Saturday, January 8, 2022

A loaf of bread to feed a family - Food insecurity in our communities

Food is much more than a "CRAVED" item - a Denver area food bank notice 

by Tarah Hodgkinson

A few years ago, I was at a conference listening to a colleague of mine talk about theft in Australia. They noted that most of what was being stolen was food. I raised my hand. “Wait. People are stealing food? WHY are people stealing food?”

I received the standard opportunity theory answer. The academic crowd around me clucked about the lack of guardianship and easy targets. Fine, fine, I’ve written about all of that. But this is food. 

Food isn’t a CRAVED item. (CRAVED is a theoretical list of characteristics that make items vulnerable to theft - consider the sad irony of that acronym in this context!) Some food items are easy to steal but not easy to resell, and not particularly valuable. Unless they are!

When I was conducting research in the Canadian prairies about 5 years ago, small shop owners there also told me that their most common stolen item was food. They told me that they rarely confronted those stealing food or reported it to the police. They claimed it wasn’t worth it for them and assumed that, if they were stealing food, they probably needed it. 


I think food theft is indicative of something bigger. For as much as certain criminologists don’t want to talk about offender motivation, how can we not talk about it what is being stolen is a basic human need. 

Covid-19 has changed the game for many people around the world. Jobs have been lost and neighbourhoods are struggling. Add to that, the many recent crises making the problem worse: 

  • a shipping crisis in North America that threatens to raise the cost of basic supplies like food,
  • a growing number of community food pantries,  
  • food banks desperately asking for donations as they are running out of supplies. 

I’m seeing my own students struggling to feed themselves and their families. 

We need to do better. People shouldn’t need to steal food to feed themselves or their families.  

A facility for food-for-the hungry in Ottawa


First, demand a living wage (or provide one if you own a business). $15 an hour is not a living wage in North America. Multiply that by a full-time work week (37 hours) and 2 weeks of vacation and that’s $27,750 BEFORE taxes - barely over the poverty line in Canada ($25,153 in 2021) for one person. What if you are providing for your family? 

Free community food refrigerator in Ottawa 

Second, if you are able to contribute to food banks, be sure to give the right things.  Remember that most non-perishable food items require can openers and other items to make them (like butter and milk). So think about pop-top cans and staple items. Your local food bank will have a list.   

Third, support and grow community gardens. These not only grow food locally, but they help make fresh produce accessible to everyone. We have blogged about the power of community gardens all over the world, from Indianapolis to Brisbane.

Fourth, buy local. Support organizations that support your community back and help provide a living wage to your neighbours. 

All of these are small ways we can address the actual underlying issue that the opportunity theorists miss: food insecurity. But there are others as well. Food theft shouldn’t be a discussion of crime opportunities or guardianship and security. It should make us ask ourselves: what kind of neighbourhood do we want to live in? If you ask me – one where people have their basic human needs met. 

Friday, December 31, 2021

Do the right thing - It will satisfy some and astonish the rest


Walkable, carless, pro-social, and safe. What do future neighborhoods look like?

by Gregory Saville

With apologies to Mark Twain, that quote above is what came to mind as 2021 ends. Such a turbulent year with so many distractions – Covid, mass shootings, increasing crime, social unrest! It’s hard to look back through the lens of the 24-hour news cycle and social media and not conclude that we are going to hell in a handbasket.

Do yourself a solid and have a read of Bailey and Tupy’s exceptional book Ten Global Trends Every Smart Person Should Know. They use those increasingly rare things called facts to soundly debunk the doom-and-gloom-is-everywhere theory.

Bailey and Tupey's book Ten Global Trends - using research and facts to tell the truth. 

When you've read Global Trends, (and after you mask up, vaccinate, and elect better politicians with better policies), then give a thought to doing the right thing for safety in 2022 and learn some state-of-the-art theories in neighborhood crime prevention. There are a few good ones to pick from, but be careful - some only go halfway. 

Here are a few to watch:


In the 1970s they created electric car alarms to cut auto theft. You know, those pulsing lights and blaring horn alarms (BLEEP...BLEEP...BLEEP) that, nowadays, most people just ignore.

