Monday, February 26, 2024

CPTED Conference in Palm Springs - Practical solutions vs public safety theater

The CPTED Conference in Palm Springs is sponsored by 
CPTED/PCAM Canada and CPTED USA, May 7-8, 2024

by Gregory Saville

Some time ago we posted various blogs on the pros and cons of security technology as a solution to crime. Some technologies, we concluded from the evidence, provide an excellent addition to a safe environment as long as they are well-understood by the community and targeted strategically. The K-5 security robot patrolling late-night underground parking might be one example.

But other technologies promise more than they provide. Over a year ago, Mateja wrote a blog on the acoustic gun detection system “Shotspotter” as one example of a technology that had mixed results. Mateja’s blog on the topic wrote that studies “conclude that [acoustic security technology] AGDT may actually be ineffective and inaccurate and can thus waste police resources” 

Now the popular media (and more importantly, city decision-makers) have finally taken up our argument and tell an alarming story. The CNN news stream just reported that critics are sounding the alarm that the ShotSpotter gunfire detection system is ineffective


Despite over a hundred cities employing the technology (one wonders whether those cities used any form of criminological due diligence before their purchase?), it turns out cities like Chicago, Atlanta, and Portland have rejected this security technology. These are cities that direly need some respite from street crime. The article asks whether such technologies are ‘public safety theatre’

The reality is that in places like Houston, that use the technology, out of over 4,000 ShotSpotter alerts, only about 200 turned into arrests. Then again, 200 arrests following a gunfire detection alert isn't unimportant. Is the price tag worth that amount?  That’s a good question and a simple answer might be – yes! Yet, if shots occur in a neighborhood with decent design and friendly community relationships, maybe residents will call the police on their own and report the details. That might just as easily result in an arrest. 


The webcast on community-building through 2nd Generation CPTED

I recently joined some other CPTED experts in describing an alternative to the tech security solution. We discussed a human-centered approach to safety and security called 2nd Generation CPTED. During the webcast, we showed examples where residents and other community members had a direct, and powerful, role in improving their own safety. We showed examples from schools in Oregon, skate parks in Saskatoon, Texas, and British Columbia, and city planning tactics in Florida and New Orleans. 

This CPTED USA/CPTED-PCAM Canada webcast precedes the 2024 joint conference in Palm Springs, California. To see the latest in technology, how to marry sensible technology with community empowerment, and case studies of advanced examples of crime prevention, register for the May 7-8 conference here.

See you there.

Wednesday, January 31, 2024

Is This The World We Created? Part 2


From 30,000 feet, the city hides many blemishes. On the ground, not so much.

by Gregory Saville

In my last blog Is This The World We Created? I discussed the growing problem of street homelessness in cities around the world. I presented facts and listed some responses. Most of those responses use a continuum of care in which people who are homeless must climb a staircase of supports with housing at the top as the final step.

Perhaps that is wrong? Maybe it should be the other way around in which care follows housing as in the Housing First program?


While there is not necessarily a connection between homelessness and crime, the public makes the crime/homelessness connection. Take for example recent media comments by a British Columbia citizen group Save Our Streets:

“Drug addictions and drug trade, mental health challenges, law enforcement, judicial reform, homelessness, are all factors…while governments have a long history of announcing policies and programs meant to respond to these issues, the desired results have not been realized.”

So in the mind of the public it seems one issue relates to another. Further, there is growing discontent that current government programs are ineffective at solving the problem, a view supported by some of the research I discussed in the last blog. What can be done?


In Canada and the U.S., we have homeless rates of .8 and 1.7 per thousand people respectively. It’s much worse in other European countries. 

What would it be like if we could reduce that to 0.1 of the total population? In other words, in the U.S. over 600,000 people live without shelter or food each night. If we cut that to 0.1 we could virtually eliminate most of the homelessness in our cities. 

Why 0.1? Because it has already been done in Finland.

The video above explains how the country of Finland used a modified and expanded version of the Homes First program to accomplish precisely this result. Finland’s success is not based on a staircase, but rather by starting with housing and then adding intensive and sustained supports later.


Of course, this is not a simple proposition and there are many walls in the way. 

