Sunday, December 28, 2014

You may say I'm a dreamer...

Imagine - photo by TripAdvisor

This photo of New York City is courtesy of TripAdvisor

John Lennon's lyrics from Imagine made me wonder; How do we end a year with so many ups and downs?

Do we remember only local successes, especially our SafeGrowth neighborhoods in Newark, Philadelphia and Christchurch? Do we ignore disasters like those in Ferguson and New York or depressing news about misdirected police reform?

One story above all is a beacon and this week it went viral on YouTube.

The story starts with a few mentally unstable souls gullible to the jihadist ramblings of madmen far away. It festers into misguided delusions about killing and it climaxes with murderous rampages in Quebec and Ottawa (and this week in Sydney).

What to do? Here's one answer.

After two Canadian soldiers were murdered by homegrown jihadis, three students from my alma mater staged a social experiment on racial tolerance. They acted out a racist scenario with random people waiting for a bus. Note that this occurred in the hometown of Nathan Cirillo, the solider killed at the national memorial only weeks earlier.

Count how many strangers come to the aid of the Muslim man. Some even claim he is with me (he wasn’t). It's the exact opposite of the by-stander effect.

This suggests 2nd Generation CPTED predictions for rebuilding social cohesion are correct. Altruism, not self-interest, is the most desired object of our behavior.


The experiment almost backfires when an enraged passerby punches the student actor. (Oops!) Clearly some need training in conflict resolution, which is why we say in SafeGrowth that a coherent neighborhood plan must precede social action.  

Of course we shouldn't punch ignorant racists regardless how wonderful that might feel. Yet we need to stand up for the abused and victimized when it happens in front of us, which is exactly what happens here.

We need to celebrate diversity not condemn it, especially when it is unpopular to take such a stand. That is how we reaffirm our social contract with each other; the one that keeps us civilized. And humane.

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 22, 2014

Christmas reprieve from Lowell cops

These have been some truly terrible months for police with examples of bad policing and bad things done to police, aka the horror of the NYPD murders this week.

The video above shows another way. It is a welcome reprieve at a time that should be of giving and joy. No doubt the combat cop crowd will say this video is a publicity stunt, little more than hug-a-thug community policing.

Who cares!

What matters is that the Lowell Police are not giving in to the cowardice of pessimism. They are not retrenching behind the blue wall. Good for them! They inspire us.

Lowell Chief Steve Bukala provides some marvelous leadership showing how cops-have-a-heart!

Congratulations to the Lowell Police and Merry Christmas.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The writing on the wall

Anna Brassard is a Canadian urban planner and consultant specializing in SafeGrowth and urban design. Her consulting firm Brassard and Associates is based in Calgary. She kindly submitted this Guest Blog about her son.

Graffiti can be street art that enhances
I got the call about my son that no parent wants to get – especially a parent who has spent the greater part of her career practicing SafeGrowth. I was scared for him and furious with him at the same time.

My son is an artist. He is incredibly talented...and he loves graffiti art. We’ve had many heated discussions about what is wrong and right with graffiti.

To him it is creativity, self-expression and a way to be recognized by his peers – important to the young adolescent. To me it is vandalism and contributes to blight in communities. He complains that there are no legitimate places for he and his friends to paint; that there are no “free walls” in Calgary.

I understand his frustration!

The work that he and friends do is incredible. Other cities have embraced graffiti and use it to enhance their communities. Calgary is not one of those places. They do have programs to wrap utility boxes and paint underpasses but these are not easily accessible.

I should have seen the writing on the wall. He got caught!

This was a blessing in disguise. He entered a restorative justice program called Up The Wall offered by the Calgary Boys and Girls Club, City of Calgary Culture and the Calgary Police Service. He has spent 4 hours, twice a week for the past 3 months in this program and he has loved it.


I attended the art show on the final day of the program and it was outstanding! Art work done over the weeks on display: painted walls, painted shirts and most of all faces beaming with pride as parents, friends, mentors and organizers admired their work.

Art on display on graduation day
Embracing graffiti culture isn’t about legitimizing vandalism or giving them free reign. It boils down to the age-old problem of one generation’s respect for another. In this case it is about the respect for public and private property versus respect for artistic expression and its place in society.

