Saturday, December 31, 2011

Predictive policing and the PreCog paradox

Once they notice you, Jason realized, they never completely close the file. You can never get back your anonymity. It is vital not to be noticed in the first place.
Flow My Tears, The Policeman Said - Philip K. Dick (1974)

Philip K Dick was among the greatest sci-fi writers. He wrote award-winning books that became film noir classics like Bladerunner and Minority Report. Clearly, Dick was deeply suspicious of authority and technology.

I wonder if he'd agree with Malcolm Sparrow's critique of evidence-based policing? What would he think of mathematicians who want to solve the city with math? Or experiments to predict when or where crime will happen before it does?

And now NPR reports there's a new LAPD unit dedicated to predictive analysis. Some say this is our tomorrow. On closer inspection it seems like cost/benefit gone amok.

Minority Report celebrates PreCogs, mutated humans who predict murder ahead of time - celebrated until they predict murder by the cop supposed to stop it. Logical calculation gone amok?

In Voltaire's Bastards: The Dictatorship of Reason in the West, modern philosopher John Ralston Saul says we must guard against the unsentimental application of cost/benefit analysis and logical calculation. That's why, he says, "experts" are so often wrong. There are some things we cannot accurately predict. Weather for one. The economy for another, as recent events prove.

This is particularly true regarding crime. Saul says when predictive experts fail they are just replaced by a new group who say they can do better.

Voltaire once warned against adopting a vulgar rationalism (aka predictive technology) to determine what is, and what is not, appropriate use of authority and technology.

If we are to use predictive technology, may 2012 be the year we wake up to our own shortcomings for using it wisely.

Monday, December 26, 2011

New Year's Resolution - Cut the Fat

As we embark upon a new year it is worth remembering the lessons of the past so we can minimize the bad and maximize the good. During this sea of recessionary dread, one lesson bound to resurface is police service delivery costs spiraling out of control.

It is mystifying how we can authentically discuss safety as though the community wasn't part of the equation. Yet, whenever we discuss police service delivery that is precisely what we do.

It is incumbent on municipal politicians - indeed it is their job - to learn reality versus the myth of police service delivery. As they say; what is our return on investment?

I found a speech by a leading criminologist on the topic. Informed police officers will recognize John Eck as founder of the SARA model in problem-oriented policing. Eck offers a cautionary tale we should heed in the new year.

An excerpt:

"Police, to the common person, are a free service and what we know about free services is this. You give us things for free and we consume more of it. That's what makes us fat. A modest amount of policing is far better than a large amount…

…we are going to have to live within our budget. We cannot ask these officers, highly trained, very dedicated, to answer all of the calls we currently have them answer with fewer numbers. They are having a difficult enough time as it is."

If the link doesn't load properly, click HERE

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Safety Disney Style - Unlighting the streets

A few days in Disneyland proves a welcoming distraction. Disney is an example of fantasy story-telling and juvenile adventure from a company that practically invented the concept.

Most interesting was seeing Disneyland streets at night. Many are quite dark. Except for Main Street it is the surrounding buildings that show up in neon splendor. The point is to make streets predictable to allow easy walking without stumbling (I did anyway).

Then it's a simple matter to highlight surrounding features with spectacular lighting and beautiful reflections. This has the subtle effect of drawing you in to have a closer look. The ambient spillover light is more than adequate to navigate the streets.

For anyone obsessed on lighting streets, Disney shows how you can do safety and not light streets at all.

True, this is easy when people arrive in families seeking cartoon fantasies. How angry can you get in the company of Goofy, Tinker Bell and Mickey? It's a self-selection that breeds natural surveillance.

If you're up for some high-falutin Foucauldian theory about this read Shearing and Stenning's 1984 article - From the Panopticon to Disney World: The Development of Discipline.

When reading this it helps to resist the duh reflex. "Disney is an exemplar of modern private corporate policing". Translation: Walk for days through hundreds of exhibits, restaurants, and recreational areas without fear of crime by following Disney's rules. Duh.

Disney does this, they say, by embedding social control into the physical and management systems so that control becomes consensual. Like lighting the buildings and not the streets.

For my money, spent on a holiday in Disneyland, the corporate order of Mickey and Minnie is a fun reprieve. And if I tire of Disney's subtle corporate order, I just leave.

Happy Holidays.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

A Gift for the Holidays

Back in New Orleans this week talking at a crime summit hosted by Louisiana AARP. The topic is how SafeGrowth and the Hollygrove success story might work throughout the city.

