Friday, September 22, 2023

Elements of Crime Patterns - A review of a breakthrough

Deborah Osborne's new book, Elements in Crime Patterns, delivers a long-overdue typology for crime investigators, researchers, and prevention specialists

By Gregory Saville

When you think of the study of crime and its prevention, perhaps you imagine that, after a century of criminology, elementary crime patterns are well understood in the academic literature. You would be mistaken! True, we do know plenty about some crime types, as well as the geographical patterns of crime events. But studies about the actual patterns of offenders and offenses are seldom collated together into a coherent, practical dictionary of elementary crime patterns – what scientists call typologies.

For example, in biological science Scottish botanist Patrick Matthews outlined the entire theory of natural selection after years of classifying different types of trees into a typology. Thirty years later that led others, like Charles Darwin, to build more classifications (and claim the theory as his own). Darwin’s bird typologies from the Galapagos Islands, along with Matthews's original work, eventually led to one of the most powerful theories in science – the evolutionary theory of natural selection. 

This method of constructing elementary typologies is so well understood by historians that it usually stands as the introductory chapter on virtually every book about the history of science. 

Crime science, by comparison, has barely scratched the surface of this type of basic typology. This is an alarming fact since that is how robust theories of explanation and prediction emerge in the first place. It is almost like crime science got ahead of itself and developed theories without the essential first steps of theory building. 

Until now!


Deborah Osborne is an author, retired U.S. Secret Service intelligence analyst, retired crime analyst with the Buffalo police, and former co-chair of the International Association of Crime Analysts. She is also one of my former students from a short crime mapping and analysis course I ran out of our research center at the University of New Haven 20 years ago. To be clear, by the time she took our training, Osborne was already an established crime analyst with considerable experience. 

This week Osborne published her book Elements of Crime Patterns.

I was excited to read her book, especially when I learned that she used a form of AI – ChatGPT – to help her collect data. To my knowledge, Osborne’s book is the first published criminological work to tap into the power of AI as a tool to build a robust database for a criminological text. That itself is an achievement. 

Scientific theories emerge from detailed observations and typologies


Elements of Crime Patterns is a field guide to identifying crime patterns, a practical toolkit that offers “the kind of knowledge about the crime pattern domain that is learned only on the job through experience” (p. 310). In other words, this is (finally!) the kind of fundamental scientific research that normally precedes theories and prevention programs. 

Osborne’s approach is not to provide explanations or theories accounting for where and why something happens. She takes another tack:

“The solution to crime pattern detection cannot be solely data driven. The informal exchanges of information through conversations, explorations, and intuitive perceptions are crucial in investigative casework, but researchers and policymakers often do not acknowledge this. It is important to understand that conversations between law enforcement staff are [the means by which] some crime patterns get recognized, especially those involving separate records system in other jurisdictions…Context is crucial.” (page 21)


Crime patterns in criminology are often associated with geographic maps of crime hotspots -
there are many other equally useful patterns 


I did have a few issues with the book. It could use an index and a bibliography (although to be fair, each chapter had endnotes with some references). I was also not as keen on a few earlier chapters on lifestyle, tools and equipment, and routine activities compared to later chapters. Those earlier topics seemed to me too generic and all-encompassing to be of much value in analysis. The routine activity theory has been criticized as, at best, an untestable theory and at worst, wrong

Those points pale in comparison to the impressive 30 chapters on specific crime types. She includes robbery, counterfeiting, sexual assault, murder, drugs, human trafficking, hate crimes, and vehicle crimes, among others. There are also surprises with crimes that make only rare appearances in the criminological literature – wildlife and forest crimes, cultural property crimes, and intellectual property crimes. 

The patterns she identifies include methods of different crimes, offender planning and target selection, the aftermath of crimes, and factors that influence crime opportunities. CPTED practitioners should take note there is an especially succinct summary of the opportunity factors that contribute to crime conditions. I wish I had access to information like this long ago in my crime prevention and investigation career. It would have made the work so much easier.

This book is a breakthrough for the science of crime and prevention and for the criminological enterprise – both academic and practitioner. Osborne has made a contribution of considerable weight. This is a book you should read.

Saturday, September 9, 2023

Leopard poaching - A problem-solving answer at the 2023 POP Conference


by Gregory Saville

Last month on Aug 7-9, I co-presented SafeGrowth and CPTED with Tarah Hodgkinson at the Problem Oriented Policing Conference (POP) in Boulder, Colorado. It was the 35th annual POP event drawing innovative policing and community problem-solving programs together to learn and compete for the prestigious Herman Goldstein problem-solving award.

The invention of my old friend and mentor, Professor Herman Goldstein, problem-oriented policing is one of the very few police reforms that lasted decades and, most importantly, works to cut crime and build relations with the community. At a time when police/community relations are strained, especially with minority communities, the POP movement is a ray of light showing a different kind of future.