I learned from my son this can’t be a one-sided conversation. It will take all of us to find solutions and create a multi-coloured picture of our city, not one in black and white.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Criminology's Nobel Prize 2015

The 2015 Stockholm Prize in Criminology - criminology equivalent of the Nobel Prize 
Imagine this:

...a large, white passenger van driven by an off-duty cop filled with some top criminologists recently arrived at the Toronto International airport. Destination? A conference retreat centre bathed in amber tinged autumn leaves on a lake in northern Ontario. Purpose? Gather world-renown criminologists, skilled practitioners and engaged community members in a unique search conference to explore new paths for crime prevention and environmental criminology.

It was 1988 and I was the driver. The conference was the final project in my master’s degree. My passengers included Ronald V. Clarke, dean of criminology at Rutgers University and Patricia Mayhew from the UK Home Office. Was I intimidated?


This month Mayhew and Clarke won the 2015 Stockholm Prize in Criminology for their work creating situational crime prevention. Roughly equivalent to the Nobel Prize, the Stockholm Prize is the most prestigious criminology award in the world.

Grounds of retreat center north of Toronto - 1988 Conference in Research Futures in Environmental Criminology

The drive north in 1988 was the first time I had met Clarke and Mayhew (and most of the other scholars) and I was anxious to make a good impression. Even then they were giants in the field.

At one point I dropped them off briefly at what I thought was a regular restaurant to pick up more arrivals. On return I discovered, to my horror, my precious cargo was being lambasted by a hard rock band of the heavy metal variety bashing away on cymbals and electric guitars.

“You know,” said Clarke, barely audible with the roaring din behind us, “they are really quite good.” He added with a genuine smile, “This is some excellent rock!” Academic prestige, I learned from Clarke, does not require malignant egos.

Mayhew and Clarke's open hearted and non-pretentious manner helped make the conference a success (later published as Crime Problems, Community Solutions). They were truly exceptional people.

Ronald V. Clarke, co-winner of 2015 Stockholm Prize with Patricia Mayhew (photo not available)


While Mayhew went on to co-develop the U.N. International Crime Victimization Survey I came to know Ronald Clarke professionally. Years later I presented him with the International CPTED Association's lifetime achievement award. We served as judges together on the Problem Oriented Policing Award Program (where, as Chief Judge, he was my boss). From Ronald Clarke I learned how a classy scholar does robust scholarship.

By pioneering situational crime prevention Mayhew and Clarke helped legitimize CPTED arguments at a time when, as Clarke writes, C. Ray Jeffery’s CPTED and Oscar Newman’s Defensible Space “were both given short shrift by criminological reviewers.”

Their Stockholm Prize is well deserved. Congratulations to them both.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Take me to your leader

A few weeks ago a police chief went ballistic online (it's now viral) and in a moment of anger told some harsh truths.

It has been a grueling few months for public safety. From controversial police shootings, protests, and riots to the bombastic vitriol of talking heads on mainstream media, saturated in opinion, starved in knowledge, devoid of balance.

Then I received news of struggles by some SafeGrowth practitioners under attack from bureaucrats and politicians in a few different cities.

For some of them political currents wane and crime slips from the Mayor's agenda. For others austerity budgeting undermines SafeGrowth as finances are redirected, typically to programs less effective and evidence-barren.


Truth is when leaders lose focus it is easier for them to revive comforting myths  from yesteryear - more cops, more technology, more CCTV, more generic social programs...whatever! These are myths with which they easily identify, myths their populations want to believe.

Anyway back to the chief, his moment and a video gone viral!

Disclaimer: I know and respect this Police Chief. Ed Flynn is Chief in Milwaukee, a police agency that supports SafeGrowth and, thanks to some help with our friends at LISC and some great beat cops, it's a city where SafeGrowth has been successfully applied to tackle neighborhood crime. 

Sometimes it takes leadership gumption and foresight to stick with what works, even if it's unpopular and doesn't grab quick headlines. Where are the leaders with that gumption, that foresight?

When this video appeared I had my answer.

In my view Chief Flynn speaks for everyone committed to, and working in, public safety everywhere. Note to self - So this is what passionate leadership looks like!