First, the Finnish response is not simply to house people but rather to provide intensive, and sustained, services immediately upon housing people. When the city of Medicine Hat, Canada tried the Housing First method they had initial success. Sadly, they did not follow up with the intensive and sustained servicing that was available in Finland. Thus, five months after housing people, the problems and homeless rates returned.

Then there is the city of Wheat Ridge, Colorado. They shut down homes for the homeless in motels due to ongoing crime concerns, thereby forcing those residents back onto the street.

Clearly, the Finns understood the importance of intensive and sustained in-home support (in-house security, substance abuse counseling, mental health services, financial support, etc). They understood what would happen without that support.


Finally, there is the issue of cost. This is not a trivial obstacle. However, as Charles Marohn reveals in his book Strong Towns, there is already tremendous wasteful municipal spending on zero rate-of-return municipal projects. 

I made this point 15 years ago in my blog Give me a $1,184 inch…and I’ll make me a mile. In that blog, I unpacked a $2.67 billion highway connector project in Houston that cost $75 million per mile, or $1,184 per inch (in a city that already had between 14,000 to 30,000 homeless people). 

Just imagine... giving up a single mile of that roadway connector could create over $75 million for homes. And since former SafeGrowth blogger Tod Schneider tells us they have developed Conestoga Huts for homeless people that cost $1,500 each, that means a single mile of Houston’s connector could free up over 50,000 homes, far more than enough to house every single homeless person in Houston. 

This back-of-envelope (and admittedly simple) calculation ignores many other more sophisticated ways to make enhanced Housing First a reality. It also ignores other walls, like figuring out where to locate those small homes without triggering the ire of the Not-In-My-Backyard crowd (a crowd that, incidentally, is already being encroached on by uncontrolled tent cities and unsanitary encampments).

And while we are making those calculations, let’s remember how living without a home or food can turn into a horror show, as this blog has documented in the past when some Denver residents without homes were attacked by flash-bomb grenades

Photos of injuries sustained by Molly during a flash-bang grenade attack - a crime still unsolved

Surely we can create a better world for those most in need.

Sunday, January 21, 2024

"Is This The World We Created" - Homelessness in 2024


City streets and laneways are cold, dangerous, and lonely places to live

by Gregory Saville

I recently chastised a colleague for using uncouth and demeaning terms to describe the unhoused. His view is that homelessness is a selfish and personal choice to avoid responsibility. His views are shared by many and perhaps that is not surprising considering the maze people must thread along public sidewalks or parks filled with used needles, unhygienic conditions, vandalism, unruly behavior and, sometimes, aggressive threats. No one wants to feel unsafe walking on the street; no one wants their property stolen or their loved ones threatened.

I understand the frustration. I understand it even though people who are unhoused are at a much higher risk of violence from each other, than passers-by are at risk from homeless people

I understand it because we have heard the same story in neighborhoods everywhere we deliver SafeGrowth, from Vancouver, BC, and Portland, Oregon, to northern Canada and cities across California. The story is the same; increasing numbers of the unhoused, out-of-control toxic street drugs, and mental illness.

Waiting for a Prince George, BC safe injection site to open in the morning

For decades, I have had personal and professional experience with those living on the street. In all that time, I have yet to find a single person who willingly gave up a roof over their head and food in their belly and instead chose a difficult life on the street, being cold at night, suffering a high risk of violence, and having little food. 

With sanitary, safe, and sheltered choices, every one of those people I have known or have spoken to, chooses that option over the street. The obstacles they face have more do to with addiction, mental illness, or debilitating poverty.

And yet ignorant views arise and indifference abounds. As the rock band Queen sang at the 1985 Live Aid concert, we must ask: "Is This The World We Created?"  

Moccasin Flats homeless tent city in Prince George, BC

An attempt to set up a community garden for unhoused people in Prince George, BC

Homelessness emerges from a toxic formula of poverty, unaffordable housing, drug abuse, and mental illness. Of those, the Opioid Crisis triggers the greatest harm. Thousands die on the streets each year from Opioids, particularly fentanyl. 

Statistica reports that in the U.S. fentanyl and related drug overdoses on the street resulted in 70,000 dead in 2021 alone (up from 2,600 in 2011). Clearly, while homelessness has been with us for ages, street drug overdoses pose a major public health catastrophe. 