Around the 1980s, they created The Club to lock a steering wheel so thieves could not drive the car. Unfortunately, thieves adapted and learned to hacksaw the steering wheel and slide The Club off. One thief said: “So if it takes 60 seconds to steal a car, it now takes 90.”

The Club auto theft prevention device - photo Wiki Creative Commons

In the 1990s auto manufacturers adopted another situational crime prevention approach to harden the target. They created vehicle immobilizers, electronic devices that prevent a car engine from starting until a proper key transponder is present. Immobilizers prevent hot wiring and also eliminate that annoying BLEEP...BLEEP...BLEEP.

What is the result of situational crime prevention?

Some criminologists say the increasing adoption of security technologies has cut crime opportunities all over the world. Crime everywhere has decreased and auto theft has plummeted, as you can see on the graph.

Auto theft rates sunk as theft devices were adopted...

Except, there are a few glaring problems with this theory. First, not all crime rates around the world have declined in spite of more security technology! (Latin America comes to mind). 

Second, consider this...

...up until the past decade when rates began increasing.

Even with improvements to auto theft prevention, decade after decade, in the past ten years auto theft rates have NOT declined. In fact, they have started to increase! Look at the reality in the chart above of the past 10 years! How can this be? Security technologies have not vanished.  

Why are auto theft rates increasing? Perhaps the situational prevention theory spends so much time hacking at the branches of crime opportunity, it missed digging at the roots of crime causation?


Consider another recent prevention theory - focused deterrence, also known as CVI (community violence interrupters). I blogged on this promising strategy a few weeks ago.

Most modern crime prevention strategies zoom down from the level of the
entire city into specific areas (SafeGrowth), specific situations (situational prevention), or specific offenders (focused deterrence)

In a 2019 article, "There is no such thing as a dangerous neighborhood",  Stephen Lurie says we should not fix broken neighborhoods but rather target the small group of chronic offenders in those neighborhoods who cause most problems. That is how CVI intervenes in the cycle of violence. Says Lurie:

"The notion that public disorder drives criminality can seem an intuitive approach to public safety. But if people understand that most serious violence circles specific interpersonal group dynamics in structurally disadvantaged communities, order maintenance policing seems more like what study after study shows it is: an unnecessary evil."

Regrettably, permanently resolving a complex crime problem is not as simple as intervening with the offender before they rob or shoot. As the late Desmond Tutu warned, "There comes a point where we need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they're falling in."  

No doubt we need to do something fast when violence threatens and that is something at which situational prevention and focused deterrence both excel. But there is no hiding the fact that they both hack at the branches - neither one alters structurally disadvantaged communities in any meaningful way. 

Criminologists will tell you there are many seeds to crime causation. But over a half-century of criminological research amply demonstrates that the dysfunction, trauma, substance abuse, and blight in disadvantaged communities provide the breeding ground from where most chronic offenders emerge in the first place. Severely disadvantaged places create an endless supply of chronic offenders and if we want to dig at the roots of crime, and not hack at the branches, we must face those structural disadvantages. That is from where hope emerges and that is how we do the right thing.  


Some criminologists and law enforcement officials will complain that it is exceedingly difficult, (and takes a long time) to deal with deep structural problems in neighborhoods. Part of that is because the expertise and professions that deal with such problems are not found within criminology or law enforcement. They are found in economic development, urban planning, neuropsychology, cognitive science, and education. 

That is why SafeGrowth practitioners collaborate with experts in all those different fields and then work with residents to co-develop prevention plans. This kind of deep-dive capacity-building is neither simple nor fast. Ultimately, SafeGrowth marries community development and social prevention with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Generation CPTED. The method has been successful for decades. Our SafeGrowth book describes how we keep our eyes on the real prize. 

A few other recent examples:

These are only a few of many ways forward. In 2022 let’s do the right thing and not lose sight of the fact that, if we want to build a better society, we actually have to build a better neighborhood.

Happy New Year. 

