Saturday, November 7, 2009

Crime prevention jibberish - The Holy Triumvirate

A renovated Chula Vista motel

When it comes to neighborhood crime risks, how do we take action? Usually we worship the Holy Triumvirate of Safety - police programs, prevention projects, and government policy.

The Holy 3 come in many forms: design out crime, secure-by-design, Intelligence-led policing, restorative justice, 3-strikes laws, broken windows, neighborhood watch, crime-free multi-housing, hotspot policing and, of course, CPTED.

Not that these are wrong. When surgically applied and well-crafted, they make a difference. But they are not surgically applied nor crafted that well (or at all). Usually they are applied to crime problems in the same way a drunk uses a lamp-post - for support, not illumination.

Consider the all-too-common policy to implement CPTED, Design Out Crime, or Secure By Design (or whatever similar nuanced names apply). Far too often policy comprises written checklists or CPTED surveys that practitioners apply when a new development proposal lands in their in-basket. The real goal of such policy is expediency; to sign off each checklist category and get that proposal into the out-basket. Seldom is the goal to engage a multi-disciplinary team, including those from the neighborhood, to review the proposal. Nor is the goal to use a careful diagnosis to determine what might work and what might not.

A CPTED checklist is idiotic. It is the band-aid on the heart attack.

I created SafeGrowth to combat that idiocy. Thankfully, there are other approaches that do the same. Example: this week I watched presentations by police problem-solvers from around the world at the International Problem-Oriented Policing (POP) conference in California.

Unlike SafeGrowth, POP is led by the police. It tends to focus less on long-term sustainability or community growth and more on responding to immediate problems. But, like SafeGrowth, POP illustrates how creative police officers, working in partnership with neighborhood groups, can solve intractable crime problems.

The conference top six finalists in the Herman Goldstein problem-solving awards were fascinating. One project from Chula Vista, California resolved crime riddled motels infested with drug dealers, prostitutes, and a flood of violence. Tellingly, only after a careful analysis did they craft a response with CPTED, property improvements, targeted enforcement, incentives, and improved management strategies. They even created a guidebook from which others can learn.

They started with the worst offenders, gave suggestions for how owners could gradually enhance their properties and let them choose strategies they could afford. They tracked improvements over a few years. Where compliance faltered, they moved in. The better motels became models for the worst.

Notice how these practitioners didn't assume the checklist position in their research stance! They avoided blind adoption of policy or programs. What made the difference here (and all the POP finalists) is the means by which they took action during their research.

The Chula Vista motels submission won top prize this year. Congrats to them. We should pay attention. Check out their guidebook.

2 Replies so far - Add your comment

Steve Woolrich said...

Strong words and unfortunately true in many cases. Those like myself who certainly embrace CPTED understand it's limitations and try and utilize a more "holistic" approach to crime prevention. I am certainly a proponent of your Safe Growth model because it's well-balanced and engages the community.

How can anyone honestly believe that any single approach will be effective, it's ludicrous! The proof of success is in the people and ultimately in the community. This is why the social component must be applied, such as in Safe Growth. So long as this element exists and includes community consultation beyond the physical aspects of the built environment - you have a winning formula!

Band-aids just don't cut it anymore - keep up the good work Greg.

GSaville said...

Thanks for the comments Steve. I don't mean to suggest that there is no role for more general safety design guidelines. Some communities begin their transition to more advanced urban safety planning with guidelines. That can be a good thing. Also, some jurisdictions have managed to insert specific security requirements in building codes, also not a bad idea (dead bolt locks for doors on houses, etc).

But my critique of CPTED checklists in on those places that use them in place of the kind of thoughtful community activation and social programming you mention. Community consultation, as you do so well, is the way forward.