Sunday, January 19, 2020

Cutting murder - remembering the past

Solving murders? Solutions within the hood.

by Gregory Saville

It’s useful to learn from history because – as Santayana said in The Life of Reason – those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Or, in some cases, maybe they are wise to repeat it! Sadly, when it comes to crime, it often seems amnesia afflicts those tasked with preventing it.

Consider the case of Britain’s National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal (NSNR) in 2001, a holistic approach for fixing troubled neighborhoods! This program had multiple threads with a long-term goal to rebuild what criminologists now call collective efficacy, what we call SafeGrowth.

In the 1990s crime in countries throughout the developed world was declining, with the exception of homicide in Britain. Criminologists prefer tracking homicide statistics since those data are among the most accurate. And in the late 1990s and early 2000s, homicide in the UK was bucking the trend elsewhere and was going up for reasons poorly understood.


One theory is that social conditions and economic problems in deprived areas are at the root of the crime tree, hence tackling neighborhood structure should make a difference since most homicide incidents occurred in troubled neighborhoods. Crime has always festered in such troubled places; it’s the reason we locate SafeGrowth directly within neighborhoods.

Then, a few years into the leadership of Britain’s former PM Tony Blair, the government launched a neighborhood program called: National Strategy for Neighbourhood Renewal: A Framework for Consultation. At the time it was a very big deal! This was in the heady days before the Global Recession of 2008 and long before Brexit.

The NSNR dealt with unemployment, housing, education and crime, and it was aimed at local, neighborhood-level strategies. A few years later the government evaluated the program and asked: Did the NSNR schemes revitalize neighborhoods? Did it work?

Decent physical and social infrastructure - both matter


The evaluation reads like a master class on failed implementation: Neighborhoods were not targeted properly, implementation was spotty, and some violent crime increased! Community empowerment was promised, but too often top-down planning resulted. So much for government-run programming!

And yet a strange thing happened: preliminary results were mostly positive!
The headline findings of the evaluation are that during the lifespan of NSNR there has been some narrowing of the gap between the most deprived neighbourhoods and the rest of the country...the most deprived neighbourhoods are doing better than they were! (NSNR Evaluation)
Now, almost two decades later, another remarkable trend showed up: In the decade following that evaluation, the persistent British homicide rates changed direction and began a rapid decline! Was the NSNR directly responsible? Hard to say, but it’s difficult to rule out. The homicide charts seem to indicate it was at least partly responsible.

The incidence rate per million population for homicide offences currently
recorded by the police in England and Wales, year ending
December 1967 to year ending March 2015.
Source: UK Home Office

This is a history worth remembering. And it's a history we've written about before in this blog, such as the Chicago Area Projects of the 1940s, re-evaluated in the 1980s, still preventing crime today and still underfunded in that suffering city.

Capacity-building embedded directly within troubled neighborhoods, supported and resourced by the city, informed by community development practices, employing the latest in CPTED, SafeGrowth, and prevention science. Let’s repeat that history!

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Does immigration cause crime?

Immigrants entering Slovenia during refugee crisis
Photo by Borut Podgoršek, MORS, Creative Commons

by Martin Andresen

GUEST BLOG: Martin Andresen is associate professor at the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Griffith University in Brisbane, Australia. He is Chair of the Crime and Place Working Group at the Center for Evidence-Based Crime Policy and an associate editor at the Journal of Quantitative Criminology. Martin recently joined the SafeGrowth Network and offers this guest blog, our first blog of the new decade.


Over the last several years there has been a lot of debate about the link between immigration and crime. Do immigrants commit crime? Yes, but so do a lot of people! This is not the right question to ask because what really matters is: Do immigrants commit more crimes than those born in the country? With so much news linking immigration to crime, it is not a surprise that many people believe that it is true. But is it?

Research over the past 20-30 years provides a definitive answer – No!

In fact, research often demonstrates that immigrant populations commit fewer crimes. If this is the case, why does the myth persist?