This year, in addition to our training sessions on crime analysis, CPTED, and of course, SafeGrowth, there were projects from around the world on a full range of challenges facing communities.

  • Better responses to mental health crises, more innovative ways to avoid unnecessary detentions, and more effective alternative treatments;
  • Hotel fraud and problems with card processing machines that created opportunities for victimization;
  • Sexual offences and sexual exposures in public areas, in one case along a 10 miles stretch of a canal with an adjacent walkway.

The Problem-Oriented Policing conference at the Embassy Suites hotel in Boulder, Colorado - Photo Orbitz


Perhaps one of the most unique, and inventive, POP projects I saw was this year’s winner of the 2023 Goldstein Award – Saving Spots, Tackling Leopard Poaching for Ceremonial Leopard Skin Trade in Western Zambia.

I can say that in all the years I’ve participated in this POP conference, this is one of the most inventive applications of the model. Environmental crime is an understudied problem around the world and, in spite of that limitation, this project did not disappoint.

Photo Creative Commons By Lavindu Binuwara - [1], CC BY-SA 4.0

Watching the Saving Spots team describe their work in Africa, I was reminded how we always know if the police agency in the jurisdiction where we are implementing SafeGrowth trains their officers in POP methods. It is so much easier to implement difficult prevention programs when we have creative partners and leaders in the police department.  

It was exciting to see relevant, and effective, problem-solving methods when applied to such different crimes around the world.

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Some day a real rain will come - the revitalization of urban blight

by Gregory Saville

You are between fares and you are driving through hell in a yellow taxi, creeping slowly along a dimly lit downtown street on a dark, rainy night. Urban decay is everywhere around you – drug dealers, homeless tents, the stench of trash, litter and tagging everywhere, smashed store windows left unrepaired by owners fed up with the crime and fear, and cops who respond late, indifferently, or not at all. 

Then you flashback to DeNiro’s famous line in Taxi Driver when his psychopathic cab driver character, Travis, expresses his disgust at the scenes passing his cab windows:

“Some day a real rain will come and wash all the scum off the streets.”

This imagery from the 1976 neo-noir film Taxi Driver emerges from the urban blight of the 1960s and 70s, especially in larger American cities suffering from the double whammy of economic depression and race riots. In truth, you might be in a taxi driving through many American cities today – San Francisco, Baltimore, Detroit, Portland, and Miami.

To many observers of urban life – and to everyday city dwellers – the reality of increasing urban blight in our downtowns is not fantasy. Homelessness, toxic street drugs, and vacated downtown shops, block after block, are the growing reality of contemporary American cities.


Consider Florida – the sunshine state has over 3 million people in poverty, (15% of the entire state population), and over 30,000 homeless people. It hosts possibly one of the stupidest and most ineffective “anti-homeless” strategies emerging to date – playing a continuous loop of the children’s song “Baby Shark” near an urban park.

Like states elsewhere, Florida struggles with futile and ill-informed laws to criminalize begging, sleeping in parks, and panhandling, government strategies that make no lasting impact on the roots behind homelessness. These responses are contrary to the International CPTED Association's white paper on homelessness and they conjure the inhuman images emerging from 19th Century industrial London in Charles Dicken’s Oliver Twist or Jack London's The People of the Abyss.

London's Dorset Street, 1903, from Jack London's The People of the Abyss -
Photo Creative Commons

Clearly, existing urban development and crime prevention approaches in Florida, as elsewhere, are grossly ineffective against the growing blight in urban centers.


It is in that context that CPTED-USA, the new affiliate chapter of the International CPTED Association, launched its latest webcast titled, “CPTED and the Revival of Urban Blight: From the 1970s Big Box Stores to 2020s Virtualization of Life”.

The webcast features the inaugural board members of CPTED USA and it is the 2nd webcast. It is the 3rd online feature of this new CPTED chapter over the past few years. The current webcast aired two weeks ago and it introduces some of the main problems with attempting to respond to the increasing urban blight with urban design without taking into consideration the deeper causes that trigger the problem in the first place. 

Webcast speakers describe errors by inexperienced, or poorly trained, CPTED practitioners who fail to collect the proper data or confer with other CPTED professionals and members of the community, prior to installing their CPTED solutions. They describe government responses such as the Ostrich Effect, the Stormtrooper Tactic, versus Community-Based methods.

Over the next year, CPTED USA will grow its presence and services. As an affiliate of ICA, it already provides a bevy of services for those interested in CPTED such as training and certification, as well as access to a diverse worldwide network of professionals and highly skilled researchers. 

In the months ahead CPTED USA will expand those services, including a 2024 national CPTED conference in Palm Springs, California. 

