Showing posts with label crime prevention. Show all posts
Showing posts with label crime prevention. Show all posts

Thursday, September 18, 2014

What's happening to our police? Part 2

Police technology to the rescue? - photo Michael S. Williamson, Washington Post

The Future of Police report reminds me of something Professor Herman Goldstein warned us about years ago - confusion about the ends over the means!

The future that the public wants - the ends – is less crime and more public safety. They want to get there - the means – by more community-building, more inclusive problem-solving, and better relationship-building.

I might be wrong, but I doubt the means that the public expects from police are the technology-drenched, algorithms suggested in Future of Policing.

"These changes," says the Preface in Future, "are not just about finding new ways to reduce crime; they go deeper, to evaluating the basic mission of the police, and what people want from the police."


Of course saying officers should “go deeper” is not the same as doing it. Nor is it the same as providing the training to teach them how. Unfortunately training programs that teach such things - problem-based learning, emotional intelligence, PTO field training – do not show up in Future (even though the COPS office and PERF promoted development of those programs).

One quote by a LAPD supervisor suggests an escape from this institutional autism:

“…when [officers] spend time in the high-probability areas, they need to be doing problem solving. There is something there that is attracting criminals; we tell officers to look for the magnets. The goal isn’t more arrests, the goal is crime prevention.”

Very true! Except throughout 45 pages of text crime prevention was cited only 9 times and never explained fully.


In Planning in Turbulence an author concludes: “our level of ignorance about social systems is quite astounding, yet our analytical approaches…assume away this ignorance outright through the specification of incomplete models based on incomplete or often inaccurate data.” 

That was 28 years ago regarding urban planning. I police science any better or are we facing that exact same paradox?

In SafeGrowth we overcome this by developing neighborhood teams who run their own prevention plans alongside local cops. LISC’s Community Safety Initiative publications describe how we do it.

Another workaround emerges with street cops themselves who peek inside our communities. For example consider success stories in Camden NJ and Virginia Beach.

Camden New Jersey replaced its unionized police department - photo Michael Hicks/Flickr

Future of Policing describes the Camden NJ police using forfeiture funds in 2011 to purchase technology and form partnerships with other law enforcement. But a year later real change exploded.

As the New York Times reported, fed up with a flood of crime, tired of strict union rules inflating costs, 30% absenteeism at work and overtime pay for basic duties, the City of Camden shut down their police force and started over.

Without union rules they rehired 150 of the 200 old officers back and hired another 250 new officers. They instituted foot patrols, had volunteers walking the streets, and expanded youth programs. They properly staffed their CCTV and ran more enforcement.

The result? Youth program involvement increased, response times plunged from 1 hour to 4 minutes, crime rates dipped and murders dropped from 21 to 6.

Virginia Beach police Chief Cervera talking to Boy Scout Explorers - photo VBPD

A national leader in both the PTO program and problem-based learning, Virginia Beach went one step further. The news clip "Ask a cop for coffee and some conversation" describes how.

Once a year Chief Jim Cervera has his officers of all ranks walk neighborhoods and knock on thousands of doors to ask what residents think of their police.

Says Cervera: "We want the surveys to prompt real conversations. There is nothing better than two people from different social, racial or ethnic backgrounds having a heart-to-heart discussion about a common goal."


No sensible person wants the mantle of anti-tech Luddite. Science is part of the way forward. But as Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow makes clear in Governing Science, it needs careful watching. Those who champion science are not the new Lords of Truth. They are Tech Emissary’s with flashlights to find our way in the dark

Turning crime around will mean a neighborhood planning system with three equal partners: carefully governed science and technology; active neighborhood groups working directly with their local police; and cops and residents co-trained in the kinds of problem-solving methods we know work so well.

We've only dabbled in these things. Now it's time to deep dive. It's called neighborhood governance and it is our future. That also didn’t show up in the report. But it should have!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

21st Century police: Times, they are a-changing

Watching police leadership is like entering a Ringling circus of word games and non-sequiturs. That's because you never know what you're going to get. Leaders come in all shapes.

There's lion tamers who attempt to pacify police unions and manage unrealistic public expectations. There's clowns who entertain with their cult of personality but leave nothing behind but good feelings. There's acrobats, skilled in their craft, balancing forward-thinking and leading-by-example.

Given the current system of service delivery and the morphing of roles, policing and it's leadership cannot be separated from safety in our cities.

Case in point: Seattle papers report two controversies (common in many large cities).