Airport lineups - for generations, people from all countries
have migrated around the world


At the turn of the 20th century, most immigrants to North America were poor or had very few resources. They moved into poorer areas of cities, areas with higher rates of crime. Criminologists Clifford Shaw and Henry McKay wrote about this phenomenon decades ago in one of the most famous studies in criminology: Juvenile Delinquency and Urban Areas.

Gate of Harmonious Interest - Entrance to Chinatown in Victoria, BC
Photo by MARLEBU, Creative Commons

Shaw and McKay found that when immigrants had the means to move into better (more stable) neighbourhoods, they also committed less crime. As such, immigrants changed their behaviour based on where they lived: it wasn’t that people (the immigrants) were related to crime, it was that places tended to produce crime.


Recent studies also show that immigrant populations are no more prone to crime than those who are born in the country. Some researchers suggest that there are two explanations for this: immigrant revitalization and ethnic enclaves.

Immigrant revitalization refers to immigrant populations moving into those same poorer areas described above. Ethnic enclaves are places with concentrations of immigrant populations from the same region of the world who shared a common set of language and culture – immigrant groups have been doing this for over 100 years. Rather than moving out of those areas, these populations are revitalizing them, making them places where people want to live. Most immigrants move to a new country for a better life and often create better places as a result.

Pro-immigration rally in Barcelona, Spain
Photo Artur Rabell, Creative Commons

What is really going on with immigration and crime? As immigrants move into an area, they develop relationships with people and attachment to places. Over time, these areas become neighbourhoods. And once people come together to build something, why would they partake in activities to destroy it?

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Lessons from the lands of ice and fire

Glaciers, fires, storms, and heat -
the link between extreme weather and urban violence
by Mateja Mihinjac

As we enter a new decade, I can’t help but wonder: How might my work and the work of other safety and crime prevention professionals be affected as temperatures continue to rise and weather conditions become even more extreme?

I am fortunate to have lived and worked in various countries, including Australia and Canada. People often associate the first with hot weather and beaches and the latter with cold winters and snow. This is especially true at this time of year when large parts of Australia are experiencing extremely high temperatures and devastating fires while Canada may be bracing for the next polar vortex this winter.

Are these two countries, on the opposite sides of the globe, struggling with contrasting environmental conditions that relate directly to contrasting crime and safety concerns?

Brilliant sunsets can indicate air particles from distant forest fires


There is long-standing research on violence and the thermal environment, or what is sometimes called the seasonality of crime. It reminded me of research I came across a few years ago about the possible association between temperature and crime.

That research found a correlation between warmer weather and various forms of crime and incidents and attributed this to an increase in outdoor activities during warmer days. The researchers of this study in Philadelphia also suggested that extreme temperatures, especially extremely cold, have the opposite effect as people are discouraged to go outdoors.

However, there is Canadian research contradicting that view and suggesting violence can also increase at the opposite end of the thermal scale.

One 1995 study in Canada’s Arctic Nunavut Territory reported that violence rates among the Inuit in the north were far higher in Baffin Island villages (most of which are above the Arctic Circle) than those in the warmer cities over a thousand miles (2,000 kilometers) to the south.

Climate stress and crime is a distant meditation -
until it appears in front of us


While the Arctic study is explained through cultural and sociological causes, the Philadelphia study falls into a group of opportunity-theories that suggest comfortable weather conditions at any time of the year (warm gentle summers, balmy winters) are associated with the increased number of people outdoors resulting in increased concentration of both targets and potential offenders.

Other studies suggest the rise in alcohol consumption during the hot months of the year contributes more to murders and sexual assault, as well as other crimes such as road rage. This is especially a problem where temperature variations are large. Therefore, in these instances, it appears extremes in high temperatures or mango madness might be behind violent and aggressive behavior.

The homicide data in the State of Queensland, Australia for the past 22 years show a somewhat increased homicide rate during the hottest months of the year: December and January. This association was especially strong for the tropical north where temperatures are most extreme.


