on writing papers or attending conferences. Instead, he moved around, working in government and founding international organizations like the International Center for the Prevention of Crime.

He also spearheaded the magna carta for victims of crime at the UN, which resulted in the declaration on basic principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power. He went on to develop the Safer Cities Program with UN Habitat and worked directly with the World Health Organization on guidelines to reduce violence.

Irvin Waller - photo CMNCP

He was involved in creating the Institute for the Prevention of Crime at University of Ottawa and has advised on crime prevention policy in Canada and internationally throughout his career. Irvin also has continued to write several books on crime prevention and rights for victims of crime.

Irvin's most recent book, Smarter Crime Control: A Guide to a Safer Future for Citizens, Communities and Politicians, speaks directly to community leaders and politicians about how to reduce crime and make communities safer. And guess what, SafeGrowth is in there too!

Interestingly, Irvin has consistently demanded that federal governments need to invest in upstream solutions and prevention at the same time that SafeGrowth continued to demonstrate the need for neighbourhood governance and local solutions. However, in his 2006 book, Less Law, More Order he expanded his vision and emphasized the role of local changemakers.

Since then, Irvin created the Canadian Municipal Network of Crime Prevention, further anchoring his station as a leader in Canadian crime prevention and an ally of the SafeGrowth philosophy.

Congratulations Irvin on an amazing career and on inspiring the next generation.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

New York returns the cop to the beat

With towers as a backdrop, New York is a city of neighborhoods
by Mateja Mihinjac

Once considered a breeding ground for crime and violence, today New York City is one of the safest large cities in the USA. While this cannot be attributed to any single strategy, there is no doubt establishing close and positive relationships between public and police promises effective problem-solving and quality of life in the long run.

It was not always so! In the past, the NYPD employed a number of strategies to improve public safety. Some of the best-known and controversial tactics include broken windows policing and stop-and-frisk. Between 2005 and 2013, the NYPD relied extensively on stop-and-frisk. Unfortunately, in 2013 the way they applied the tactic was ruled unconstitutional.

In addition, research found no correlation between this tactic and crime rates and, given increasing tensions between the public and police, NYPD rethought their approach.


In 2015 NYPD introduced a neighborhood policing model. The focus of the approach is permanently locating an officer - an NCO - within a neighborhood and building personal relations with residents on a daily basis. While this echoes earlier, often criticized, forms of community policing, the New York NCO  program attempts to take advantage of the intense personal knowledge of local areas.

It also provides officers with "sector integrity," allowing them time within their beat away from calls for service and assigning them to that neighborhood long enough to develop personal relationships.

NCOs focus not only on developing leads to tackle serious crime, but they also partner with residents for long-term problem-solving. As the NYPD website says: “sector officers play the role of a generalist cop who knows and feels responsible for the sector, and who provides the full range of policing services there.”

Before radio was used, beat policing and
call boxes were the norm in neighborhoods

In effect, this is a resurgence of the local beat cop of pre-radio days, except with a problem-solving focus and without the old style police call box. The NCO program also resonates with our methods in SafeGrowth where we teach residents how to partner with police, create planning teams, and target unsafe activities to create neighborhood safety plans.


The cornerstone of NYPD neighborhood policing are the NCOs - Neighborhood Coordination Officers whose daily presence within the assigned neighborhood and respectful demeanor help build relationships.

New York NCOs and residents team up to solve problems

I witnessed the positive effect of this approach on several occasions while in New York: residents would greet their NCOs with hugs while NCOs would share their personal phone number with the residents should they need assistance with crime-related issues. The goal is for officers to be part of the community and be seen as an ally as opposed to an enemy.  

According to the New York City Police Foundation, in neighborhoods implementing neighborhood policing since 2015, shootings have declined 58% faster and the number of arrests declined 10% faster compared to the rest of the city. In the past two years, NCOs on foot patrol have met thousands of residents in hundreds of meetings, thereby building deeper local relationships in neighborhoods throughout the city. 

As NCO policing continues to expand to precincts across all five New York City boroughs, the approach has been recently applied to transit. NCOs will patrol the same subway stations and train lines to provide safety and build relationships, in this case with frequent riders. The beat cop, so common in another era, has now returned to the neighborhood.