1. Recent studies show over 30% of young males in America by age 23 are arrested for something more serious than a traffic violation. Are crime declines a fiction or do arrest practices need fixing?

2. There is widespread public distrust when police investigate themselves - especially when police unions get involved. This is particularly acute in Seattle after a Department of Justice probe cited a pattern of excessive force.

Last fall I created search links on the right side of this blog. Google analytics tells me policing trends belong there as well. Dylan said it best: "Times, they are a-changing".

Here are past entries on policing and leadership:

Can research help cops prevent crime
SMART Policing and the power of few - Part 1
Transforming the police - Part 2
Transforming the police - Part 1
Solving the city with math
New chairs at the compstat table
Reforming police = bending granite
Urban warriors and city cops
The guardians and the vanguard
Preventing crime in LA

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Preventing crime. Like going to the doctor?

Apologies for some overindulgence. No stories this week. No new observations. Just a rant about calling a thing for what it is.

"Where does it hurt?" asks the doctor.
"Let me see if I can feel where the pain is."
"It started this morning after breakfast."
"What did you eat?"
"Eggs, Here, I brought leftovers."
"I'll send them to the lab. When tests come back, we'll prescribe the right medicine."

It's called allopathic medicine. Symptoms - Diagnosis - Prescription. It's based on symptoms.

Same in crime prevention. Crime shows up. Cops or prevention folk do analysis. A strategy emerges and they try it out. Allopathic crime prevention. We all do it, me included: situational prevention, CPTED, problem-oriented policing, Design Out Crime. Symptoms first! Makes sense, right? Except for what's missing…


Allopathic prevention prevents subsequent incidents and that's good. Just like going to the doctor. But it's not really "prevention" when it hasn't prevented it.

Medicine is growing out of its allopathic adolescence. It is evolving into integrative medicine - nutrition, stress management, alternative therapies (good family medicine probably always did that). It teaches us how to live a healthy lifestyle to prevent illness.

Meanwhile, far too much crime prevention still envisions safety as a product of strategies applied to a problem. Just like allopathic medicine.

Here's the thing; most serious crime emerges from dysfunctional families, broken neighborhoods, and personal troubles like drugs. You prevent it by getting into those places to help neighborhoods help themselves.

Let's call allopathic prevention what it is - crime repression. It represses what emerges and hacks at the branches. Prevention digs at the roots.

Rant over.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Deep Diving into Creative Prevention

The ASIS Convention Exhibit Floor, Dallas, 2010

Chris Landauer, MIT aerospace scientist, challenges the story of five blind men who touch an elephant in five different places and then describe it in five different ways. It all depends, says Landauer, on our assumption there is an elephant.

There might not be.

Our traditional criminal justice system (CJS) also assumes things, for example we must punish offenders or find guilt in court. Does this kind of thinking limit creative solutions to crime? Maybe there is no elephant?

This week I was in Dallas at the American Society for Industrial Security convention, the largest security trade show of its kind. Security technology isn’t always new, creative, or the best solution. But competitive high tech can be a breeding ground for creative solutions.

Case in point: TecGarde Mobile Solutions, a firm I worked with at the show. They are an innovative, tech start-up and Blackberry alliance partner with the Blackberry folks. I enjoy working with cool outfits like TecGarde. They sport some of the most creative smart-phone devices in the world. Creativity, it seems to me, is the foundation upon which a safer future rests.

Canada-based TecGarde display

It reminds me that truly creative cultures rarely flourish in rigid hierarchies, especially CJS organizations that ooze chain-of-command thinking. Nowhere is this message truer than with Ideo, the industrial design firm featured in the ABC documentary, The Deep Dive. By deep diving, Ideo comes up with fantastically innovative ideas. Deep diving is inherently non-heirarchical. That’s what outfits like TecGarde are all about.


Which brings me back to the elephant. True, creativity can occasionally seep through the CJS chain-of-command. Successful problem-oriented policing projects prove it is possible (check out motel crime in California or homelessness in Colorado). But these are not the rule, they are the exception. It's hard to be creative when trapped in hierarchies. After all, elephant assumptions may not be real.

Where do we find truly innovative strategies? How do successful organizations become creative? I think we need to peek at the technology world more closely, especially how technology firms do creativity.

Postscript: On the final day a number of laptops were stolen from display exhibits. Remember - this was a security tradeshow with CCTV firms operating thousands of security cameras in plain sight at their exhibits. Unsurprisingly, the crooks were apprehended the next day and their loot was recovered quickly.

