Saturday, March 27, 2010

Urban Warriors and City Cops

It has been said that human progress results from seeing things as they really are, not from fantasizing wishful thinking from theories or philosophies that make no real-world sense.

I was saddened to hear today of the death of an LAPD SWAT officer on active military duty in Afghanistan. Like too many before him, he was patrolling and died due to a roadside bomb. In the middle of the L.A. Times article, one unrelated tidbit caught my attention.

More than two dozen LAPD officers serve as active military reservists. The department recruits many officers from the military, and leaves for military duty are routine.

Aside from the tragedy of combat death, I wonder what real-world impact a combat death has on police culture. The military in modern American policing - at least to the rank and file - is like a cultural touchstone. The truth is, for all the hubub about the Posse Comitatus Act [legislation limiting the role of the military in policing], police today look more para-military than ever.

What is the impact of the military in policing? The actual number of soldiers in policing is small compared to total numbers. The soldier cops I am honored to know are excellent police officers. But the individual soldier/cops are not where I think the problem lurks. Rather the militaristic attitudes and policies that permeate the culture is the problem (and often they are not triggered by soldier/cops, but by those around them).

As many in the police profession know all too well, this trend is widespread - military methods, SWAT, assault weapons, and the ever-present armored personnel carrier are present in over 80% of cities over 50,000. Not to be outdone, even Canadian police are in on the act. Consider recent military vehicle aquisitions by the RCMP reported in the CBC News.

Who cares?

Does all this really matter if cops say they need such things to fight heavily armed gangs? Is this how things really are most of the time on the street? Or is this fantasy and wishful thinking about soldiering our way to a peaceful society?

Anyway, who cares as long as they are on our side? What can happen, anyway?

From my own police training and instructing, I know the damage militaristic attitudes have on police attitudes during basic training. Gerry Cleveland and I wrote about this in our police education monograph Police PBL: Blueprint for the 21st Century.

Apparently we are not alone in our worries. In former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper's book, Breaking Rank he says:

The difference between a soldier on the outskirts of Baghdad [or Helmud Province] and a beat cop in Schenectady are noteworthy. The mission of soldiers is to win battles on foreign soil, the mission of police officers is to keep peace in America's cities. More to the point, a soldier follows orders for a living, a police officer makes decisions for a living.

Yet another alarm is raised in the documentary film Urban Warrior: The Militarization of American Law Enforcement. It poses this warning:

Within recent years, the formerly bright line separating U.S. military operations from domestic police work has become increasingly blurred.

Is this really the way to safer communities?

Check out the controversial documentary Urban Warriors. Click here.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Hatfield/McCoy - Round #2: civic entitlement on steriods

I’m depressed by Wendy Sarkissian’s blog below on fear of the Other, this apparent chasm between the Collaborative-Diverse and the Self-Interested. In the former case we have evidence of sustained neighborhood safety; in the latter case, personal safety.

Is there room for both? Are our recession-weary, increasingly class-segregated, masses regressing into Hatfield/McCoy feuds of neighborhood development? The Collaboratives versus the Inwards?

Today the span of this gulf showed up in an excellent Toronto Star column: Jane Jacobs great ideas have morphed into pettiness.

Say’s columnist Christie Blatchford:

"Where Ms. Jacobs, for instance, was instrumental in stopping a highway which would have torn apart some lovely parts of the old city – the Spadina Expressway – on my street her successors have succeeded in stopping a daycare.

My hunch is Jane Jacobs would be appalled to see how civic engagement has become…civic entitlement, wherein everyone expects to be notified and consulted about every single thing that everyone else is doing."

Have Toronto’s famed Jacobsian-style communities gone mad?

Adam Smith, the father of modern capitalism, believed sympathy for others 
was the glue to civil communities - photo Kim Traynor (Creative Commons)

As if on cue, philosopher Mark Kingwell attacks what he calls The Shout Doctrine. Kingwell believes the real social glue of community is civility and sympathy for others.

In this month’s issue of The Walrus magazine he says:

"Adam Smith, in The Theory of Moral Sentiments, persuasively suggested that sympathy, the recognition of shared human vulnerability, is the real glue of social structures. Contractual theories, like the ones popularized a century earlier by Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, miss the point. 

We would not make a contract with another, much less hold to it, unless we already recognized the other as an entity worthy of our consideration."

They may not know each other, but Sarkissian, Blatchford and Kingwell tell the same story. We should pay attention.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

NIMBYism, slum dwellers and fear of the "other"

Noted Australian social planner, Wendy Sarkissian submitted a guest blog last year regarding fear of the "other". Here is another entry from Wendy she kindly lent from her own blog at Kitchen Table Sustainability (you'll find her blog at Community Sustainability Handbook under the Toolkit section on the right of this page)

Trouble in Paradise

Tomorrow evening my neighbours are meeting to decide whether or not to try to ban dual occupancy (commonly called accessory dwelling units) in this eco-village of 43 dwellings on 22 hectares [54 acres]. The whole process has me mightily confused.

Imagine the contradictions. Here we are living on half an acre in a Permaculture community committed to self-sufficiency and sustainability principles.