Sunday, December 26, 2021

"It takes the whole village to raise this community"

Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Bridge
Skyline views at night mask the reality of neighbourhood life 
- photo Jeffrey Phillips Freeman Creative Commons Wiki

by Mateja Mihinjac

At a time when a rising tide of violent crime infects Philadelphia and so many other American cities, one small pocket in that city has discovered a different way forward. A few weeks ago, community teams from the HACE Livability Academy presented preliminary plans for improving livability in their neighborhood. It was like an early holiday gift to their city and their neighborhoods and I was enormously impressed with their plans. 

The HACE SafeGrowth Livability Academy has been underway in the Fairhill and Kensington neighborhoods for a few years and – although applied only to these two neighborhoods and severely challenged by the COVID pandemic – academy classes continued unabated thanks to the amazing work of HACE, the non-profit community development organization.

COVID has made life miserable for community development work. In 2020, we were forced to suddenly transition to a virtual environment that was not conducive to collaborative workshops. But a year later we’ve managed to better adapt to this new reality. Training from afar is not ideal, but the virtual environment does have advantages and we can now reach a wider audience.


Over the past two months, I had the pleasure of co-facilitating the latest online cohort of HACE Livability Academy participants. 

HACE has been successfully running Livability Academies twice a year since 2018. Last year, the HACE team modified the curriculum to run virtual-only sessions. This year we were able to offer both face-to-face and virtual modalities. 

The Livability Academy is a 6–8-week program developed by AlterNation LLC  – the company behind SafeGrowth® – in which local residents and community representatives learn skills in community leadership, SafeGrowth and CPTED, community organizing, and project management.

The Livability Academy is an integral part of the SafeGrowth philosophy and it provides a constant flow of community leaders into neighbourhood problem-solving teams to address local issues. I found it empowering to see the kinds of complex issues that the latest cohort decided to tackle in their project work. 

Team project planning from a previous Philadelphia Livability Academy class


During training, participants identify an issue and in work teams they tackle a small-scale, real-life project in their neighbourhood. In this training, the in-person, face-to-face team produced one project proposal while the online virtual team chose to divide into two project teams. 

This past week all three teams presented their preliminary plans of the work they’ve done over the past few months. All three teams created inspiring projects directly within their neighborhood and they tackled persistent problems that were made worse during COVID.

Cover of the project report from the Fairhill United for Livability team

Fairhill United for Livability 

The first team’s project focused on activating the neighbourhood park to create a space for people to come together and build connections. They envisioned a more united neighbourhood that fosters community pride, strengthens connections between residents, and partners with neighbourhood groups, schools, and businesses to promote livability. 

They divided their plan into 3 phases over the next year: outreach, clean-ups, and community celebrations. The goal is to create a movement of people to fix broken social connections, a problem made far worse by COVID. The team concluded with their slogan: “No one can do alone what we can do together”.

Literally Literacy (Increasing Adult Literacy)

This team chose adult literacy as a key liveability issue. They identified low levels of literacy as a key barrier to job access, high earning potential, and access to better healthcare. Illiteracy is one of the major contributors to overrepresentation in the criminal justice system. Illiteracy is an obstacle to personal growth and this team decided to do something. The main objective of the project is to empower adults to seek assistance with reading and increase their self-esteem while eliminating the stigma associated with illiteracy. 

Data from the Literacy team's research project

The highlight of this team’s presentation was their inspirational personal stories. 

  • One member shared how her aunt learned to read late in life because she was unable to visit school as she had to prioritise caring for her family. 
  • Another member shared the experience of returning to college in her senior years and helped her expand her knowledge and reading capabilities. 
  • Another member recollected how it was once illegal for African Americans to read and she had to self-learn how to read. 
  • Finally, one member shared a story about how she remained a single young mother when she left her illiterate partner who was unable to provide for the family aside from selling drugs. 

They summarized their stories with the phrase: “You can be all that you can be; all you have to do is take the first step.”

Teen Trauma

This team focused on the struggles of youth that (if not addressed early) can cause long-term damage to a young person’s life and the neighbourhood quality of life. They outlined multiple consequences of trauma such as emotional and behavioural issues, internalised stress, engaging in unsafe behaviours, substance abuse, and mental illness. 