There is no shortage of responses to homelessness, including substance abuse tactics. In this blog we have been investigating the problem, and reporting on mitigation methods, for over 15 years. We have written dozens of posts on the topic of homelessness. 

Last summer I wrote about a harm reduction safe injection program in Prince George, British Columbia. That community continues to struggle with ineffective responses. In Beth Dufek’s last blog, she wrote about our SafeGrowth training of another response case - the Portland’s TriMet Safety Response team on the Portland transportation system

Here are others:

  • 2021 – Tod Schneider blogged about community-supported shelters in Oregon
  • 2020 – SafeGrowth advocate Jon Munn wrote about homelessness in Victoria, BC’s Topaz Park during COVID
  • 2019 – I blogged on inaccurate media reporting of Seattle’s homeless problem compared to Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • 2018 – A blog on the words and poetry of homeless people in Toronto
  • 2017 – Reducing homelessness in Australia Part 1 and Part 2
  • 2010 – Colorado, Springs, Colorado’s police department response to homelessness 

Most of those blogs emerged from our SafeGrowth work on homelessness, livability, and crime prevention over the past few decades. We also co-wrote the International CPTED Association’s White Paper on homelessness

All these years later, the problem worsens!

Almost invisible, almost forgotten, a woman sleeps under an overpass


Global homeless rates are pretty horrible.

Nigeria, Egypt, Pakistan, Syria, and Honduras, all have some of the worst homeless rates in the world. In Nigeria, Egypt, and DR Congo alone, there are more homeless people than the entire population of California (over 40 million). 

In the America’s, the majority of homeless people live in the U.S. (580,000) and Mexico (456,000). But raw numbers tell us only part of the larger picture. We need to calculate rates per population to compare apples to apples. When we do that, even with the shoddy state of homelessness statistics, the picture is bleak. 

Most governments use “point-in-time” counts of homeless people and they have different categories for shelter occupants, temporary and chronic homeless, and so forth. The numbers don’t always line up. Also, the data are notoriously vulnerable to politics. Some countries, such as China and Japan, offer up very suspect data that cannot be verified and are therefore useless.

Homeless encampment in Bridgetown, Barbados

In spite of all these limitations, we can piece together a rough image based on the World Population Review, and various data sources like Canada’s point-in-time counts (Canada’s, in particular, is probably under-reported).  

Here is the ugly picture from street homeless statistics 2022-2023, with the highest rates of homelessness to the lowest for selected countries.

It might be obvious that a very poor country like Guatemala has such a high homeless rate, but how is it that wealthy countries like the UK, France, and Australia are doing so poorly? Perhaps Australia’s warmer weather inflates their point-of-time counts? 

Australia’s news outlets report that the rates are worsening every year and 3 states suffer the worst – Queensland, Western Australia, and New South Wales. According to the Guardian newspaper, in Australia last year “demand for homelessness services rose 7.5% across Australia amid soaring rents and record low vacancy rates.”

Hostile architecture to deter the unhoused from sitting in front of
a Marylin Monroe statue in Palm Springs, California


What of the UK and France? 

We hear much about European illegal immigration inflating homeless numbers, but if that is true, why is Germany’s rate so much lower? In the U.S., the political classes blame illegal immigration for homelessness increases. Yet, those arguments fall apart when you compare homeless rates with those of some of Europe’s largest countries.

Is illegal immigration really so much worse in those European countries? Is the correlation between illegal immigration and homelessness just nonsense? 

Canada might look good from a global perspective, but 35,000 homeless people on the street each night is nothing to brag about. In addition, we know of the link between homelessness and drug overdoses, and Canada lost over 8,000 people last year to street opioid overdoses. Over the past 7 years, according to one source, the toll is over 40,000 dead - each one of them is a son, daughter, brother, sister, mother, father, or grandparent. Each one, to at least somebody, is a friend, now gone.

And it is getting worse.

Next blog – What can be done? Does anything work?