For these brash, Mensa-challenged crooks it seems the security elephant was real. In this case it sat on them.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Fighting New Orleans blues - the Hollygrove Story

Work yet to be done in Hollygrove

There are cynics who think nothing changes and nothing works, especially in regards to crime.

They are wrong. Things change and some things work. Case in point - the New Orleans neighborhood of Hollygrove.

A year ago I wrote about Hollygrove where we introduced SafeGrowth. New Orleans balances a famous, and infamous, history. A high crime rate and the Hurricane Katrina tragedy tilt one way while Bourbon Street delights and French Quarter cuisine tilt another.

Then there is Hollygrove - among the poorest and highest crime neighborhoods - a place where a quarter of the population never returned post-Katrina (exacerbating problems of abandoned, boarded-up homes).

I've just returned from Hollygrove. I am very impressed.

Much was already underway in the Hollygrove community by the time SafeGrowth showed up. Then my talented colleagues at Louisiana AARP, along with some terrific residents and service providers, thought they'd try SafeGrowth to improve conditions.

What happened?

Early days were difficult with many setbacks - a recent double homicide being the most notable. Obviously much work remains though wins seem more frequent and long-lasting (sustainable) than last year.

Community activities are on the rise. A new walking club is forming and Night Out Against Crime events are bigger than ever. I talked to residents who told me they now clean their own streets and pay for their own streetlights when they cannot get the city to do so (all the more remarkable considering this is an impoverished neighborhood, not a middle-class suburb!)

A few much needed access fences are now in place. The week I arrived residents were celebrating removal of a blighted and abandoned home. New cultural groups are emerging (the hallmark of 2nd Generation CPTED) such as the Hollygrove "Originals" who raise funds for social events in the neighborhood.

This week AARP Louisiana staff helped organize community planning sessions and safety audits. We walked the streets and surveyed conditions with residents, many whom I met last year (their passion and perseverance still continue to impress me). Also present in the workshops were police, clergy, and service providers.

On the final day planning sessions we targeted a central street and some open-space areas. I was amazed at the inventiveness and practicality of the proposals for moving forward.

It takes decades of neglect to sour communities into poor, crime-infested neighborhoods. That's why rehabilitating them takes time.

It's clear to me that in high crime communities like Hollygrove, there are three legs of neighborhood turnaround:

1. Coordinated and collaborative help from service agencies
2. Coherent, integrated planning process (e.g. SafeGrowth), and
3. The momentum, passion and persistence to carry on.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Winnipeg auto theft solutions

Shattered glass marks the spot where a parked ...Image via Wikipedia

I've covered Winnipeg's innovative efforts to tackle crime in earlier blogs.

Here is the latest.

Far too rarely we celebrate crime prevention success stories. I remember reading an article a decade ago in a Canadian criminology journal claiming good news prevention stories make it into papers less than 1% of the time. Given the info-tainment that passes as news, that's no surprise.

For a decade Winnipeg Canada has been the auto theft capital of North America. The headlines said it all: Too many stolen cars; Police chases of stolen cars; Too many victims.

No more.

An award finalist at this year's International Problem Oriented Policing conference was the Winnipeg Auto Theft Suppression Strategy. It's not really SafeGrowth. It's more targeted policing and design out crime. Yet those are great tools in the SafeGrowth toolbox and this project shows the excellent work they have done to tackle crime that can be adopted by a full SafeGrowth community. And it looks like that's exactly where they are headed. Read their latest report on crime prevention planning.

When you've done that, check out their auto theft program.

Even the CBC is getting in on the action and telling some good news on crime.

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Revenge vs back to basics

I’m remembering an old friend this week, C. Ray Jeffery, a famous criminologist, former President of the American Society of Criminology and professor at Florida State University. C. Ray passed away last year and I was just wondering what he’d make of the current debate about crime.

It’s interesting to reflect on what folks think causes crime and how to stop it. Some want rehab for violent offenders. Others want to string them up. Victims, understandably, often want retribution. Years ago professor Jeffery - a founder of the CPTED movement - would tell me never to forget it is far more fair, effective, and efficient to prevent those crimes in the first place.

He didn’t tell me that because it was obvious. He told me that because it is so often ignored. It still is today. Part of the reason for this blindness, I think, is the cloud of confusion obstructing clear-headed thinking when it comes to the emotional topic of crime.

Take the idea that living in places of Poverty and Social Deprivation (PSD) creates conditions for crime: desperation from lack of meaningful vocation; scarce personal resources; disconnection from meaningful relationships or sense of community.