They proposed a 6-week program with various topics to address traumatic events. They also proposed creating a safe space with a support group for teens experiencing trauma. Two young team members, who themselves went through traumatic events, were especially inspiring in their quest to help their peers turn a new leaf. The team summarised the objective of their program: “To go from dysfunction to function.”

Research chart on trauma from the Teen Trauma team


I was extremely proud of all three teams for the work they completed within this short time. It is amazing how a group of people who know little, if anything, about each other, were able to take steps together and share the common purpose of improving life in their neighbourhood. 

This is the true spirit of SafeGrowth and the Livability Academy. There is no better holiday gift to Philadelphia, to their community, and to themselves.

As one Livability Academy participant concluded: “It takes the whole village to raise this community.”

Congrats to Philadelphia's 2021 HACE Livability Academy grads!
(photo courtesy of Sierra Cuellar)

Sunday, December 12, 2021

New era for neighbourhoods - The latest in 3rd Generation CPTED

Cities in the future need safe, liveable and thriving neighbourhoods -
3rd Generation CPTED provides the roadmap

by Mateja Mihinjac 

The birth of a new theory is not a straightforward matter, especially in social science or urban planning. A few years ago, when my co-author Greg Saville and I published our proposal for a Third Generation CPTED in the research journal, Social Sciences, we built on a decade of theories in crime prevention, including our own work in SafeGrowth. We described how, for over 60 years, theoreticians and practitioners learned how to prevent crime using the natural and built physical environment (1st Generation CPTED), and then in the late 1990s added social strategies to that local prescription (2nd Generation CPTED). 

Over the past decade, our cities and neighbourhoods faced new and unprecedented challenges that demand that we think in a much more integrated way about safety. 

In 2019 we presented Third Generation CPTED as that new integrated approach. 

We built this theory on the premise that it is not sufficient to consider CPTED apart from the idea of liveability if we want a better quality of life within neighbourhoods. Our neighbourhoods – our core units of life, work and play – must offer opportunities for satisfying not only our basic needs (what psychologist Abraham Maslow called our physiological and safety needs) but also our needs at the medium and higher levels – needs of self-esteem and self-actualization. This is known as Maslow’s human needs hierarchy pyramid. 

Our theory translated that pyramid into a hierarchy of liveable neighbourhoods, and our 3rd Generation CPTED was the key to elevating our quality of life. 

Neighbourhood liveability hierarchy and corresponding liveability outcomes

After the past few years of additional development, we presented the full model at the recent International CPTED Association international conference. This latest version of the theory will also appear in a forthcoming academic publication. 

The most recent advances in this theory include the following 4 S strategies for achieving those liveability outcomes.


I first introduced the 4 S strategies in a blog several months ago. Here I will describe some specifics for practitioners.

Liveability and sustainability are intrinsically linked. Some scholars say that communities cannot be sustainable unless people want to live in them and people need to have a say in identifying their preferences to ensure long-term environmental, economic and social impacts. This is the whole point to sustainability and so within 3rd Generation CPTED, we have four sustainability strategies. 

Environmental sustainability

Environmental sustainability is the most frequent topic discussed in relation to urban development, safety, and liveability. Evidence shows a strong link between environmental stressors (heat islands, lack of greenery, long-distance travel) and crime. Third Generation CPTED practitioners will apply tactics that help improve environmental liveability, such as the greening of neighbourhoods, greening of vacant lots to reduce crime, and building on local assets.

Social sustainability

Social sustainability points to people-focused design and it promotes opportunities for social interaction and collaboration, such as pedestrian infrastructure, gathering places, and Third Places.

It includes building a physical “command centre” – or neighbourhood hub – for local decision-making. An early version of neighbourhood hubs was described in an earlier SafeGrowth blog.

The goal of social sustainability is social cohesion and resilience through grassroots urban design where the residents have direct influence and stewardship over the local neighbourhood. Social sustainability can help prevent the seeds of criminality from taking root before they become unmanageable. SafeGrowth offers one such approach. 