However, when the data were examined for the Brisbane City police division for both homicide and all crimes respectively, they found no identifiable monthly patterns. This suggests that while temperature conditions may be part of the crime puzzle, we cannot draw conclusions about crime based on this single variable.

Perhaps thermal effects on violence apply to both high and low-temperature extremes, as the Canadian research suggests? It seems that the opportunity-theory does not always explain why some places are less safe than others, especially in relation to temperature.

This has been our experience during SafeGrowth programming in neighborhoods throughout the world. Even with extreme temperatures, healthy and vibrant neighborhoods with plenty of pro-social opportunities tend to be safer. Could it be that, whatever temperature extremes a community suffers, opportunities for pro-social behavior are a powerful prescription for building healthy communities with fewer crime opportunities?


Climate change and crime in the future
A new kind of city-building
In 2014, Harvard trained economist and statistician Matthew Ranson made a bold prediction:
"Between 2010 and 2099, climate change will cause an additional 22,000 murders, 180,000 cases of rape, 1.2 million aggravated assaults, 2.3 million simple assaults, 260,000 robberies, 1.3 million burglaries, 2.2 million cases of larceny, and 580,000 cases of vehicle theft in the United States."
Sobering words as we begin a new year!

And yet, as we have seen over the past few years, there are solutions at hand if we choose to adopt them. Collectively we can find effective answers to both halt the progression of global warming and to address community safety challenges that may be associated with the temperature effect.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The making of a smarter city

by Gregory Saville

As the year ends, I’m remembering the air of electricity and innovation emerging at the Helsingborg 22, Smart City Summit in Sweden that I attended in November. It was a remarkable event! It triggered a thought that sticks in my mind…

By 2030 over 60% of the entire world will live in urban centers. Most of the leading industrial countries of the world are already predominantly urban: over 80% urban in the U.S., Canada, Australia, UK, Chile, Sweden, South Korea, Mexico, and Brazil.

It’s similar in India, that historically so-rural subcontinent of villages and farms. A decade ago, I recall listening to India’s Minister for External Affairs describe the rapid urbanization of his country, a billion-person behemoth soon to top China as the most populous country on the planet. Today it has some of the world’s largest cities.

Megacities are invariably tall cities
We’ve also seen the eruption of the megalopolis – the megacity once prophesized in Sci-Fi fare. The latest UN statistics now say it’s real:
  • 43 megacities now have over 10 million people, including the metropolitan areas of New York City, London (within the M25), Los Angeles, and Paris;
  • 6 megacities have over 20 Milion - Cairo, Mumbai, Beijing, Dhaka, Mexico City, Sao Paulo;
  • 2 have over 26 million - Shanghai and New Delhi; 
  • 1 has a staggering 37 million - Tokyo, the world’s largest city.
It seems too obvious to state that the key to our future is creating sustainable, livable and healthy cities. Not so obvious is the key to habitability: safety from crime and fear of crime.

Experimenting with lighting a public toilet
in Smart City Helsingborg - Tardis of the future


This brought to mind the H22 Smart City Summit. Unlike the Smart Growth planning program, the Smart City movement is of much more recent vintage. It talks of artificial intelligence, how Internet-of-Things data devices might better manage transport, power, water supply, schools, hospitals, utilities, and even crime. It proposes a new age of connectedness and livability.

Just imagine… no garbage trucks, massive cuts in energy use, increased quality of life, smart LED street lights with sensors to watch street conditions, faster routing for self-driving cars, smart drone shopping that avoids parking lots, automatic air pollution elimination, faster emergency response for medical and fire emergencies, and so forth.

Helsingborg is taking a close look at all this. It is spending time and money to test new Smart City ideas and it plans to take neighborhood quality of life, urban planning, and urban governance to a new level. In 2022 it will show the world in the H22 Exposition.