Monday, November 24, 2014

Exciting times in Middle Earth

Gollum greets visitors at Wellington, New Zealand airport - photo Mateja Mihinjac
Arriving in Middle Earth you might expect Frodo Baggins, not surprising if you land at Wellington airport where a monstrous Gollum sculpture reaches for a salmon instead of the One Ring. Tourism promoters here are on a roll.

New Zealand is a lyrical land with people not quite Elven and certainly not Orc, yet totally marvelous. No wonder the Lord of the Rings was filmed in this beautiful country. And there is reason for jubilation beyond tourism, this time from SafeGrowth innovations in Christchurch.

Reopening the trolly line in downtown Christchurch - photo by Nathan
Following the devastating 2011 earthquakes, Christchurch adopted a forward-thinking redevelopment plan. Central to the plan was a belief that “good urban design creates attractive, safe and functional environments” and “careful design…can help make places less susceptible to crime”. How true! My favorite was their commitment to neighborhoods as the best way to organize development - exactly the philosophy of SafeGrowth. 

Then, amid the massive rebuilding efforts, CPTED expertise arose in the form of a Crime Prevention Team led by Sue Ramsay. In harmony with the redevelopment plan, Sue launched SafeGrowth programming. I reported some early work last year in a blog post.

The SafeGrowth work in Christchurch has been exceptional. Two neighborhoods – West Riccarton and Phillipstown - now have multiple projects underway.

Phillipstown community centre - police and citizens together in SafeGrowth teams


One team created a model asset map. Another, the Paeora Reserve team, found funding to install solar tables and couches to activate a public park. In Phillipstown, SafeGrowth followed a neighborhood policing team who conducted successful problem-oriented policing to cut crime (winning a national award for policing excellence). That cleared the way for SafeGrowth strategies to build cohesion and establish sustainable community development so problems don’t return. Now the team is cracking negative stereotypes of their neighborhood.

In West Riccarton the Harrington Park team concluded; “Most of the recommendations can be owned by the people of the neighbourhood who can then develop their utilisation of the park easily and without major financial input.” 

That's the difference between a resident and a responsible citizen!

West Riccarton team members planning improvements to a local park

This is impressive work! Christchurch seems to have learned an essential lesson – that the hackneyed phrase community development has little meaning without legs. It cannot materialize without a coherent planning method like SafeGrowth. Without that, it is filled with fail.

More importantly, community development cannot really happen without attention to safety and perceptions of safety. The SafeGrowth efforts in Christchurch reveal a city rising from the ashes of a tragic earthquake! These are exciting times in Middle Earth!
Community members and police collaborating on walkway safety

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Yarn bombing as placemaking - Adventure in Adelaide

Mall's Balls - popular meeting place in Adelaide's Rundle Mall

GUEST BLOG – Mateja Mihinjac is a criminologist at Griffith University, Australia completing her doctoral research on CPTED implementation. She is a member of the International CPTED Association. She recently attended the Asia-Pacific ICA CPTED Forum and kindly submitted this blog.

In mid-October, the ICA hosted a 2014 regional Asia-Pacific CPTED forum themed Better CPTED - Multidisciplinary Design for Safer Places.

The participants came from many different backgrounds thus bringing to the table a rainbow of strategies. Despite the differences we all agreed better and safer places emerge from the special features that make places more attractive and the people who use those places. I found great examples on the streets of Adelaide.

The nicely maintained Victoria Square offers numerous opportunities for social activities, meeting spots and sheltered seating areas. Walking down the pedestrian Rundle Mall I found The Mall’s Balls   - a common meeting point for people in the mall.

Dame Roma Mitchell statue
Looking for examples of people being users and co-creators of such special places I discovered some yarn bombing - dressed-up Rundle Mall Pigs and a statue of Dame Roma Mitchell on the North Terrace. They instantly attracted my attention and reminded me of the yarn bombed road barrier from Melbourne in a blog from a few months ago.

Turns out that the pigs and the statue were not isolated cases and that yarn bombing is popular throughout Adelaide, especially since 2012 when even the statue of Queen Victoria received a makeover. Yarn bombing is now part of Adelaide’s community events and it all started from local people aiming to create better places for and by themselves.

Rundle Mall yarn bombed pigs
Yarn bombing and its “softer” version known as yarn storming (in the UK) manifests community pride and provides a personal touch in public places. It is  widely considered a feminine form of graffiti or artistic vandalism.