The highlight was meeting old friends from Hollygrove
and watching them tell their story to groups from throughout the city. A 78% decline in crime rates this year is quite a story, especially when crime elsewhere in the city is plateauing.

Recently there has been an increase in New Orleans homicides. Hollygrove's homicides have declined from 20 to 4.


How, they were asked, did they turn things around?

Difficult to spell out in clear steps. Certainly plenty of early steps were underway soon after Hurricane Katrina. A garden center was reinvigorated by volunteers (see photo). The city began a program of condemning and demolishing blighted properties (over 35% of all homes were condemned when we did our first SafeGrowth session 3 years ago. Today that's down to just under 20%).

Then AARP Louisiana came to the table with their Livability Academy and training. Change sped up considerably.

For me this neighborhood continues to improve due to the soul and gumption of some local residents. They started their own non-profit organization and now claim ownership for making changes themselves.

Here's a few things the residents did:

1.Installed their own street lighting when they could not get the city to do it
2.Could not get official street signs so used politicians signs from the last election to make their own (see…politicians can help troubled neighborhoods!)
3.Quadrupled attendance at Night Out Against Crime walks
4.Cleaned and swept their own streets.
5.Absent landlords refused to move lawns, local residents did it
6.Partnered with police and the city to shut down a drug house
7.Created a seniors walking group - the Soul Steppers - to take back their streets. Soul Stepper groups are now throughout New Orleans
8.Got a problem bar to get rid of drug dealers
9.Bus department would not repair a bus shelter so they built their own with recycled materials

And so on.

That's how you start to turn a place around.

To my friends in Hollygrove, congratulations! It's a great way to start the new year.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

On the shoulders of giants

Pruitt-Igoe public housing, St. Louis, 1977. Photo - Creative Commons

CPTED is 40 this year!

Professor C. Ray Jeffery's book "CPTED" was published in 1971. Oscar Newman's "Defensible Space" in 1972. That's four decades of preventing crime. In an age before prevention was situational, crime was designed out, policing was intelligent or activities routine, CPTED led the way.

Of course, Newman and Jeffery stood on the shoulders of giants. A decade earlier there was Jane Jacobs, Elizabeth Wood, and Schlomo Angel. By 1971 Jacobs had already invented territoriality and eyes on the street. Wood had already written on the merits of lively diverse neighborhoods (and flower-growing contests to brighten them up).

All this...decades before the broken windows theory reinvented that wheel.

Jane Jacobs, 1960, New York. Photo - Creative Commons

CPTED wasn't the first kid on the prevention block. Police have always done prevention, most of it is unevaluated, superficial and generic. None of it place-based or specific. Scholars made contributions to prevention, especially 1930s sociologists like Robert Shaw at the University of Chicago who created the Chicago Area Project. (Still running, still successful.)

Giants also came from geography. From 1968 geographers began writing books on place-based crime. Led by Harries in the US, Scott in Australia, and Herbert in the UK, the geography of crime later became environmental criminology. It probably didn't prevent much crime. But it added to our understanding and moved the place-is-important debate squarely into CPTED turf. Which brings us back to CPTED and its birthday. It's worth learning what the pioneers actually said.

Then I came across this rare, and oddly haunting, film of Oscar Newman speaking to the inaugural session of the United Nations Habitat conference in 1976 Vancouver.

A ghost from our past talking about our world today.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Laneway Chic - enlightening with paint and color

Sharing street lighting ideas on Facebook recently it occurred to me how often we forget that to be truly safe a place must not be lightened. It must be enlightened.

Big difference.

Example: the work sent to me recently by my friend Lorraine Gamman from London's St. Martin's College of Art and Design. Lorraine sent links to alleyway projects done by Doug Tomkin and Mark Titmarsh at the Design Out Crime centre at Sydney's University of Technology.

Apparently they are hanging out on street corners. They call it Living Laneways. I call it Laneway Chic.

Their rationale? (Graffiti and lighting people, Listen Up): "Too often measures against crime…can have almost as unpleasant an effect as the things they prevent. The Living Laneways project set out to deter graffiti without alienating those who were responsible for creating it (through) the involvement of respected artists in the street-art community…"

Clearly, simple and chic laneway painting can enlighten a space. Elaborate murals are not always needed.

Mark Titmarsh has a web document called Living Laneways - City Life. It explains some DOC work in Sydney.

Check out his tagline - "respect, express, enlighten!"

If street beautification and prevention means anything, it means that.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Preventing crime. Like going to the doctor?

Apologies for some overindulgence. No stories this week. No new observations. Just a rant about calling a thing for what it is.