Sunday, January 14, 2024

Who's on call in Portland? TriMet's Safety Response Team - Part 2

Portland, Oregon. Photo by Adam Blank on Unsplash

Beth Dufek is a writer and marketing strategist for clients who are improving the built environment. She runs her own consulting firm in the Pacific Northwest. Previously she worked with the LISC non-profit organization, facilitated SafeGrowth projects in Milwaukee, and later worked with neighborhood groups in Seattle, Washington. She was named one of the Milwaukee Business Journal’s Forty Under 40 for her commitment to civic engagement and her ability to build trust in communities. As a member of the SafeGrowth Network, she teaches SafeGrowth in cities across the U.S. This is Beth’s second blog on responding to people in crisis on the street.

Over the past few years, we have provided SafeGrowth training with TriMet – the bus, light rail, and commuter rail service provider of Portland, Oregon. In my previous Part 1 blog, I promised to write about the Tri-Met Safety Response Team (SRT). I continue to be impressed with their much-needed rider outreach in Portland, the place I now call home.

TriMet's SRT group - January 2023 
Photo courtesy of TriMet


TriMet’s Board approved $1.8M in November 2020 for the Reimagine Public Safety initiative to reshape safety and security by taking a “community engagement first” approach. That was right around the time TriMet reached out to Greg Saville and SafeGrowth for help. In November 2021 twenty TriMet safety, security, and maintenance staff participated in the agency’s first SafeGrowth training. Tom Hunt, Safety Response Manager for TriMet, was a participant. 

Tom has been in law enforcement and community safety in the area for over 30 years. He told me Portland’s opioid crisis has been around for decades. It was manageable (if that is even possible) when smaller mental health crisis support sites were scattered throughout the city. In the mid-2000s, due to a variety of factors (mostly financial, maybe political), the healthcare system consolidated by closing satellite crisis and recovery centers, making it more difficult for people to get help. 

It was around that time TriMet started to experience an increase in “non-destination” riders, those who use the transit system - vehicles and transit stops - not so much for transportation, but for shelter and yes, to buy, sell, and take illegal substances. It got worse during the COVID pandemic.

SRT patrolling the transit system, January 2023
Photo courtesy of TriMet


Reimagine Public Safety launched the Safety Response pilot program by training seven SRT members who started riding the system in September 2021 to reach riders in need or distress. It became a permanent TriMet Safety & Security program in July 2023. 

The SRT works alongside the agency’s dedicated security team to respond to calls and to build relationships with frequent riders. 

At the time of this post, the SRT has 57 members. They find and support riders and community members who are experiencing homelessness, mental health crises, and drug and alcohol addiction. By engaging with riders, they can discourage inappropriate and illegal behavior and provide referrals for housing and support services. 


Many people in their cars may take a quick glance at a bus at a stoplight and see a few people looking at their phones or riders carrying an unusual amount of stuff, and some may be sleeping. That may be all you see, but it’s different for the SRT.

The SRT members see much of what media outlets push out about Portland: open-air drug markets and drug use, scores of unhoused people, and other concerns. I’m not denying this is present but, in my experience, Portland also has a spirit of perseverance. 

In our SafeGrowth class, one SRT participant let us know, “SRT members have had hands on a dead body when we were sadly unsuccessful in saving their life after an overdose.” It still gives me chills. And yet, I frequently see SRT members engaging with riders who others might ignore. I’ve become a bit of a fan girl, pointing out SRT members to friends with excitement. They are compassionate and genuinely proud of their work.

I’m reminded of a new local campaign: Portland is what we make it. TriMet makes Portland resilient.


It’s no wonder TriMet has expanded the program, won awards, and is respected among its peers.

According to Tom, TriMet co-founded the National Transit and Vulnerable Population Working Group, a national group of transit agencies that meet monthly to share information and develop best practices. Austin, San Francisco, Denver, and Los Angeles transit agency staff are among its members. Aaron Gordon wrote in Vice that public transit has become the last safety net in America.

Denver's Union Station platform
Photo by Francisco B on Unsplash

SRT was also featured in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration Newsletter for “developing community-based programs that supplement transit security officers and enhance the rider experience.”  

Additionally, TriMet won an APTA 2023 Rail Safety, Security, and Emergency Management Gold Award for “reimagining their security approach and moving to multifaceted, multi-tiered security teams and a more strategic approach.”


