Tuesday, October 29, 2013

A line on a map

Seattle and Vancouver on the Pacific west coast - dueling cities
Years ago a police chief told me he planned to hire a renowned criminologist to compare the murder rate in Vancouver to Seattle. He was tired of hearing Vancouver was so much safer. He knew there was a gang war in Vancouver and didn't believe the numbers. Both cities are similar in size, economic wealth, relative policing strength, and age demographics. They are only a 3 hour drive apart.

A murder gap? No way.

That criminologist never showed. Depending on whose version of the story you believe, either the data wasn't available, the criminologist wasn't available, or the study was done but unavailable for public view.

I have a simpler explanation for the Vancouver-Is-Worse-Than-Seattle theory.

It isn't!

Nor is BC versus Washington State. British Columbia has a population of 4.6 million; Washington State 6.9 million. In 2012 BC suffered 71 murders (1.5 murders per 100,000 people) while Washington State suffered 203 murders (2.9 per 100,000, twice that of BC).

On the U.S. side of the border lies majestic snow capped Mount Baker. The view is magnificent from both Vancouver and Seattle. For hundreds of miles beyond the border posts, BC and Washington are separated by only the 49th Parallel - nothing more than a line on a map.Yet if you view Mount Baker from the U.S. the stats suggest your risk of being murdered doubles.


Washington State has a history of innovative prevention programs.
The Office of Crime Victims Advocacy and Community Mobilization Program (defunded next year due to cutbacks) are considerably more advanced than what BC offers by comparison.

True, BC's CPTED is deeper (Washington lags considerably) and BC's Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers receive more advanced basic training called problem-based learning.

But can that explain the homicide gap?

Next blog: Why the difference?

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The mysterious case of a walk in the mist

Today banks of fog rolled in one after the other formed by moist fall-time air blowing over cold ocean currents out in the Straight. Echoing through the quiet streets of our neighborhood, a maritime foghorn accompanied our walk through the mist, no doubt replacing the clop clop of horses hooves on cobblestones as Sherlock Holmes raced off to solve yet another murder mystery…

At least that's the image our misty walk conjured in my mind. In all, it was a magical evening for a seaport town.

Obviously none of this is possible unless walking is made easy, fun and safe. And walkability is not only important for activating streets and keeping crime in check, it's a very big deal for quality of life too.

In Walkable City author Jeff Speck describes how some cities kill walkability. In such places fog is just a roadway hazard. Those cities rob their citizens of the interesting or necessary places to walk - a grocery, park, coffee shop, playground, or a corner store.

We've seen plenty of micro examples on how to improve walkability: lifestyle malls,  bright paint, better designed laneways, or planting strips along sidewalks. Speck reminds us there are macro lessons too.


To Speck urban density holds the key to a better quality of life. Low density cities breed less healthy people because they walk less and accumulate more health related ailments. For example, he says 14 people die for every 100,000 residents in low density Tulsa, Oklahoma. It's 23 in Orlando. But in high density cities like New York and Portland it is only 3.

Crime doesn't correlate so neatly, yet the walkability links on the right of this blog show street activation makes a difference.

Check out Jeff Speck and the Walkable City on this Ted Talk.

Friday, October 18, 2013

It was a dark and foggy night in the future

"It was a dark and foggy night in the neighborhood where nothing really happens…so there goes that drama". Caption from photographer Celine Chamberlin's photo

There is a TV show worth seeing and a book worth reading.

The TV show because it is excellent. The book because I think it's wrong but I also think it is excellent. It's an intelligent counterpoint to the depressing malaise in the US body politic, an aspirin to the headache that passed for Congressional politics this past week.

Controversial author and professor in urban development, Joel Kotkin, uses the suburb to tell the story of America in 2050. The Next Hundred Million describes the suburbs of the future. To Kotkin they are a place of hope.

Says Amazon:

"Suburbia is the future, but not the wasteful lonely suburbia of the 1950s. Instead we must fashion a new kind of suburban landscape, one that selectively borrows the successful and vital elements of big city life and uses them to make more vibrant small cities."


But what will happen with the increasing number of suburban poor, spikes in suburban crime, and the class gentrification in American downtowns?

A new TV show called Continuum points in another direction.

This new cop thriller is a well-acted and brilliantly made Canadian sci-fi (with outstanding FX) filmed in Vancouver (Showcase network in Canada and the SyFy channel in the US and UK).