"Where does it hurt?" asks the doctor.
"Let me see if I can feel where the pain is."
"It started this morning after breakfast."
"What did you eat?"
"Eggs, Here, I brought leftovers."
"I'll send them to the lab. When tests come back, we'll prescribe the right medicine."

It's called allopathic medicine. Symptoms - Diagnosis - Prescription. It's based on symptoms.

Same in crime prevention. Crime shows up. Cops or prevention folk do analysis. A strategy emerges and they try it out. Allopathic crime prevention. We all do it, me included: situational prevention, CPTED, problem-oriented policing, Design Out Crime. Symptoms first! Makes sense, right? Except for what's missing…


Allopathic prevention prevents subsequent incidents and that's good. Just like going to the doctor. But it's not really "prevention" when it hasn't prevented it.

Medicine is growing out of its allopathic adolescence. It is evolving into integrative medicine - nutrition, stress management, alternative therapies (good family medicine probably always did that). It teaches us how to live a healthy lifestyle to prevent illness.

Meanwhile, far too much crime prevention still envisions safety as a product of strategies applied to a problem. Just like allopathic medicine.

Here's the thing; most serious crime emerges from dysfunctional families, broken neighborhoods, and personal troubles like drugs. You prevent it by getting into those places to help neighborhoods help themselves.

Let's call allopathic prevention what it is - crime repression. It represses what emerges and hacks at the branches. Prevention digs at the roots.

Rant over.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Tragedy of The Commons - in reverse

Pondering the Occupy Wall Street protests this week I re-read a fascinating book: Capitalism 3.0 - A Guide to Reclaiming the Commons.

Places are unsafe when no one cares about them. Or when people are too afraid to walk there. That's why graffiti writers target abandoned spaces. Implied territorial ownership of public places is a very big deal, which is why CPTED practitioners spend so much time reinforcing it.

Capitalism 3.0 provides another way. Author Peter Barnes begins by updating Tragedy of the Commons, an old planning motif stolen from biology:

"our current operating system gives too much power to profit-maximizing corporations that devour our commons and distribute their profit to a sliver of the population."

In short, corporations pay little, if anything, for using our commons. Says Barnes, we pay for the commons. Corporations get a free ride.

He then offers a fascinating idea; hold corporations accountable and return value to citizens in a market-based, citizen-owned, legal entity called a commons trust.

An Alaskan trust called the Permanent Fund already does exactly that. Each citizen owns shares in the Permanent Fund which uses oil revenues to invest. Every year those investments pay dividends to each citizen of the state. How many governments give money back to their citizens?

Barnes thinks the commons trust will work for all kinds of commons.

Think of the possibilities:

* 700 community gardens in New York alone.
* 4,000 farmers markets across the US.
* Large retail malls with acres of parking but no social or cultural value

Read Capitalism 3.0. It's like putting on a new pair of glasses.

Monday, November 7, 2011

The Galatea Effect - a latitude to act

I came across this statue of Galatea in a downtown public fountain this week. Occasionally "decorated" by locals having fun, reality can reflect myth. After all, Galatea is the ancient Greek myth of the statue brought to life by her creator. Neighborhoods and streetscapes too can come to life when residents have, or seize, the latitude to act.

Neighborhoods decline when the people who live there lose their connection and no longer feel part of their community - The Great Neighborhood Book

Streetscapes appear in a prior blog titled Beauty, eh? From the beginning of CPTED we've known the importance of streets and sidewalks. Professor C. Ray Jeffery, author of the first CPTED book stated the obvious: "People must have some reason for using the sidewalks; otherwise they stay indoors."

Jeffery mapped out CPTED 40 years ago in two simple equations:

"Crime can be controlled through urban design, wherein safety and security are designed into streets, buildings, and parks."

"Cities can also be designed so as to increase human contact of an intimate nature. Loneliness and alienation need not characterize our urban life."

The first idea of design is 1st Generation CPTED. The second idea of contact (culture and cohesion) is called 2nd Generation CPTED, reintroduced in 1997.

This week I searched my town for streetscapes that fit both ideas and found great examples of design and culture. In a few cases residents modified public spaces on their own.

Apparently when given (or when seizing) the latitude to act, residents can create lots of beautiful and fun reasons to use the public street. Galatea can come to life.

Monday, October 31, 2011

The Interrupters

Gary Slutkin is another prevention kid with a great program on the block. Despite Newsweek's yellow journalism alleging conflicts between David Kennedy's and Gary Slutkin's different anti-violence programs (and their eviscerating response), they both have the same goal and similar successes. You say tomato, I say tomahto.

