Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Cutting ram raids down under

I just attended the International Problem Oriented Policing conference in Providence, Rhode Island, the showcase for exceptional police work. Over 500 cops from all over the world gathered to share innovations for cutting crime.

This year's winner of the Herman Goldstein problem solving award was the property crime squad from New South Wales, the first-ever win by police in Australia. They tackled an epidemic of ATM "ram raids" in shopping malls. All over Sydney criminals are using vehicles to smash through mall doorways at night. They'd then ram ATM machines and drag them off to a safe location for looting.

This unique brand of theft and burglary is now world-wide. In Sydney it resulted in millions of dollars in theft and damage.

Their analysis showed access control bollards outside the mall doors were ineffective, yet no ram raids occurred where bollards were inside the mall at ATMs. That led to installing internal bollards across the city. They added enhanced reporting, crime prevention education, and other CPTED target hardening to improve their response. Within two years this cut the yearly number of incidents from 68 to zero.

ATM ram raid. Photo The Daily Telegraph
A year later when offenders by-passed bollards and used sophisticated gas explosions to break into ATMs, police employed their analytical approach. In this case the private sector installed gas detection and disabling equipment. Again they cut the attacks to zero from a peak of 54. Except they did it in half the time.

We may not always be able to predict new crime methods. But when they arise, old solutions won't work. Analysis does. That’s why we insist CPTED practitioners spend more time in problem diagnosis and not waste time in guesswork.

Friday, October 26, 2012

The un-planning of crime coolspots

Graffiti and murals at home together - Toronto's Annex

Sometimes a successful neighborhood just grows organically with gentle nudging from planners. It isn't really planned. In fact, Jane Jacobs tells us, the best neighborhoods rarely are.

At this week's International problem-oriented policing conference I mentioned to my audience they should begin understanding prevention not by analyzing high-crime hotspots, but rather by looking at low-crime coolspots. Those are the places where we learn what to do right.

Toronto's Annex neighborhood, where I strolled today, is the proof. Well-known in the city, it is a busy, sometimes gritty, and successful neighborhood. It is neither trendoid and expensive like The Beaches in the south, nor coiffured and rarified like wealthy Forest Hill to the north.

Bikes dominate, cafe patrons keep an eye

There are street people and graffiti. But the graffiti is artistic and interesting and the street people seem less desperate than elsewhere. It's certainly not a crime hotspot.

Shops, restaurants and bookstores line the street for students and tourists. Grocery stores, postal stations and dentist offices mix in for locals. There are street watchers from sidewalk cafes, proliferate bike racks, and lovers glancing down from rooftop perches between smooches. There's just enough disorder to make things interesting and just enough eyes on the street to make it safe.

This is where Jane Jacobs lived most her life. I can see why.

Lovers gazing on the sidewalk between smooches

Friday, October 19, 2012

Cutting crime with harmonicas

Andy Mackie played harmonica at a local restaurant/theatre during open-mike Monday nights, just down the street. A painting of him hangs on the wall at the back of the bar.

Andy believed music was a gift so he gave free lessons and harmonicas to school-kids. He paid for those harmonicas with money for his medication. He paid with his life and he wouldn't have it any other way.

Community capacity-building is one of those phrases that spreads over everything like goo. Different practitioners use the term to mean different things. Thus, it means everything and nothing. What is "community capacity?"

The best way to get at capacity is through asset mapping. Asset mapping is based on the work of John McKnight and John Kretzman. Asset maps substitute the idea of deficiencies and needs for community assets - turning a negative into a positive. Assets include physical features and groups.

They also include those things that might seem invisible like the talents, skills and experience of the elderly. Andy Mackie was a talent and an asset. He was definitely not invisible.

If you want to know what positive community-building looks like, watch the video.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Light up the night

Cities like Glasgow use blue LED streetlights for aesthetics
photo Gregor Sands

You probably don't even know. But nowadays it is impossible to ignore his invention. In 1963 Holonyak invented the Light Emitting Diode (LED). A few years ago Randy Atlas blogged here on LEDs in CPTED. 

Today LEDs are flooding our street scenes. Those eerie, brilliant and glaring LEDs are showing up everywhere from Manilla to Sydney to Las Vegas.

Oakland California, for example, is replacing 241 sodium street lights for LEDs in high crime locations (chosen by police). Cutting crime with LEDs? Do LEDs cut crime any better than other types of street lights. Or at all? What do we actually know? 