Creative approaches such as knitting are one channel for the public to express and partake in public life. What I find neat about this approach is that it empowers those who traditionally wouldn’t participate in public activism and allows them to have a say in their own communities.

Placemaking surely comes in many forms.

Sheltered seating in Victoria Square

Monday, November 10, 2014

Enforcing a higher standard

Nowhere have I seen a better example of the gulf between combat cops and community cops than in these two recruiting videos. A friend recently sent them to me with the comment "Police recruitment videos speak volumes about livability of a place…"

Yes, they do.

Both cities are low crime and only one murder has occurred in either community over the past few years. Both have higher than average income levels with similar demographic mixes.

Newport Beach, California has 85,000 residents and Decatur, Georgia has 20,000, although both are adjacent to large cities (Los Angeles and Atlanta). While Decatur is smaller, the relative police strength is similar with both cities under 200 officers per 100,000 residents.

In social science this is gold! Social conditions are never the same and cross-jurisdictional comparisons are always imperfect. But it would be difficult to find two communities that are more apple-to-apple similar for comparing police services.

Except they don't compare. At all!

Who knows if policing reflects recruitment videos. But culture often shows up in videos like these. After all, each department had to approve them for public release so they obviously think these are the best images that represent what they are all about.

That is a frightening thought!

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Time for a little common ground

Mark Lakeman at Ted Talk last weekend. 
Neighborhood collaboration infers there is a reason to do so and a place to do it.  In SafeGrowth the reason is simple; crime and safety. But why do we need a common place to collaborate and how do we get that? Aren't community halls enough? Don't we have adequate common places for that now?

No we don't!

In  the Ted Talk below my friend, Portland architect Mark Lakeman tells us why. Mark has appeared on this blog before about Safety With a Potluck. Here he is on a roll! It's fascinating how he starts slow and builds tempo to such an obvious conclusion that somehow escapes how we currently build neighborhoods.

I remember sitting next to a colleague last year when Mark presented this idea during a keynote address. My colleague, clearly uncomfortable with the unconventional method in Portland's  Intersection Repair program, whispered: "What about the home owners near the intersection who don't want to participate?"

"Oh," I should have answered, but didn't, "do you mean the one's who prefer isolation and alienation? Or do you mean you don't understand how intersection repair accounts also for their need for privacy?"

Mark answers this when he describes Monopoly as the economic motif for how we plan cities and a game we all grew up with. We don't even question the logic of Monopoly as a way of doing business. Mark does! That's an idea worth spreading.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Dancing Traffic Light - a viral meme

Dancing Traffic Lights in Lisbon, Portugal - screenshot from Smart Car video

Every now and then a meme comes along over which it is worth getting stoked. This week the Dancing Traffic Light went viral. It is such a meme.

Lisbon, Portugal is among the oldest cities in Europe known for its magnificent Gothic architecture, world class museums, and cultural festivals. Drug laws are decriminalized and it enjoys one of the lowest crime rates in the world.

Yet even a successful city has problems like traffic! Pedestrians risk life crossing congested intersections and dangerous jaywalking results in injury. The Dancing Traffic Light solves that!

Lisbon's Dancing Traffic Light cuts pedestrian intersection jaywalking 80%. It is from a PR campaign by the Smart Car Company to "discover our mind openers – urban experiments for a better future for the city".

It brought to mind the bottle bank or the piano stairway projects from Volkswagen's Fun Theory. It's also similar to the Say Something Nice project in New York.

Is this is what Capitalism 3.0 meant by responsible corporate citizenship?

This week the Dancing Traffic Light went viral - screenshot from Smart Car video

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Modernist message from a master architect

Beautiful places and streets attract people. They put eyes on the street, a basic principle of urban safety. I was recently reminded of a master architect of beauty, the award-winning Arthur Erickson, an architect the New York Times called Canada's pre-eminent Modernist architect.

While in Vancouver this week I spent time with Erickson's closest colleagues and friends, an impressive group who just like Erickson were concerned about both social equity and aesthetic beauty.

Modernism has not always had a good rap. Arguably, CPTED would not exist if not for the modernist planning and architecture that Jane Jacobs so bitterly attacked. Inappropriately applied modernism led to the demolition of the Pruitt-Igoe social housing in 1960s St. Louis, the project dubbed indefensible and crime-ridden in Oscar Newman's Defensible Space.