Graduates from SafeGrowth - local residents, police and others learning in Helsingborg.
Projects included a youth activity centre and intercultural gathering places for fostering cohesion. 

Economic sustainability

Research continually shows the indisputable relationship between income inequality, disadvantage and crime. Focusing on the immediate economy through investment in neighbourhood infrastructure and economic development is one antidote to some of the issues that are endemic to crime. Third Generation practitioners, residents and business partners can use tactics such as local partnerships, a focus on local creativity, and business incubation.

Practitioners can also implement tailored employment transition and reintegration programs for those with a criminal history so they don’t fall back into habits of gang membership, violence, and drug abuse. Neighbourhood economic sustainability has a direct impact on breaking the cycle of criminal recidivism.

From our ICA conference presentation - all styles of CPTED and urban development should move toward advanced neighbourhoods of a high quality-of-life 

Public health sustainability

Public health sustainability refers to enduring physical and emotional health. At a time of Covid, it seems redundant to make this point, but the fact is that urban design and social cohesion are correlated with outdoor pedestrian movements, the use of physical infrastructure, the perception of safety and trust among neighbourhood residents. Those are not only part of public health but they are part of the psychology that can trigger, or mitigate, crime motives. 

Residents should have opportunities to co-create neighbourhood plans for amenities to promote health. In particular, these include amenities such as testing facilities and counselling to monitor unchecked trauma experienced by children during their formative years. Neighbourhood and family trauma, such as substance abuse, violence, and social dysfunction, have a direct impact on offending behaviour and violence, especially in later years.  We have written about similar issues such as suicide prevention in prior blogs. 

Emotional intelligence programs, perhaps offered at neighbourhood hubs, offer a great tool for assisting both young people and adults to learn self-awareness tactics, mindfulness skills and pro-social behaviours. Third Generation provides CPTED with a way to remove some of the breeding grounds for future criminal behaviour in a way that better lighting and access controls cannot accomplish.

Physical infrastructure and urban design should be conducive to fun physical opportunities


Third Generation CPTED is obviously much more complex than basic CPTED tactics. Practitioners need a wider set of competencies and collaborative methods and forums for discussing and deploying such an integrated approach. 

It extends beyond simple opportunities for crime - not that there is anything wrong with cutting crime opportunities! Rather, and more to the point, 1st Generation CPTED is simply insufficient in the contemporary 21st Century neighbourhood if we want a higher quality of life in the long term.

The 4 S strategies amalgamate crime prevention, safety with neighbourhood liveability. Third Generation CPTED offers strategies so that we can realise many of our long-term, highest level, personal needs within our own neighbourhoods. Most importantly, by extending the discourse of public safety and crime prevention beyond the focus on crime, we can create opportunities for a different kind of neighbourhood in which residents will not only survive but thrive. 

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Avoiding whac-a-mole while preventing crime

A violence interruption neighborhood in Syracuse
during our SafeGrowth presentations

by Gregory Saville

A number of years ago I watched an impressive problem-oriented policing presentation about a homicide reduction program in Boston that cut murders in half in a single year. Officially called Operation Ceasefire, it became known as the Boston Miracle and the magician behind it was David Kennedy, one of the brightest criminologists I know, professor of criminal justice at John Jay College in New York.

Ceasefire has evolved into what is now called the CVI method of violence and homicide reduction – Community Violence Intervention. There are two forms of CVI:

  • The first version of CVI is the one I saw from Boston. It goes by a number of names (commonly the “call-in” method where police call-in offenders for a meeting) and it is run through the Center National Network for Safe Communities
        The call-in model is described on the National Network website:    

"Community members with moral authority over group members deliver a credible moral message against violence. Law enforcement puts groups on prior notice about the consequences of further group-involved violence… support and outreach providers make a genuine offer of help for those who want it. A central method of communication is the call-in, a face-to-face meeting between group members and the strategy’s partners."

  • The other version of CVI tends to avoid the justice system, but rather taps into the street knowledge of former street offenders. 