If you believe PSD, then our course is clear. We must target crime neighborhoods, tackle the deprivation and opportunities that trigger crime hotspots, and get to work preventing crime-causing conditions.

Not that crime won’t happen in wealthy areas. More that the exception should not prove the rule.

Even though we can do some useful things (like CPTED) to reduce crime in the short term, not tackling the PSD root causes seems unethical (even though they are much harder to do).

Yet alternate theories persist, for example gang activity increases violence or a large young population in the "crime prone years" increases drug use. These ideas are like a half-finished story screaming out for a conclusion. Accepting them uncritically means ignoring that PSD probably stimulates the former and enhances distribution of the latter.

Professor Jeffery said it best in his paper at the 1999 International CPTED Association conference:

Most of the principles of crime prevention are based on the punitive-revenge-deterrence approach found in the criminal law. Punishment does not work, even a rat can learn to avoid a shock and to gain food.

As planners for crime prevention we must reinforce desirable behavior rather than punishing undesirable behavior. We must create environments that are healthy for the development of the infant, that stimulate brain growth, that provide a healthy diet and not toxic poisoning or stress, and that provide opportunities for education, family support, and adequate medical care in places of high infant mortality and child abuse.

Those are the words of the person who originally coined the term “crime prevention through environmental design”.

Perhaps it’s now time to re-examine how CPTED and Design Out Crime are taught and conducted today.

Perhaps it's time to get back to basics?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Waking up in the 21st Century: The San Romanoway Story

One version of crime prevention is to hunt around for the latest program and try it out. Like a teen shopping for clothes, popular fashion dictates choice. Cost comes second. Many of the prevention programs we see today result from the most recent academic or policy fashion. They are impervious to cost and, to stretch the metaphor, they are silent on effectiveness.

Too many crime prevention programs are adopted as though one size fits all. They are effective or ineffective depending on where, on what, and how they are applied. Few have actually been tested for effectiveness with any scientific rigor.

It is like medicine that waits for symptoms and then looks for specific treatments. The more sophisticated doctor is more holistic, working in partnership with the patient to build overall health and wellness, rather than waiting for symptoms to arise.

SafeGrowth is such an approach in crime prevention. It is a 21st Century holistic form of collaborative community development. SafeGrowth works directly with residents, transferring skills and knowledge to the place they are most needed, within troubled neighbourhoods. It also applies to existing safe neighbourhoods looking to innoculate their community from disorder and delinquency.

Example: A large cluster of high rise apartment buildings - the San Romanoway project - becomes the subject of a multi-year program to address crime and disorder. Housing 4,000 residents, many of whom are new immigrants and single parents, the project has a history of problems with crime. They are surrounded by gangs, drugs and poverty of the notorious Jane/Finch suburbs in north Toronto. For decades conditions for the 60,000 residents in Jane/Finch worsen and grow into one of Canada's highest crime communities.

From 2000 to 2001 a research team led by Ross McLeod from Intelligarde and myself from AlterNation conducted research and crafted a SafeGrowth neighbourhood redevelopment plan. From 2001 to 2009 the Greenwin Property Management group led by Kevin Green, along with local residents formed the San Romanoway Revitalization Association, led by director Stephnie Payne. They immediately began implementing tailored strategies they selected for themselves. Community gardens, parenting classes, area cleanups, better lighting, improved management practices, social and recreational programs for kids, and others began the process. Fundraising was done locally and government, private corporations, and philanthropic groups all contributed.

Most recently San Romanoway has added new tennis courts and tennis camps from Tennis Canada, and a new cineplex movie theatre donated by the Cineplex Corporation within the apartment project - the first of its kind in Canada. They also have opened a new recording studio in which local kids create their own rap songs for public sale.

Crime at San Romanoway has plummeted, more residents are engaged in community life, and fear has decreased. While conditions in the wider Jane-Finch area are unchanged, San Romanoway shows us how the SafeGrowth model for neighbourhood building represents the future of 21st Century crime prevention.

The full SafeGrowth story will be reported this fall in a special issue of the Built Environment journal: Security versus Safety: How to Deliver Less Crime and More Sustainable Design.

the Built Environment journal website

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Still crazy, after all these years - reversing blight

With all this talk of police reform, it's easy to get sidetracked. Last week during business travel I came across another urban gem - an example of how to do neighbourhoods right.