We know LED color rendition is excellent and it tends to spread light more evenly. LEDs can create glare in rainy or snowy conditions. Because LEDs give off very little heat, I am told they tend to ice over in ice storms, something heat-generating sodium lights seldom do. 

I can also personally report you'll burn your retinas if you look directly at them (not one of my Einstein moments).

LED glare on the left compared to sodium lighting- photo Chris Dushek
The brighter-is-better crowd loves LEDs. Power authorities are thrilled due to 60% energy savings. LED companies are drooling at booming sales.

Yet, there is a conundrum. On one hand we promote an evidence-based, scientific approach to crime prevention. On the other we adopt LEDs without specific evidence about the effect of LEDs on crime or perceptions of safety. 

The best existing research does show positive effects in some situations for lighting in general. That refers only to lighting quantity, not quality. There is also research showing the reverse. 

It's okay to adopt energy-saving lights. It's delusional to think they'll automatically cut crime. They might. Or they might make things worse.

Blue street lights cast evening hue over Glasgow - photo Jason Hawkes, Daily Mail

Monday, October 8, 2012

The Future 2

Artist rendition of future cities by Gary Tonge

I've just gorged myself on a raft of books about the future; The World in 2050, The Great Reset, Crawling from the Wreckage, and The Post-American World. All excellent reads. All a bit unnerving.

The utopians have us flying to floating gardens in Jetson flying cars. The dystopians claim Big Brother will steal our memories. The catastrophe-crowd, soaked with doom, imagine a Mayan apocalypse.

[I must admit, whenever I hear apocalypse stories I'm reminded of Pulitzer winner Chris Hedges observation: "We are in the throws of a giddy intoxication with illusion. That's how you end up with demagogues and tyrants who promise magic."]

Here's the thing - the future isn't here yet! There is no Matrix. And until some giddy, Daisy-singing, Hal 9000 computer takes over, there is no sure way to know the future. There are many futures and any one of them is possible.

Lately, though, I admit I've been swayed by the dystopians.

Consider these worrying trends:
  • A recent survey finding that Americans are "three times more likely to say that the quality of life in their communities has gotten worse (35%) rather than better (12%) in the last three years." 
  • A New York Times story: "In Philadelphia roving gangs of black teenagers have taken to beating up ordinary citizens on the streets" leading to curfews and harsher police measures. 
  • A radical increase in homelessness and bans against panhandling.
Last month I said to my students in Connecticut I believe SafeGrowth is one possible and positive future. Today I found another in Connecticut. This one was by some young people in New Haven. They are, after all, where our future really unfolds.

Monday, October 1, 2012

CPTED, Brasilia, and Pruitt-Igoe - A lesson worth learning

Brazil's capital city, Brasilia. An icon to modernist architecture (photo by UNESCO)

There is a great article in the latest issue of The Atlantic, Brasilia - A Vision of Concrete. It reminded me of a story years ago from my planning classes on modernism.

At 3pm, March 16, 1972, CPTED was born in the death of architectural modernism. That's the date of the first explosion to demolish the Pruitt-Igoe public housing projects in St. Louis. Built in the finest traditions of modernist theory, Pruitt-Igoe soon decayed into a crime-ridden ghetto and festered for years with low vacancy. Demolition was the final epitath for a concept ill-suited to social housing.

Those explosions began less than a year after C. Ray Jeffery's book CPTED and the same year of Oscar Newman's book, Defensible Space. It was Newman who described the social damage to livability from Pruitt-Igoe’s bleak modernist buildings, acres of no-man's land and blight. It’s a story of how not-to-do planning.

Except not everyone listened.

Almost decade after Pruitt-Igoe started, another modernist architect planned the city of Brasilia, Brazil. Controversial from the beginning, Brasilia stands today an icon to modernist architecture and rational planning.

While the Atlantic article caresses the architecture of Brasilia, it brutalizes it's planning. "The city is quite correctly regarded as a colossally wrong turn in urban planning." And now, in time for Brazil's World Cup in 2014 and the Rio Olympics in 2016, it's due for a make-over.

It's hard to say whether crime in Brasilia arises from the modernist nightmare that infected Pruitt-Igoe, from Brazil's epidemic gang violence, from 9 million unregistered firearms, or something else. It was probably all the above.

But if we've learned anything from Pruitt-Igoe surely we’ve learned SafeGrowth-style organic neighborhood design and collaborative planning is integral to safer streets!