In November, I joined Ifeoma Ebo from the New York Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, to present our work on SafeGrowth and CPTED in 15 high-crime New York public housing projects. The approach of our talented SafeGrowth team members was decidedly low-tech with plenty of community involvement. Summit participants seemed to see a link in our project to Smart Cities of the future.


Some think Smart Cities are a utopian dream that will destroy democracy.

Maybe that’s true! When we wrote about Smart Cities in our SafeGrowth book last year, the last chapter, A Vision for the Future, described one vision – except that was a dystopian, not utopian, vision.

I’ve also blogged here about another Smart City innovation – computer algorithms that try to predict crime, the so-called predictive policing. Since then, I’ve followed it in two cities that tried, and abandoned, predictive policing - one in California and another in my own home city. It seems we have a very long way to go.

Either way, Smart City concepts deserve careful monitoring and thinking. And given the explosive rate of urban growth around the world, we might have no better choice but to get the Smart City idea right. Helsingborg's H22 Smart City movement gives us a chance to do just that.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

To certify or not to certify? CPTED today

Good or bad CPTED?
Competent practitioners should know the difference

by Gregory Saville

How do you know if someone knows what they are talking about or whether they are just making stuff up? If an unqualified plumber hooks up your toilet improperly, you’ll know real quick they are not qualified. Ewww. Please…no more leaky toilets!

What about a practitioner in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design? CPTED has been around for 48 years and there have been many strategies practiced around the world. Do CPTED practitioners know that history and what strategies work best? In the past 23 years hundreds of case studies and presentations have been delivered at the International CPTED Association (ICA) conferences. Do practitioners know that work?

A few years ago, I gave evidence as a CPTED expert in court cases involving homicide and gang shootings. The lawyers asked me to carefully present my credentials. To help courts in the future, I later published “The evolution of spatial forensics into forensic architecture: Applying CPTED and criminal target selection” which outlined some legal criteria for CPTED evidence in court.


But what about CPTED consulting? How do you know if someone has basic CPTED competencies? What about “certification”?

What is certification? In some places, it is called professional designation or trade certification. You can be certified in anything from Pilates to architecture – though the differences are vast.

Decent sightlines. Clean bench in plain view. Does the practitioner
truly know why this is terrible CPTED?

Certification means a practitioner has a level of knowledge and expertise in a particular field. It cannot be offered by an individual consultant or a private company (even if that company calls itself a “certifying organization”), since that is hardly a credible or unbiased source. Instead, it means that a person has obtained some formal, third-party acknowledgement of competency. For many years, that was a problem in CPTED. There were no third-party organizations to certify anyone, not until the growth of the International CPTED Association.

As Josh Brown, the former Chair of the ICA certification committee described years ago:
“Certification also serves to lock out charlatans claiming to be trained or certified by merely attending a course or taking a test.Unfortunately, crime prevention practitioners just learning about CPTED may feel the bar raised a bit too far. Certification in the field of one's choosing is a way of indicating to yourself that you have arrived”
Some confuse certification with a professional “license” – such as a license to practice medicine. Governments are responsible for licenses whereas, as Wikipedia states, “certifications are usually awarded by professional societies or educational institutes.”


This month the International CPTED Association launched its latest program, the CPTED Course Accreditation Program (CAP).

It is a program designed to allow CPTED curricula writers and trainers to submit their programs to ensure they teach and evaluate 11 core CPTED competencies within their course. This program follows the original CPTED Certified Practitioner (ICCP) program for individual practitioners 15 years ago.

ICA Accredited CPTED Courses will bear this logo on the course material

The reason the International CPTED Association chose to launch certification programs is that, unlike engineering or urban planning, CPTED is not a formally recognized profession. While it does have scientific evidence that supports its foundations, much of that evidence emerges from academic criminology and it is not yet quite scientific, despite claims to the contrary. That is why an independent group of third-party, experienced experts in practical CPTED represented the ideal place to start the process of professionalization.