Recall Kennedy uses the justice system, targets high risk populations, collects cases on offenders, and uses the threat of sanctions to intervene.

Slutkin takes the public health approach. He blocks violent outbreaks by targeting high risk offenders and uses community "interrupters". Interrupters are savvy street workers who convince family and friends to help offenders see violence is in no one's best interest.

A new award winning film is out called The Interrupters. It describes a year in the life of violence in Chicago. It's a fascinating documentary about Slutkin's program.

I hope the film - and the program - does well.

Still…getting the right program is only half the battle. Staying on point is the other.

Kennedy's CeaseFire anti-violence program cut Boston homicides in half in the 1990s - the Boston Miracle. Now he says they moved away from CeaseFire and crime is on the rise. Streetworker unionization, role change and budget cuts decimated a once proud program.

Oakland too lost the plot. Courts issued gang injunctions without CeaseFire coordination. Then "funds from the city to CeaseFire were interrupted when the number of Oakland police dropped below levels required by the ballot measure."

When will officials learn to keep political fingers off things that actually work in the hood? When will we, the neighborhood dwelling public, wise-up and slap their fingers for it?

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Back from the brink

SAFEGROWTH DEFINED: Crime prevention and community building is best achieved within the neighborhood by harnessing the creative energy of neighborhood change agents and functional groups.

I'm on a roll with good news stories lately. Here's another one demonstrating the above.

Hurricane Katrina hammered it. Fifteen to 20 murders annually vexed it. Even homegrown rapper L'il Wayne once sang "Hollygrove ain't no muthaf**kin melrose".

No longer.

Hollygrove in New Orleans is born again. Not in the religious sense…though, maybe. SafeGrowth training through Louisiana AARP is part of this story (eg: read The Hollygrove Story and Bus Shelter Madness).

Fast forward…

Only four murders this year. What's down? Crime, by 78%. What's up? Community events, garden centers, and Night Out Against Crime. AARP-sponsored strategic planning sessions with residents charted new urban designs for elder-friendly places. The Hollygrove Walking Club now walks for health and peace.

Two weeks ago Hollygrove won a national MetLife Foundation award from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation. Watch this new video on their success story.

Here's another video, this one about their garden program.

The rappers are right. The hood's where it's at!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Imagine this - transforming the untransformable

Last blog was about cohousing as a way out of a Wire-esque future. Here's another.

I love winning stories, especially in places with special challenges. Winning stories have power; cynics are exposed with winners under their nose.

Wins in Philadelphia have appeared here previously in the Semillia arts initiative and the city's vibrant South Street.

Eastern north Philadelphia however has special challenges. At a policing conference last week I spoke to a participant from a 2010 SafeGrowth training. Sarah Sturtevant is a talented member of Philadelphia's LISC team and shared some wonderful stories with me.

One was about a redeveloped Rainbow de Colores park. See Sarah's blog HERE.

A few other wins are described HERE.

Then I came upon a great video of their visioning sessions. Says one person in the video: "When you build a plan to fix problems you might be wildly successful and fix all the problems, but still not create a good community."

How true.

The video Our Community, Our Vision.

Thanks Sarah to you, your fellow LISCers, and especially those community members and local organizations committed to wins. You all remind me of another Sarah I wrote about a few years ago. She too was remarkable.

Thanks for your inspiration.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Avoiding a Wire-esque nightmare - Part 2

One of my favorite quotes in The Wire is when a 16-year-old drug dealer points to a run-down apartment and says, "…this shit! This is ME, y'all. Right here!" I've heard real drug dealers say that.

Author Arthur C. Clarke once wrote the only way to discover the limits of the possible is to venture a little way into the impossible.

Unworkable neighborhoods demand a different future. Higher density housing may replace sprawling suburbs for reasons both environmental and economic. But too often we get old style house design and traditional apartment buildings. We get unmanaged and decrepit public housing that ends up as gang-breeding warehouses. Witness all-too-real neighborhoods in The Wire.

The Wire never won a major award and had modest ratings. Yet it's described as the greatest TV series ever made. Part of that is due to its bleak existential portrait and the warning it offers. Clearly, we need to venture into the impossible.

I recently saw just such a vision in Victoria BC - Fernwood Urban Village, an elegant and well designed development proposal for density co-housing.


Cohousing is resident-planned, owned and managed equity housing. When I contacted cohousing projects around Seattle, many had affordable rental units. Enough of those in our future and maybe we could eliminate public housing altogether!