I was working on the SafeGrowth program in Dayton, Ohio. Dayton is an older city in the rust belt. Manufacturing jobs, like a GM plant, have been shutting down and thousands have been laid off. Innovative police chief Richard Biehl is working with his agency and community to expand problem-solving and crime prevention in some troubled neighborhoods.

It was during this workshop the participants brought me to a fascinating area called the Oregon District. All the Daytonions I spoke to raved about this trendy neighborhood. And for good reason.

The Oregon District is an historic area just outside the main downtown area. It has interesting shops, restaurants and pubs. It is accented by tasteful street designs such as decorative lighting and pavement treatments. The residential areas behind the commercial street are among the most desirable in the city. During our safety audit walks we found plenty of TLC from front yard flower pots to artistic renos. The residents to whom I spoke loved living in this area. There is an active neighborhood association. Local folks are working to make it a safe place.

But the Oregon District wasn't always this way. For those working in troubled areas, it's important to remember all success stories have a beginning. Things don't just happen!

Thirty five years ago the street was blighted. Then a local doctor got the idea to invest and turn it around. He was followed by others. Essentially they tackled the blight and began purchasing properties in the cities oldest neighborhood. Gradually, the street began to develop. A gazebo in a retrofitted park here. Streetscaping on the commercial block there. Eventually, I was told, the positive energy spread to surrounding residential areas.

Today residents and shopowners participate in alley sweeps, local festivals, social events, garden tours, and baseball camps. The local neighborhood association tackles issues such as liquor permit saturation - what we call tipping point capacity in SafeGrowth. A theatre company is moving there. It has taken three decades, but Dayton's Oregon District is now among the most successful in the city.

In so many ways this story echoes the story of Westville in New Haven (see my blog from last month on Westville).

A half century later, Jane Jacobs' crazy ideas of vibrant neighborhood life still trickle down the years.

see the Oregon District

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Eyes on the prize in policing and reform

It is impossible to talk safety and prevention and not talk about cops. I am conflicted whenever I see stories of ineffective, obsolete, or just bad policing, as I did this week.

My conflict arises from my own belief in the decent goodness for people who choose an often impossible and unforgiving profession. I am committed to police reform. But it seems our policing system is a legacy of a pre-digital age. Recent crime trends, it seems, are not.

Ultimately policing is a vital, but very small, part of the public safety story. It's a story that cannot be told without participating residents.

Consider my February blog with the LAPD video about this very point.

watch video

Today the news in Vancouver is flooded with yet another story about a tragic Taser death during a violent arrest. We are told by the Taser crowd the technology works and saves lives, though apparently not in this case. We are also told Tasers are too often abused during arrests. Who to believe? Tasers are a newer technology with promise. But the medical research on them looks less like facts from sources and more like factoids from sourcelings. What to believe?

Yet again we hear calls for police reform reverberating through the media.

read Vancouver newspaper story

No one is immune and Vancouver is by no means alone. The public wants something done, mostly they want safer neighborhoods and less fear of violence. Which brings me to my duh moment - our goal: We obsess on the means to an end (policing, tasers) and forget all those means are but a tiny part of how we actually get to our public safety end.

Of course the police use of force is important. By the nature of the job it cannot go away. During violent arrests it may be needed. Of course we should make sure police training is done properly and the technology does what it says. Of course we need police reform, especially reform in training/education and the political gumption to stick with it.

Yet the goal should be to keep our eyes on the prize - neighbors working together in functional places to make vital and safe streets.

The questions we should be asking:
How to get neighbors to work together in a positive way?
How to create functional neighborhoods with social activities?
How to build places where people feel safe and participate fully in community life?
How to more effectively do community development?

As I read the latest crisis it is easy to obsess on the vicissitudes of policing when things go bad. I agree we must never forget, or fail to prevent, deaths in and from police arrests. All lives are precious. But policing was created specifically for crime prevention and public safety. Do police tactics, resources, and training focus directly and daily on crime prevention and safety? No! When they don't, they need to.

That is the prize that matters most.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Welcome to SafeGrowth

Safety and crime - our shared challenge

Welcome to the SafeGrowth blog at

If you are interested in, or working on, neighborhood safety, community development, or crime prevention, this blog is for you. Posts will highlight current trends in how to turn troubled communities back from the brink of crime.

I will post anyone who wants to comment. I have only 4 exceptions: posts with abusive, off-topic, or offensive language; any racist, sexist or homophopics slurs; thread spamming; or ad hominem attacks. Those are verboten. All all others are welcome.