The ICA represents the first, and only, international association of practitioners, professionals, and academics dedicated to the advancement of CPTED around the world. Fifteen years ago a few dozen leading CPTED experts spent a few years crafting the parameters of what certification in CPTED actually means. That was the first major step forward.

The launch of CAP in the past month is the next big step. It’s not yet a “license” to practice since only a government can legislate professional licenses through law. But since CPTED is not yet a full profession, that isn’t realistic anyway at this point.

Today, anyone can claim CPTED expertise after a few days of training. The ICA certification programs now lay some firm groundwork for minimal standards that the public should expect when they ask for CPTED advice. It’s a giant leap forward. No more leaky toilets, please!

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Too much racket - Noise pollution in the neighborhood

Noise in the city - a major impact on livability
by Tarah Hodgkinson

5:15am – SLAM! CRASH! BANG! That is how I wake up every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday morning. Three days a week, when the garbage and recycling truck comes to empty the bins below my second-floor window. It’s been three times a week for 5 months now. They start at the ungodly hour of 5:15am. Always waking me up.

The first time I heard it I nearly jumped through the wall. When I first moved into one of the units of the six-story apartment, I was told that the truck came twice a week.

I know I sound like I’m complaining. You might suggest I go back to sleep after they are done (not possible), or that I close my window (I do) or I turn on the AC and blast a fan and wear earplugs (check, check, check). You might say “calm down, you chose to live in the city” (try using public transit outside of a city).

But noise pollution (excessive noise caused by machines, transport and other humans) has a harmful impact on humans and animals. Numerous studies have examined the effect of increased noise levels on health. Noise pollution has been found to affect the nervous and endocrine systems and can cause numerous health issues from anxiety and heart disease.

Most importantly, it disrupts sleep, which can be a catalyst for all of these health issues, as well as low birth weights for pregnant women. Additionally, sleep disruption caused by noise pollution can also reduce focus and harm productivity.


As Mateja and Greg described in their recent blog introducing 3rd Generation CPTED, there is more to neighborhood livability than fear and crime. Noise pollution and its impact on public health is part of 3rd Generation CPTED because of its critical role in creating successful, peaceful neighborhoods.

Busy streets along with noise capturing architecture
can make noise pollution worse
While crime and noise have very different consequences, both fear of crime and noise pollution impact neighborhood livability. If people do not feel comfortable in public areas due to noise, they will not spend time there. It’s difficult to get legitimate “eyes on the street” (1st Generation CPTED calls it natural surveillance) when residents are hostile towards their streets.

Fortunately, communities all over the world are starting to pay attention to noise pollution. New technologies are helping to better discern the impacts of noise pollution, and laws and regulations already in place are beginning to expand.  In fact, organizations like Noise Free, have made it their mission to reduce noise pollution as part of a larger public health mandate.


However, many suggestions for responding to noise pollution are individually focused on encouraging the consumer to buy expensive noise-cancelling headphones, rearranging their furniture in their house or purchase other muffling agents.

Even more extreme, some suggest that people just move. But moving to a quieter neighborhood is not an option for most people, in particular, because noise pollution tends to be worse in poorer neighborhoods.

Not surprisingly, those poor neighborhoods are often where crime and fear flourish and where we end up working to introduce SafeGrowth.

Noise attenuation walls - the typical response
There have to be better local solutions to reduce these risks and protect those most affected.  Planners and developers already use highway barriers to reduce loud traffic, but this is not enough. For example, one solution might be educating policymakers on how to create local noise mitigation legislation, especially the sleep-interrupting version. It might be possible to better notify (and enforce) noise violators, improve tree coverage that can block noise, or create “no horn zones”.

Creating safe and livable neighborhoods isn’t just about reducing crime, its also about ensuring that city designers and decision-makers, and residents themselves, treat all neighborhoods fairly and ensure all forms of health and well-being are part of the 21st Century neighborhood.