Like most cohousing, Fernwood is pedestrian-oriented with common dining rooms, media rooms, and workshop. Residents own their private residence but the design "makes social interaction easy and integral to everyday life." Each unit has it's own kitchen but residents usually choose to share a few meals each week in the common house.

Unlike gated communities, resident-owners share co-housing design and management. Thus, residents learn problem-solving and collaborative decision-making skills for handling conflict later on.

Municipalities rarely encourage or provide financial incentives for cohousing. That needs to change. We need to venture into the impossible.

Check out co-housing movements in the U.S., Canada, Britain, and Australia.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Avoiding a Wire-esque nightmare - Part 1

David Kennedy’s book Don't Shout for eradicating gang violence describes only the first step. It skims root causes that create gangs in the first place. There is more - the neighborhood and the street and the housing where gangs breed.

A few years ago an HBO crime drama, The Wire, portrayed contemporary gang life and a cultural war against the urban underclass. Striking to me was the similarity between gang ghettoes in The Wire and the actual housing projects we work in SafeGrowth programs. We call them "gang breeders" because that is exactly what such nightmarish places create.

Five years after The Wire ended we are deep in recession and housing is undergoing a transformative tsunami. Foreclosed houses in outer urban rings are leaving swaths of ghost suburbs. Inner urban rings are densifying into a new kind of suburb where demands for multi-family housing and apartment rentals are exploding.


Are Wire-esque nightmares in our future? Suburban ghettoes? A new kind of vertical poverty, growing in cities like LA, Chicago, Toronto and New York?

How can we build denser, environmentally friendly housing? How can we satisfy the needs of the future and make livable and safe habitat?

Intentional communities provide a proven answer. One successful version is co-housing. I've studied co-housing for 20 years and visited dozens in different countries. I've spent time with architect Jan Gudmand-Hoyer who pioneered the idea in the 1960s.

In North America co-housing has been around for a few decades. There are about a hundred in the US and Canada. In Oregon, Washington and British Columbia alone there are 24 projects, a third of which have been running for over 15 years.

McCamant and Durrett write about co-housing. Their recent book Creating Cohousing describes it.

Next blog: How can we make this a reality?

Saturday, October 1, 2011

The Demise of Guys

Prisons are filled with young men. Make more arrests and prisons will fill up with them. Last blog David Kennedy's new book Don't Shoot described his anti-gang/drug dealer programs (gangs comprising, at least initially, young men).

Why young men?

Philip Zimbardo is one of my favorite living psychologists. He makes simple the complex world of behavioral research. He's no intellectual slouch - Stanford professor, author of the PBS film Discovering Psychology, former chair of the American Psychology Association.

In his latest TED talk last month he says growing numbers of young men are joining the military, watching TV sports, obsessing on events like Superbowl Sunday, and hanging out with each other in pubs. Of course men have always done that, just not to such an extent.

Ironically, for all their macho bluster about women, Zimbardo says young guys end up preferring male bonding to female mating. He thinks excessive video gaming, Internet porning, and explicitly male media obsessions are a major reason why.

I'm unsure how much of this holds up to evidence. I’m unsure how many of those Millennial malcontents end up in gangs or doing crime.

I am sure his talk called The Demise of Guys is well worth 5 minutes of your time to find out.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Don't Shoot - Ending inner city violence

Street drug dealing and gang violence isn't the only neighborhood crime problem. But it's at the top of the list.

I met David Kennedy a few years ago and liked him immediately. He's a professor at New York's John Jay College. He has no PhD or MA, yet today he is a leading voice in crime prevention policy. When he speaks about drug dealers and gang violence, people listen. I certainly do. Every time I've seen him he strikes me as the smartest guy in the room.

The New Yorker says he's onto something. Newsweek magazine says he is the only person "who has ever come up with a consistently viable and cost-effective strategy for helping the inner city" drug and gang problems.

If you don't know David's work on Boston's Cease Fire anti-gang project or the High Point, NC, drug dealer project, then you need to get caught up. No better way than to read his latest book -Don't Shoot.

I haven't read it yet but David is one of the few people whose book I can recommend before I have.

Malcolm Gladwell, of Tipping Point fame, says: "Don't Shoot will do for the fight against violence what Rachel Carson's Silent Spring did for the environmental movement a generation ago".

When someone like Gladwell says that, it's time to pay attention.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Explaining homicide

I just came across a Wall Street Journal article debunking a poverty and crime theory called "blocked opportunities". Puh-leese! For op-ed writers, debunking crime theories is like stealing lolipops from tots. Simple, unethical and just silly.