But wait, there’s more. I have been invited to ride with the SRT. 

Stay tuned! 

Sunday, December 31, 2023

Solidarity - a unity of purpose in 2024

Solidarity means caring for others - Photo - Shane Rounce (CC)

by Mateja Mihinjac

As I reflect on the past year, I’m listening to pyrotechnics outside. Despite calls to give up pyrotechnics for the safety and peace of people and animals, our cities still sound like a warzone during New Year’s celebrations. This brought to mind solidarity with our fellow citizens. 

This year has been yet another turbulent year for my country. One of the major events in 2023 was the August floods, the worst in Slovenia’s recent history. 

People died in the flooding and many others had to vacate their homes due to water and mud damage and unsanitary conditions. Some lost their homes completely. Infrastructure in some towns was demolished and bridges once connecting towns with the rest of the country were suddenly washed away. Factories lost their equipment. Pets and other domesticated animals were separated from their carers. 

A destroyed bridge in the village Strahovica during Slovene floods - Photo by An┼że Malovrh/STA

Yet, during these difficult times, it was remarkable to see such solidarity amongst citizens, many of whom had previously never met. They organised themselves into groups and went out to neighbourhoods to help people with the clean-up. They opened their residences and temporarily housed others who could not return home. 

Firefighters, rescue and emergency workers both professional and volunteer, risked their lives and worked around the clock to help save lives and possessions. Sports personalities, popular musicians and other public figures donated funds towards the rebuild. Everyday citizens dug into their pocketbooks and donated cash and whatever else they could.


This kind of solidarity and unity – known by other terms in SafeGrowth such as social capital and social cohesion – is not uncommon during major catastrophic events. In our forthcoming SafeGrowth book next year, we dig deeply into the power of social capital and cohesion and we show how SafeGrowth employs it to transform troubled neighborhoods.

Over the years, we have frequently been brought into cities following natural disasters to help communities recover. Building social capital and solidarity is at the core of our work. 

For example, we taught SafeGrowth to communities following the devastating 2011 earthquake in Christchurch, New Zealand. Before that, we brought it to the residents of the Hollygrove neighborhood in New Orleans, USA following Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

In Sweden, we discovered examples of community caring. This yellow area is called "A hello can save lives". It's a special space reserved for those who appreciate a friendly conversation - solidarity with others who might be lonely

Both catastrophic events served as a catalyst for solidarity among residents within the neighbourhoods as they came together to rebuild their neighbourhoods. In Christchurch, people received strong institutional support from the city, including former SafeGrowth practitioner Sue Ramsay in her work with the West Riccarton SafeGrowth group

In Hollygrove, residents received organisational support from non-profit organisations like the Louisiana chapter of AARP and the work of SafeGrowth practitioner and urban planner Jason Tudor.

SafeGrowth training in Palm Springs, California, 2023.
Residents and police working together for the common good 


In both cases above, a strong voice and unselfish actions came directly from local residents. Solidarity, it turns out, matters a great deal.

While such expressions of unity in the case of my country, as well as Christchurch and Hollygrove, make me teary with pride for fellow humans, I always wonder… Why does it take a catastrophe for people to step together? Will this connectedness last?

Only a few years back we experienced a similar sense of connectedness during COVID. Those were hopeful times when we believed this would become the new normal. We could see people starting to care more about each other and appreciating more their effects on environmental pollution. But it did not last. 

Unfortunately, those “new” behaviours quickly returned to “normal”. Today people seem to be more alienated than ever. Analyses of that period suggest the initial wave of solidarity needs to be institutionally supported to retain its sustainability.

Kind greetings and saying hello - Solidarity starts simply 


How can we increase solidarity and ensure it is not a fleeting phenomenon where people are strangers? How do we embed and teach social connectedness and ensure it flourishes not only when people are affected by a traumatic event? 

I was taken aback several times over the past couple of months when fellow forest walkers thanked me for my kindness when all I did was kindly greet and exchange a few words with them! I expect this to be normal. Why has it become unusual to notice fellow beings and appreciate their presence around us? 

Maybe, to enhance solidarity, we can start by simply paying more attention to people we meet outdoors, making eye contact, and greeting them. After all, they might just be the ones who save your life one day!