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Investing in neighbourhoods - social recovery and connection

Overcoming addiction with social recovery and connection. 
SafeGrowth catchwords - Ted Talk by Johann Hari, 2015 London

GUEST BLOG: Larry Leach is Executive Director of 12 Community Safety Initiative (12CSI), a non-profit crime prevention collaborative in Calgary, Canada, one of the initial sponsors of the 2015 SafeGrowth Summit. In 2018 12CSI won the Alberta Solicitor General's Award for Community Collaboration and the Ambassador program won it in 2022. Larry has been a Huffington Post blogger and is involved in the SafeGrowth Network. He was awarded with the Queens Diamond and Platinum Jubilee medals for his contributions to community-building.

Addiction and Mental Health issues continue to tear apart families and communities. As a follow-up to my previous blog, “Scale is good for economies, but is it good for social policy?", I wanted to dive a bit further into what should investment and engagement with communities look like.

It is important to know a little bit more about how people have managed to come out of severe addiction. Wisdom among those who have had success in this space teaches us how addicts need a strong support system. They conclude that the opposite of addiction is connection. This is a central tenet of the neighborhood-building strategies in SafeGrowth. The research on addiction and recovery points to the same conclusion. Watch the Ted Talk video at the top of this blog.

The missing and most important piece of the puzzle is the same for helping agencies tasked and funded to help vulnerable individuals. In this case, addiction is the belief that you and your organization are the experts on how to get out of addiction, instead of helping people build healthy lives based on their own individual, personal, circumstances. Agencies wanting to complete that task need to strongly consider a holistic approach that includes connection to the communities in which they work. 


There are times when community organizations arise organically to deal with addiction and we must do everything possible to nourish those locally-based solutions. 

For example, consider the recent blog on the City of Prince George, British Columbia nurse, Jordan Stewart (our 2023 SafeGrowth Person of the Year), and her now-closed harm reduction site for inhalation addicts. Her effective local solution was defunded, illustrating how easy it is for city leaders to squander the local talent and solutions right at their own doorstep. 

Clearly, we must do better in the future.


Investing time into your neighbours has always paid large dividends. When community support is needed, it will arise with full enthusiasm and the knowledge to work with community members. In turn, communities can support vulnerable individuals better by having strong bonds with the services that can help people within their own communities. This is the essence of the concept of capacity-building.

Like most things in life, you get out of it what you put into it. Long-term investments of time and energy into the neighbourhoods across the city will pay huge dividends in the long run. Building relationships and trust goes a long way in achieving the outcomes that everyone wants. How much time does it take? Greg Saville echoes the mantra of community development workers when he says: “We go at the speed of trust”.

Saturday, July 29, 2023

Energy poverty - emergency preparedness through social cohesion

Asphalt roads, brick and steel buildings, and a lack of greenery in cities - the concrete jungle exacerbates environmental heating

by Mateja Mihinjac

We have written on several occasions about food deserts and its counterpart, food oases. The contrast between the two signifies easy access to fresh food options on one extreme and lack of access on the other. Individuals and neighbourhoods of lower socio-economic status are likely to be in the latter group.

Now a similar concept – energy poverty – has emerged that similarly highlights the disparity in access to energy resources between poorer and richer countries, neighbourhoods, and individuals.


The European Commission writes: “Energy poverty occurs when energy bills represent a high percentage of consumers' income, or when they must reduce their household's energy consumption to a degree that negatively impacts their health and well-being.”

Causes of energy poverty include three factors: low income, high energy needs due to inefficient housing, and high energy prices. 

Colourful water features in urban areas provide a cooling and
refreshing break from summer heat

The topic of energy access has become a policy agenda across Europe during the energy crisis that was triggered by a post-COVID recession and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Estimates show that between 50 and 125 million people in the EU are energy poor.

This has worsened during winter months due to a surge in energy costs and, as a result, EU member states were instructed to reduce energy consumption. Clearly, environmental threats are embedded in the livability of our future and present neighborhoods.


The issue of energy poverty is now a hot topic of public discourse following months of summer heatwaves along the Mediterranean region of Europe, especially concerning reduced access to cooling in homes. According to the Institute for Spatial Policies “The cooling and comfort in public and private spaces during summer months have to be recognised as important aspects of the current understanding of energy poverty and have to be considered when adopting new measures and policies.” 

Third-Generation CPTED includes environmental sustainability
Living/green walls help to cool streets and provide a respite from heat and concrete   

Urban areas are prone to overheating during the summer months due to their structure, paved roads, lack of greenery, and the increasing number of vehicles. Moreover, the elderly, isolated individuals, and single-parent families are amongst those most affected.