Take criminologists (like me) who say routine activity patterns (road networks, travel habits, bar locations) produce higher/lower crime opportunities like crime hotspots. The routine activity theory suggests crime drops by disrupting routine activities and targeting those hotspots with arrests, CPTED, dealing with prolific offenders, etc.

The most comprehensive demonstration of a routine activity approach is Britain's Crime and Disorder Act, 1998.

The Act links crime prevention accountability to municipalities, creates partnerships among relevant agencies, sets prevention goals, and uses multiple strategies to tackle crime hotspots.

Convincingly, since 1998 UK police agencies have been finalists at the International Problem Oriented Policing Award program every year but two. They've won the coveted award eight times.

Some claim routine activity goes beyond street corners to whole countries. They predict Western countries have more goods, more cash for illicit drugs, more things to steal, and will therefore have larger criminal opportunities. This results in higher crime rates than in poorer countries. Voila: poverty doesn't cause crime - routine activities do. The International Crime Victimization Survey, they say, proves it.

It doesn't.

Why? Because that is a logic error called the non sequitur. Consider this:

I constructed this graph from that same survey. It shows the US homicide rate plummeting throughout the 1990s. Canada's rate dips slightly. In the UK, where the Crime and Disorder Act has been in place for the entire period, homicide flatlines and then slightly increases.

You could say this is because crime opportunities between the three countries is worse in the UK. That is unlikely. The US has more gangs, drugs, guns and plenty of crime opportunities.

It is more likely routine activity theory just breaks down at this scale and predicts nothing.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The 3 lies gangs tell - the Liz Elliott story

Preventing crime and building safe communities is what counts. SafeGrowth is all those things. What happens if, in spite of best efforts, your home is burgled or a family member suffers violence?

What then?

Most people want payback. Mistaken for justice, it's really eye-for-an-eye, what the ancient Babylonians called vengeful retribution. Gandhi was fond of saying an eye-for-an-eye leaves everyone blind.

What do we actually get? The offender is removed from the community, tried, sentenced, and sanctioned (or not). LIttle, if anything, is actually returned (restored) to the community. Victims rarely feel satisfied. Without some kind of restoration, the offender eventually gets out of prison often worse than when he or she went in. That's the dilemma.


Restorative justice (RJ) answers this dilemma. It still removes violent offenders so they cannot harm others. But RJ expects offenders to repair the harm they've caused. It provides a chance for the neighborhood and victims to participate in resolving the harm. It helps restore victims and offenders back to a more healthy and positive life.

For details on how, a good RJ source is HERE. Another is HERE.

The RJ story is best told by Liz Elliott, especially her YouTube story about the 3 lies gangs tell. Watch it HERE. Also, check out her recent book, Security, With Care.

RJ expert, Liz Elliott

Disclosure: Liz is a friend from a long time ago. She became an award-winning criminologist specializing in RJ. We were students in the same criminology program. Back then PhD students occasionally hung out and shared stories.

One afternoon, boating up the Fraser River with a bunch of other grad students, I remember being impressed by the ethics of Liz's stories. At a time when my own academic experience thirsted for examples of integrity, her stories showed me what moving forward should look like. We might have been on water, but her values were so well grounded.

She built an academic career on that ethical ground. A quote in Secure reads "the idea is to become more competent and engaged as citizens in our homes and communities, so that we need to rely less on formal government institutions to address our problems." Exactly right Liz, that's it!

Yesterday, Liz Elliott passed away. A light has gone out.

Thank you Liz for your stories. You'll be missed by many.

Me included.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Graffiti-mess-of-the-year award goes to...

...and the winner of Graffiti-Mess-of-the-Year award goes to (drum roll...)

Victoria, British Columbia!

I've spent the last few days visiting neighborhoods across this fascinating city. I wrote a similar graffiti story in this blog a few years back including research on curbing the problem. The best prevention resource available is probably the ICA guideline Graffiti: Local solutions to local problems - guide books for design professionals.

None of that seems to have mattered. Victoria still reeks of graffiti tags like some biblical plague of locusts.

True, there are much bigger cities with more tags. There are also more troubled cities where gangs tag their hood like medieval warlords claiming turf, what Atlas calls "offensive space". Victoria is none of that, which in my mind makes it so inexcusable.

Victoria is a mid-sized, world-class city with booming tourism. It has high quality-of-life, good schools, and spectacular natural scenery.

Victoria also suffers persistent and pervasive tagging far beyond what I've seen in other cities of similar size. I'm not speaking of street art that the BC Graffiti website calls "momentary pockets of expression".

I'm not describing political graffiti that might make the odd alley risqué - even bohemian.