Have a happy, safe and peaceful 2024!

Thursday, December 21, 2023

Propaganda, science, crime prevention - A New Year's Resolution

Police and prevention go together. Good crime prevention is based on evidence, not popular beliefs

by Gregory Saville

“No one marches on Washington because of a pie chart!” I heard a politician say that years ago during a campaign. So why does anyone march on Washington, or wherever? Many people march for legitimate reasons. Others don’t. Evidence informs some. Others just believe what they want.

Incredulous as it seems – despite the absurdity of magic pills – some people end up believing populist snake oil when confronted with social unrest, economic strife, or political periods of turbulence. It’s the same in crime prevention. Despite evidence that many prevention methods cut crime, some choose to believe otherwise. 

We need an objective system that depends on evidence and rational decision-making. 

Crime prevention has been a police mandate since 1829.
A 1931 family photo of Police Constable Tom Hopkin - my grandfather


I remember reading one of the first evaluations of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design in the 1970s – an elegant, pre-test/post-test research design with tons of data over several years. It examined problems like the maturation effect (how the passage of time taints a strategy) and selection bias (failing to collect random samples). Evaluators examined problems that researchers seldom examine even today, like compensatory equalization, (when a city implements other programs that affect the results). It was state-of-the-art in social science evaluation.

It was a demonstration project called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design: Final Report on Residential Demonstration, Minneapolis, Minnesota.

That study, and a series of others that followed, were the most exacting scientific studies of CPTED of such size, scope, and quality. They are unrivaled, even today. They revealed the positive results from CPTED of that era. They showed how CPTED was successful when it was holistic and participative with the community. They also showed that CPTED was complex. 

What happened? Researchers criticized CPTED as too complex. They claimed it was too difficult to parse out the effect of specific strategies and to control one prevention effect from another. They complained it was too hard to isolate the role of the community from the police and the prevention practitioners. 

You cannot please everyone! Nor, in science, should you. The point is not to please people and appease their feelings. The point of science is to learn from mistakes and move closer to truth.

Since then, hundreds of CPTED studies have shown positive prevention results. The most recent claimed: “Reviews of collections of CPTED case studies have in general indicated CPTED interventions typically reduce crime.” 

Einstein's prediction about the bending of light. Many felt he was nuts - it offended their belief about the world. Scientific experimentation proved them wrong
- photo Creative Commons


We still lack the scientific rigor to find any “ultimate” truths. That doesn’t mean we cannot find some relative truths. Good scientists say this all the time. Yet, if such flaws exist in the physical sciences, imagine the ailments afflicting social science. 

In one review, a City Journal critic of criminological statistics found that “A detailed review of every regression model published between 1968 and 2005 in Criminology, a leading peer-reviewed journal, demonstrated that these models consistently failed to explain 80 to 90 percent of the variation in crime.”

I recently read an evaluation in Sweden that was so flawed, it read like propaganda. It failed to cite any prior evaluation research, provided no methodology, and quantified nothing. CPTED evaluations from 40 years ago put it to shame. Clearly, they have learned zero.

How can we build a library of evidence about effective crime prevention when even social scientists cannot figure out how to do proper science? 

Clark Stanley's Snake Oil Liniment. One of the earliest cons in the Old West
- photo Creative Commons 


If it is a choice between the snake oil propaganda of populist politicians (the “elites” are the problem; let’s go back to the old days), or an objective system that depends on evidence and rational decision-making, I doubt any fair-minded, democracy-loving, intelligent person, would choose the former.

There is no way to know for certain in social science how much more research is necessary. We also do not know whether more evidence, no matter how conclusive, will convince policy-makers to make rational crime policy. Regardless, none of that should dissuade the use of good research and the collection of decent evidence.

As we enter the New Year, I say we should carry on the difficult task of refining crime prevention methods, regardless of sham critics. We must remain vigilant against populist propaganda. We should continue to build, and learn from, libraries of success and failure. 

We may not know how to convince the political populists, but without efforts to learn from science, we will forever be in the clutches of one snake oil salesman or another. And, as we know from the history of violence in the 20th Century, that never ends well.