Summertime energy poverty is a particular threat because it creates unhealthy living conditions and directly affects those most vulnerable such as the elderly, children, and those with preexisting conditions. While energy poverty is no longer a concept limited to developing and poorer countries, there is a higher risk in those countries that are unable to produce sufficient food or manufacture essential products. 


Undoubtedly, countries should tackle the issue of energy crisis by commonly proposed measures such as the kinds of strategies we describe in 3rd Generation CPTED, such as integrating more green urban spaces and street vegetation in its urban environment, designing energy-efficient buildings and refurbishing existing buildings while utilising renewable sources of energy.

Well-designed and safe urban parks - A response to climate change from the past

In SafeGrowth social sustainability also plays a crucial role, especially during unpredictable times where environmental, political, and health events have become a new normal. Governments respond to these crises with emergency preparedness programs. We believe that emergency preparedness needs to be anchored within the neighbourhood itself – amongst the residents who collectively take preventive actions before, during, and after the crises. 

To tackle the summer energy crisis perhaps one response might be pooling resources to help one another and organise “cool places” for those in need. Or the residents could work together to work towards renewable energy self-sufficiency for the neighbourhood thus building energy oases. Such collective action offers the potential for taking steps against the climate crisis as well as for building resilience once the crises have emerged. 

Environmental sustainability is the path to high-quality neighbourhoods and livable cities in the years ahead. 

Sunday, July 23, 2023

My journey with SafeGrowth in Palm Springs

Palm Springs, California - site of the latest SafeGrowth Program Training

By Allison Martin, Ph.D

Allison Martin is a professor of criminology at San Jose State University in California. She has conducted research and published on crime patterns, policing, community disadvantage and racial conflict. She is a member of the SafeGrowth Network and recently attended her first SafeGrowth program training which she describes in this blog.

My first experience with SafeGrowth in Palm Springs, California over the past few months has been nothing short of remarkable! As a criminologist with a career focused on academia, I have had few opportunities to dive into the practitioner’s world. This past year, I was extended the wonderful invitation to join the SafeGrowth team alongside local residents, city planners, and police officers to tackle local crime issues using SafeGrowth's unique community-level approach. The journey was insightful, enjoyable, and highly intriguing. I am excited for future projects, as we witness the transformation of Palm Springs into a safer and more vibrant community.


Every community has its own individual challenges and Palm Springs was no exception. Palm Springs is a desert resort city of approximately 45,000 residents in the Coachella Valley in California. In the winter months the population balloons to over 150,000 residents who come to escape northern weather and enjoy a warm and sunny climate with lively entertainment and mid-century modern architecture. 

The city has a distinctive blend of urban landscapes and serene environments that presents a canvas rich with potential. By immersing ourselves in the local culture and listening to the concerns of residents, we gained valuable insights into the nuances of local life. The SafeGrowth team stood out in this regard; their engagement with the community, and understanding of the residents’ aspirations and apprehensions was commendable. It is something I truly believe to be exclusive to the SafeGrowth team. 

The Palm Springs Police Department, under the direction of Chief Andy Mills,
is the sponsor of CPTED and SafeGrowth training in the city

From the onset, SafeGrowth's methodology was promising. Participants enrolled in the training learn to identify environmental vulnerabilities and apply urban design solutions to enhance safety, such as improving lighting and ensuring proper maintenance of public spaces, otherwise known as CPTED principles. Above all, however, is the emphasis on collaborative initiatives by empowering the community to take ownership of their environment. 

SafeGrowth's training goes beyond theory, providing participants with practical tools to apply in real-world scenarios. Participants are encouraged to explore their own neighborhoods and identify opportunities for improvement using the concepts learned during the training. As such, teams in the training chose a variety of locations for their projects, which, after 2 months of fieldwork, they then presented to the community at the conclusion of the training. The projects included: 

  • A local motel with complaints of crime; 
  • A creek walking trail dubbed “the wash” used by many; 
  • A popular downtown parking garage; 
  • An abandoned building ripe for crime; and 
  • Homelessness around cannabis businesses in an industrial district. 

One of the project display boards at the final presentations

Inspiring the community became a cornerstone of their efforts, while the application of CPTED principles, such as natural surveillance, proved to be a powerful tool in shaping initiatives. I was astonished to see the community come together and watch everyone contribute to their shared vision of the projects. At the time of this blog, the projects are still ongoing, but it was clear to see the potential transformation of once-neglected areas into vibrant, welcoming spaces.

Class photo from the SafeGrowth graduates

Working with SafeGrowth in Palm Springs has been an unforgettable journey of growth and collaboration. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the working teams and I eagerly look forward to embarking on future projects with SafeGrowth and witnessing the positive impact of collective action. Together, we can create a safer and more secure world, one neighborhood at a time, and this training program offered opportunities to see SafeGrowth in action.