I'm talking about butt-ugly paint-spray for no reason but vandalism. Case in point: the underground BC Graffiti website has 54 graf photos from cities across the province - 39 are from Victoria (to be fair, those pics show much higher quality graffiti than I saw the past few days). Obviously in graf-writer world, Victoria is still Queen.

Why doesn't Victoria regulate the sale of paint-spray cans as elsewhere? Should we blame the catch-and-release British Columbia court system? The lack of restorative justice opportunities? Do we blame the decline of problem-oriented policing training there?

Victoria cannot be blamed for a lack of trying. The national anti-graffiti "Tags" conference ran here in 2009 (sadly, and obviously, to no avail). Conference lessons either didn't work or fell on deaf ears.

There are diligent paint-outs to clean the mess. Victoria also has an anti-graffiti program.

Unfortunately, all this is for naught. Tags are everywhere.

Has this city passed some graffiti tipping point after which preventive tactics fail? Does such a tipping point exist? It does for other types of crime (now THAT should be the topic of research).

One bright spot: neighborhood pole painting projects.

It's a neighborhood capacity-building initiative in which residents adopt hundreds of telephone and power poles and paint them with murals. Those poles were graffiti free and kind of cool.

If only we could get that kind of creativity on post boxes, walls, benches, signs, windows…

Monday, August 29, 2011

Bike trails and crime - The Pinellas Trail

"The homeless man said he believes the trail ought to be closed at night for safety." That's an ominous quote from an unlikely source. It regards a new bike trail winding through a rough part of Seattle called The Jungle.

Concerns about crime near bike trails are not new. Beyond Seattle they have surfaced in Los Angeles, and Virginia Beach.

The takeaway message? There are ways to master bike trail design and ways to botch it.

This blog has shown how proper analysis and design can humanize and insulate urban designs, from ATMs and street furniture to lighting and trails.

Last month I spent time in St. Petersburg, Florida on the Pinellas Trail. It is an award-winning bike/jogging/walking trail that runs 40 miles from Tarpon Springs and Clearwater to St. Petersburg. The trail is 20 years old and I was impressed at the extent, quality, and resources the community invested in making this work.

Along the Pinellas trail you find art, bike shops, and bus stops located nearby for walkers who decide to bus home. Pinellas encourages vendor concessions and adjacent parks with places for wedding photos. In CPTED these are called activity generators.

Parts of it run through downtown St Petersburg, where some crimes do occur. For example about a dozen robberies are reported each year, mostly teens stealing from other teens (but not always).

Consider that a quarter million residents in St Petersburg experience over 1,000 robberies each year, and crime on Pinellas Trail seems remarkably low.

The day I visited there were walkers, joggers and bikers. It has an emergency response system and fairly strict rules (no alcohol, daytime only operation, no headphones permitted while biking).

Here's the question: Do municipalities demand a proper crime analysis, safety consultation and CPTED review before they construct bike/jogging/walking trails? If SafeGrowth planning was part of municipal development, that question would be irrelevant.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Riot nights, city lights

Depressed from riot news, I silence static from clueless TV pundits by tuning down the volume. Just watching images it seems the worst violence and looting happens at night. Biased news reporting perhaps? I wonder how street lighting impacts the locations of violence and looting? Can we use that knowledge for prevention?

There are online clues. There is a problem-oriented guide for police on improved street lighting.

That guide is less about tactical design and more about analysis, evaluation, and public support (all valuable, especially for police). It lists 8 US studies in which half show no impact and 3 UK studies that show more promise. There are 2 examples of police-led lighting improvements, one of which cut thefts from cars from 27 to 4.

For urban designers and developers looking for specifics you'll find more tactical designs in the ICA guidebook for professionals, CPTED and Lighting: reducing crime, improving security by Randy Atlas.

In addition to diagrams, photometric maps, and site photos, Atlas provides details on perimeter lighting, new technologies like LEDs, lighting controls, and the IESNA lighting guidelines for minimum lighting levels.

LEDs to the rescue

According to The Atlantic magazine, the yellowish glare of sodium street lighting may be fading forever in favor of low-energy, white LEDs and crime had nothing to do with it. Energy saving and the recession did.

There has been an explosion of LED (light emitting diode) technology. Cities like Seattle and Pittsburg have been racing to install LEDs. LA will replace 140,000 of the city’s 209,000 streetlights with LEDs.

I have blogged on lighting and crime before, especially in Toronto, Oakland, and Los Angeles.