The Continuum storyline pushes Occupy Wall Street, government shutdowns, and corporate greed to a very different place than Kotkin.

Check them both out. Knowing different futures helps us choose more wisely.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Back to the future - POP in 2014?

Photo from 2013 Goldstein Award Winners, Enfield school robbery POP project report -  Sandeep Broca and Ian Agar, London UK

This week I attended the 24th annual International Problem Oriented Policing (POP) conference in Dayton, Ohio run by the POP Center. After depressing news last blog about funding cuts in UK crime prevention there is good news from London.

The POP conference is flagship for the best community policing in the world. It features finalists in the Goldstein POP Award program. I've blogged on previous winners. This year the slate was impressive:

  • Citrus Heights police in California helped trigger revitalization of a crime-ridden street
  • Houston police cut robberies in convenience stores
  • Dayton and Milwaukee police reduced prostitution and help get streetwalkers off the street; 
  • New Zealand police reduced youth crime, and 
  • Hamilton police in Canada cooled violent hotspots downtown.

The 2013 winner of the International Herman Goldstein POP award was from police in the London UK borough of Enfield. Their community safety partnership tackled a worrisome increase in youth robberies around schools.

Enfield crime map on robbery hotspots around 3 schools helped target efforts - Sandeep Broca and Iain Agar, Enfield POP Project report
The Enfield team worked in schools (mentoring, anti-bullying), applied CPTED (after-class dispersal zones, staggered school closing times) and used enforcement (disrupting stolen goods markets, targeted patrols). Their efforts reduced street crime, increased drug treatment access for offenders, and cut robberies in half.

I watched as Enfield and the other finalists received their well-deserved awards. I was impressed with them and all the exceptional project teams. It's heartening to see police and community partners using  POP and CPTED as paths to a better future.

Then it dawned on me - last year the COPS Office at the US Department of Justice de-funded the POP Center. Efforts are now underway to avoid shutdown, but the POP Center and POP conference may be history. I wonder if this forebodes more combat policing and crime prevention defunding?

After decades of documented police innovation carrying us forward into the 21st Century are we now de-evolving back to the 20th?

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The decline of crime prevention

Curtailing UK crime prevention funding - photo by IgnisFatus, Creative Commons

Calvin Beckford is one of the founder members of the UKs Designing Out Crime Association. He joined the London Metropolitan Police Service in 1978. He was one of the UK representatives for a European project on good practice models of crime prevention across Europe. In 2005 he joined ACPO Secured by Design, a police initiative for designing out crime. He currently runs The Crime Prevention Website.


The Metropolitan London police now employs 32 Crime Prevention Design Advisers, one per London Borough, and there are perhaps 6 or 7 'old fashioned' Crime Prevention Officers left. Crime prevention advice is now delivered by way of leaflet, website (including mine as they link to it) and by a visit from a Police Community Support Officer, who try their best, but are largely untrained.

The economic depression, I think, simply speeded up the process of downsizing the police crime prevention service here, but I'm still not entirely sure why it's happened.

My own experience seems to have been different from my contemporaries insomuch that I had tremendous support from my Commanders and essentially became one of the 'right-hand men'; especially in respect to partnership working with local authorities and other partners.


The rot really started during my 5 years working for ACPO's Secured by Design (2004 - 10).  During that period most of our supportive senior commanders across the country began to retire and the ones coming up behind seemed to know next to nothing about the positive effects of CPTED or even good old fashioned Situational CP.

Then the depression hit and then we had a change in government to a Conservative led coalition who don't like anything to stand in the way of making money.

For example, in spite of our efforts and evidence that building secure (SBD) homes was profitable they only see SBD as an obstruction to house building and have been less than supportive. They got rid of a raft of planing guidance (which included our CP stuff) and I know that SBD are fighting a rear guard action to keep crime prevention on the agenda.


While this was going on the Community Safety Departments at our Local Authorities have been stripped to the bone. When I worked in Camden in central London I had two planning officers assigned by the local authority to help me 'design out crime' across the Borough - we did a huge amount of work, which i know has prevented a lot of crime.  These positions are long-gone.

How can our government do this?  Well they have the current luxury of falling crime figures, which I am sure has a lot to do with reduced opportunity, so this is the very moment they can do these things.

These are difficult times.