The Cure Violence, also known as The Interrupters, is like the Guardian Angels on steroids. We have blogged on it before. It is described in the 2011 film called The Interrupters and it shows how “Interrupters” are hired directly from the community, sometimes people with a history of gang affiliation. When information arises indicating a potential outbreak of gang conflict, Interrupters visit the neighborhoods and speak directly to those involved. They describe of their own street experience and the consequences of violence and shootings. Their success rate is impressive. 

Cure Violence was the brainchild of Gary Slutkin, an epidemiologist from Chicago.


There are better ways to prevent violence than after-the-fact arrest

Both styles of CVI programs are visiting cities across the U.S. and now Europe and they have an impressive evaluation history. We could certainly use those CVI strategies to tamp down violence in some of our communities in the first few months of our capacity-building work. 


However, all CVI programs require one essential element in order to function – existing crime! 

That means that, whether police call-in suspected gang members, or if Interrupters visit a potential offender for a shooting, CVI practitioners must already know of a crime underway or about to occur. And these pending events obviously do not happen in a vacuum, they occur in high crime areas or with known perpetrators of violence, shootings and gangs.

In other words, the social, economic, and psychological conditions that led to those risky moments were already in place long before CVI practitioners arrived. There is nothing wrong with preventing violence and shootings. But there is little evidence that intervening with a small group of offenders will do anything to sustainably transform the neighborhood conditions that led to their criminality in the first place. They might get some job offers, training, or perhaps social support for drug addiction. But what about the economic, social, and psychological conditions in the neighborhood where they and their families reside? 

If you tamp down the fireworks, do you address how those fireworks started in the first place so they don’t start again? One published long-term evaluation of the Ceasefire approach concluded “Boston has been challenged to sustain the implementation of the Ceasefire strategy over extended time periods. High profile replications of the Boston approach has experienced similar challenges.” 

What can be done to transform the long-term livability in such places that breed violence in the first place?

Whac-a-mole is a circus tabletop game from Japan 
- photo Creative Commons


It is like going to the circus and playing the game called ‘whac-a-mole’. 

The whac-a-mole game is played on a tabletop with a number of holes filled with plastic moles. The moles randomly pop up and the player whacks each one with a plastic hammer as fast as possible to gain points. The player never knows which mole will pop up, why they pop up, or how to keep them down, other than smashing them with the hammer as fast as they can. 

Prevention programs like CVI require an offender, or offenders, to whack (to deliver CVI programming), but CVI programs have little to say about the root causes why they are violent, why they deal drugs, or from where their criminality arises. Other than individualized programs to help each offender (an important part of prevention, to be sure), CVI programs are not designed to transform the neighborhood so crime-causing conditions no longer create a breed of next-generation offenders.

SafeGrowth addresses many pieces of
neighborhood livability leading to crime


That is what SafeGrowth does. By combining 1st, 2nd, and now 3rd Generation CPTED, we help residents rebuild troubled neighborhoods and attack crime at the roots where it grows. SafeGrowth is less about whacking moles, and more about the social ecology and cohesion of a community. CVI is attractive because it works quickly. SafeGrowth takes time. 

Both strategies are important. But without digging at the roots, you hack at the branches and do not fundamentally change neighborhoods where the seeds of crime are planted. We describe this work in SafeGrowth: Building Neighborhoods of Safety and Livability, and in scholarly articles on neighborhoods where we cut crime from New Orleans to Toronto.

We need programs like CVI for effective alternatives to ineffective arrest strategies. But we also need neighborhood transformation programs, like SafeGrowth, to sustain early successes over the long term. 

Otherwise, we find ourselves back to where we started, perhaps one reason the decades-long crime declines are now reversing in far too many cities! 

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Blinded by the light

The Greek philosopher Aristotle created the scientific method - knowledge proceeds through evidence, objective analysis, and logic.
Photo Creative Commons

by Gregory Saville

As Bruce Springsteen writes in his song, it’s easy to get blinded by something you are passionate about. That especially applies to crime theory.

It’s hard enough to implement crime prevention without having to constantly check whether the prevention theory itself is under attack. Of course, prevention practitioners should know the strengths and weaknesses of their programs, including theory veracity. But when theory itself remains unchallenged by scientists, even when emerging data contradicts that theory, it makes the practitioner's job much more difficult. 