We live in a low-income community (Nimbin, population 350) with a desperate shortage of housing, especially for lower income residents. And most of us do not grow much food – if any – on our properties. I think every lot has at least one car. We’re highly automobile-dependent and we’re certainly not secure in terms of food production.

A permaculture community

But we’re trying. The Jarlanbah community, designed by formidable Permaculture designer, Robyn Francis, who lives down the road at the Djanbung Gardens Permaculture Education Centre was established in 1993 and the first residents moved in in 1994.

Now many of us are ageing and looking for opportunities to age in place and to have the possibility of a caregiver living on our house block. Or to have an income stream from renting a small dwelling on our land.

Recently, the Jarlanbah Review Sub-committee rejected a proposal by one of our neighbours for a dual occupancy arrangement on his block. In North America, this is generally called an “accessory dwelling unit”.

This case, which is likely to go to a formal mediation session, has caused a huge amount of discussion in our community. Some of us, citing global sustainability principles, Peak Oil, automobile dependence and the needs of an ageing, rural population, want to be able to have two dwellings on a lot. We can’t see how this would differ – in planning terms — from, say, a house with four or more bedrooms for a large family or shared household. We don’t see that the impacts on our road infrastructure would be that dramatic.

Not everyone would want to have another dwelling on their lot (perhaps half might – eventually) and those who did could pay extra to reflect the wear and tear that another vehicle might cause (assuming that vehicles would not be shared).

"It'll turn Jarlanbah into a slum"

But not all residents feel this way. Others are afraid that having a few more dwellings will open the floodgates. “It’ll turn Jarlanbah into a slum and a ghetto,” remarked one of the long-term residents, while another claimed that she did not move to Nimbin “to live in cluster housing.” “This is not inner city Redfern,” [a high crime community in Sydney] claimed another.

As a Jarlanbah resident who has spent a whole career (since 1967) working in housing and planning, I am curious to understand what this really means.

Where would these road-wrecking new slum-dwellers come from? How could a ghetto emerge as a result of density increase?

Nevertheless, this small village community is about to embark on an open, democratic, community discussion on this matter.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

The deepest garbage bin in the world

Today, a hundred and thirty four years ago, Alexander Graham Bell sent the world’s first long distance telephone call in Brantford, Ontario. It heralded a new age in technology. Could anyone predict how a simple idea might transform our world for the better?

Making fun places of public spaces may be such an idea. I just saw an interesting clip from our European Design Out Crime friends at E-DOCA and SVOB in the Netherlands.

Remember the musical stairway in Sweden from an earlier blog? Remember the fun of creative spaces - and fun theory? I came across yet another example of fun spaces from Sweden. (Those Swedes certainly have fun in urban places).

This is an example of the world's deepest garbage bin.

Check it out here.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Welcome news from Detroit

Detroit skyline from the shores of Windsor, Canada

At a time when crashing municipal economies and blighted cities are too common, there is an American organization that does some pretty incredible community development work. It's the Local Initiatives Support Corporation - LISC - particularly one part of it called Community Safety Initiatives.

In the upcoming CPTED Perspective newsletter this month there is an article about good news in Detroit. That good news was helped along by LISC/CSI efforts.

Citizens in Detroit's Central Woodward/North End neighborhood have a new approach to build a safe and sustainable neighborhood and protect the future of their community.

They call it their "Safety Management Program".

Says one review of the program: "It calls for the creation of a Community Safety Coordinator who could shepherd the project. Bridget Vance was hired for this role. Vance received additional training from the successful SafeGrowth training program coordinated by the Community Safety Initiative of the national LISC office.

Finding such a community activator is a common theme in successful community development. Witness previous blogs about community activators in Montreal and transforming space into place in Portland.

Another quote:

A key element of the Program is that she also takes a grass-roots approach. She established an open line of communication with area residents by attending block club meetings, faith-based functions and hosting monthly safety meetings and workshops. Area residents became true advocates for safety and were empowered to take an active role in developing problem-solving strategies.

Check out the LISC article.

The International CPTED Association newsletter article comes out in three weeks. Watch for it here

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

L.A's Summer Night Lights

More good news out of Los Angeles, a place some associate with gang wars and rampant crime. Think again.

A few blogs ago we read about the Vermont Knolls neighborhood in L.A. where locals changed their locale for the better. In that case - in very SafeGrowth-like fashion - a whole menu of physical and social ingredients did the trick. I found another LA example, this time triggered by lighting.

There is a long debate in the 1st Generation CPTED and target-hardening world about whether lighting creates crime or crushes it. In SafeGrowth we've always said the diagnosis of the context is what matters. Lights on or off is not a one-size-fits-all story.

I came across this NY Times story about an experiment in eight Los Angeles parks to light them up at night time to reduce crime. And the Summer Night Lights program seems to work, especially in places with gang problems where gang-bangers hang out in dark park areas.

Apparently, when park lights were turned on there was an 86% decline in homicides and 17% drop in gang-related violence in and near the parks. It probably didn't hurt that other ingredients were added, such as job stimulus funds for hiring at-risk teens to help with the program. Still...some pretty impressive results.

Check it out:

LA's Summer Night Lights