Now Arlington, Virginia is replacing 4,200 high pressure sodium street lights with LEDs. Apparently they may switch out all 12,000 street lights to cut costs.

According to the LA Times, LED technology still has glitches. No matter. The Great Recession is charting our future in ways we don't expect.

For better or worse, street light LEDs are on our horizon.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Just a matter of time

An easy prediction following urban riots: authorities will blame anarchists and ne'er-do-wells for criminal behavior. Normal citizens, so goes the myth, would never do such a thing. (Sometimes they may be right. The Battle of Seattle in 2000 comes to mind.)

In truth, riots emerge from many causes, like middle-class blowouts following sporting championships. Vancouver's recent hockey riot comes to mind. One Vancouverite deludes herself, "this isn't the real Vancouver!"

Of course it is! Two championship losses, two Vancouver riots! Says one normal person caught rioting in Vancouver, "the riot would continue happening with or without me, so I might as well get my adrenaline fix." That's no criminal or anarchist talking.

In criminology I was once told it is too simple to blame poverty as a cause of crime because the eradication of poverty would eradicate crime. I have since learned ignoring poverty and deprivation is misguided for both crime and riots. Recent riots didn't break out in Beverly Hills, Greenwich, or Hampstead. They broke out in the poorest, most deprived, neighborhoods with the highest crime: Tottenham (UK), Villiers-le-Bel (France), Cairo, and Tripoli.

True, some criminals may seize on urban mayhem to loot and pillage. We must not let their opportunism distract us. Also, some short-term tactics might work, like tampering with rioters cell-phone planning. We must not let tactics for secondary factors distract us.

Neighborhood capacity-building in communities must be the goal of economic policy. Political power that concentrates at the top and ignores local capacity-building cannot last. That is one message of recent riots.

Here's another: Festering poverty and neighborhood deprivation dries up community branches of goodwill, what Hobbes and Rousseau called the social contract. Silencing people through unfair economic conditions or political repression splays those branches into a tinderbox. A recent NY Times article describes that tinderbox - people in "an uprising fighting for an accessible future."

Igniting that tinderbox is not a matter of youth acting like a jackass on speed. It is not a matter of crime. It is a matter of time. We should not be surprised.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Some trails are happy ones...

No doubt considerable fear exists on the streets of London after this week's riots. Whole books are written on urban crime and fear. What about rural places far from urban mayhem? The Gabriola Island murders from last blog suggest rural crimes too ferment fears of public places like nature trails.

This is ironic. Parks and trails are statistically far safer than bars at closing time or inside homes when domestic strife turns violent. Study after study tell us public trails are safe, such as Tod Schneider's article on bike trails back in 2000.

Yet those are urban studies. Research has yet to examine rural nature trails and crime. CPTED was born, after all, in the city.

I was recently interviewed by a horticulture magazine about trees and crime asking these very questions. The article, Trees Thwart Shady Behavior, described a study on crime and residential trees by examining 2,813 single-family homes in Portland, Oregon.

Controlling for visual appearance, presence of barriers, and street activity, the study showed "houses fronted with more street trees had lower crime rates". That was all crime rates, including vandalism and burglary.

Read it HERE.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Fall from paradise - Murder on Gabriola

Small towns are safe. Big cities are not. That's the myth.

Like many small communities in the Gulf Islands off the British Columbia coast, Gabriola Island is draped in lush rain-forests and magnificent beach scenery. It has miles of walking trails and hiking paths. Gabriola's 4,000 residents have the lowest crime rates anywhere. Until now.

With most myths, facts intrude. This week one shattered Gabriola's calm.

A knife attack left a mother dead and her son in hospital. Residents were ordered indoors and to stay off the trails. Today police apprehend a suspect hiding in some bushes near the scene of the crime.

This is Gabriola's second murder in 6 years. Two murders, of course, does not a trend make. Low numbers tell volumes about low crime risks.

Still, small towns do not necessarily produce low crime. Counting the current murder, Gabriola's murder rate is 25 per 100,000 (16 times higher than the rest of the country). What can be done?

I've blogged before about the catch-and-release courts in British Columbia. After sentencing, the murderer in Gabriola's last homicide served 2 years in prison (he beat his roommate to death with a hatchet).

Courts are clearly not in the safety or prevention business.

Walking outdoors next week may seem different on Gabriola. More frightening than last week. Lockdowns and wandering killers can have that effect.

True, these murders were indoors. Yet fear is insidious and civic places need a public space. How can small towns project confidence onto public spaces like paths and parks? Can we design out this problem? Do we really want cameras on hiking paths?

Is this the price we must pay for vigilance?