When that happens, practitioners are unsure whether it is the theory that is wrong or the implementation. 

Take crime displacement theory. When a crime happens in one location, will preventive measures move it somewhere else? Traditional displacement theory says crime will not necessarily move elsewhere. Or if it does, it might create benefits in other ways (the so-called diffusion of benefits theory).

Most likely, we are told, the displaced crime will reduce in impact – it won’t get worse! We are told dozens of studies confirm this theory over a number of years. 


Then a British undergraduate thesis on displacement uncovered some disturbing patterns in the evidence.

Catherine Phillip's analysis discovered, “that displacement may, in fact, be more common than is widely claimed, particularly in the case of studies with offenders. Furthermore… the findings of the Kirkholt Burglary Prevention Project, which purport to demonstrate a diffusion of benefits, are shown to be based on questionable evidence.”

Curiously, this was met with deafening silence in the situational crime prevention community. Phillip's referring specifically to the scientific evidence would, one would think, sound alarms to scientific theorists. Not so.

A few years later, Tarah Hodgkinson, myself, and Martin Andresen, conducted a detailed study on displacement over a multi-year timeframe using extensive ethnographic/statistical research in a city where we had delivered CPTED for over a decade. We combined the best qualitative and quantitative research. Our research discovered that, indeed, displacement was not benign, there was no diffusion of benefits, and alarmingly, we uncovered clear evidence of malign displacement in which crime got much worse in two different areas. 

We published our study in one of the most prestigious journals in the criminological community – the British Journal of Criminology.

Again, from the displacement research crowd… crickets! Apparently, data and evidence, even in a thorough crime study, were also not enough to sound the alarm about troubles with displacement theory. 


Marc Brackett's Permission To Feel


For many years, Gerard Cleveland and I have taught our police students emotional intelligence (EI). EI was created by psychologists in the 1970s and 1980s, particularly the work of Yale University’s professor Peter Salovey and his colleagues. The best recent book on EI is Marc Brackett’s, Permission to Feel.

The role of emotions, it turns out, is poorly understood among professionals and, I would add, researchers. Emotions explain why researchers get attached to their theories and, when it comes to criminology, why they refuse to accept new theories or abandon old ones.

The methodology of science suggests that researchers should carefully manage their emotions and follow the data. In displacement, at least, it seems that may not always have been the case. The attachment to theories – this clinging to something when contradictory evidence arises – emerges from poor emotional intelligence and the inability to detach from a theory and look at alternate theories with a clear eye. 

Avoid theory blindness by looking carefully at the data,
self-awareness, and detaching from bias


Take, for example, 2nd Generation CPTED! For years, Gerry Cleveland and I heard complaints from traditional crime prevention practitioners that “if it’s not about changing the physical environment, it’s just not CPTED”. 

When we pointed out that the founders of CPTED – Jane Jacobs, Oscar Newman, C. Ray Jeffery – did not limit their discussions to architecture; they also spoke of the interconnectedness between theories, of the role of neighbors in crime prevention, and of social cohesion in neighborhoods. Getting locals to create a sense of defensible space was the mantra in authentic CPTED, yet those practitioners attached to physical target hardening ignored this part of the theory. 

This is theory-blindness! It is often triggered by emotional attachments to a particular view and it is known in psychology as confirmation bias – the tendency to search only for information that confirms your prior beliefs of something. It is not surprising we are sometimes blinded by the light of a theory to which we are attached. We are all, after all, human. But ignoring data and cherry-picking evidence that supports only one particular theory is not only unscientific – it obstructs our work to help create safer places. Our communities deserve better.


I spoke too soon in regards to crickets from the criminological community. The situational theory cluster inside the movement might ignore, but not so the mainstream criminology community. The American Society of Criminology just awarded our own Tarah Hodgkinson the prestigious Robert Bursik Award for the displacement study I referenced above that Tarah, Martin Andresen, and I co-published in the British Journal of Criminology. Congratulations Tarah.