Arthur Erickson showed another way; modernism done right! An example of his work appeared here previously regarding Vancouver's Robson Square.

The first Erickson building I ever entered was the Canadian Pavilion at the Expo 67 fair in Montreal in 1967, a kind of inverted pyramid. At the time I had no idea about architectural modernism. It just looked cool.

Later I studied at the Erickson inspired Simon Fraser University atop Burnaby Mountain in Greater Vancouver, a kind of spaceship in the sky. It too was very cool and futuristic - a fact not lost on film directors who have filmed there (BattleStar Gallactica, The Day the Earth Stood Still, Underworld Awakening).

Erickson taught it is the work quality, not the theory, that matters most in constructing beautiful places. The problem arises when modernism is done badly and applied inappropriately. This is the case in  Pruitt-Igoe, Chicago's Cabrini-Green, Toronto's Jane/Finch, and the Chichy suburbs of Paris. Unsurprisingly, crime festers in such places.

The takeaway? Build sensitively and in social context. Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater. Yet too many new architectural forms do the latter and too few architects do the former.

In Erickson's own words:

"…the reaction to the bareness of ill conceived modernist buildings was to revert in the 80's to a revival of historicism in the guise of "post-modernism"… That Dark Age is thankfully over but cultural insecurity is always there, hidden in the basement of our psyches - ready to spring out whenever brave confidence falters. 

It lingers in the gated communities where make-believe has become an adult panacea. It lingers with the developers who promote kitsch because it sells.  It lingers with the newly rich and the establishment who need to consolidate social standing with class accepted standards. It lingers in every shopping centre, multiplex, restaurant, Vegas casino where illusion is needed to disguise the emptiness within." 

Arthur Erickson,  2000

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Designing Out Crime in Sydney

Unique architecture near the Designing Out Crime research centre in Sydney, Australia

This week I spent time with new friends at the Designing Out Crime (DOC) center at the University of Technology in Sydney, Australia (UTS).

Criminology can be plodding and stagnant. This is no doubt surprising to outsiders like journalists who turn to criminologists for answers to the latest crime spree. Too often outsiders are fed stale abstractions with no real-life angle. Not so for the DOC centre in Sydney. In fact, even the architecture in and around the UTS campus, as the photos here show, reflected cutting edge thinking.

Alternative design at the University of Technology Sydney campus
The sad fact is much academic criminology is very far from the cutting edge. Conference themes regurgitate the same tired issues. Researchers complain about a lack of evidence-based this or that (and funding that supports them).

On the flip side I have written about DOCs in London and Sydney. They breathe new life into an old story. Consider  Laneway Chic in Sydney and Magic Carpets in the UK. This was the first time I got up close and personal visiting the Sydney HQ at UTS, meeting the DOC team and hearing their stories.

What fun! What a relief.

DOC proposal for new pedestrian Help Points throughout UTS campus - photo Designing Out Crime centre 
Design Out Crime theory has been around for awhile as an offshoot of CPTED, tinkering with security and target hardening. The DOCs, at least those I'm familiar with in London and Sydney, take a quantum leap forward. They innovate with a collaborative, action-based method. Their website describes how they "evolved towards transdisciplinary crime research…to improve the quality of life for law-abiding users of public spaces (and) adopting a broad approach to crime prevention."

I love this transdisciplinary approach. I first wrote about it in 1991 in my work on the Toronto Subway Security Audit. More complicated than consulting or advising, it is action research incarnate.

The transdisciplinary, action research method, along with DOC's real-life, community-partnering angle, is an important crime prevention breakthrough. Finally...some fresh air!

DOC proposal for Lifeline child assistance at transit hubs - photo Designing Out Crime centre

Friday, September 19, 2014

What's happening to our police? Part 2

The Future of Police report reminds me of something Professor Herman Goldstein warned us about years ago - confusion about the ends over the means!

The future that the public wants - the ends – is less crime and more public safety. They want to get there - the means – by more community-building, more inclusive problem-solving, and better relationship-building.

I might be wrong, but I doubt the means that the public expects from police are the technology-drenched, algorithms suggested in Future of Policing.

"These changes," says the Preface in Future, "are not just about finding new ways to reduce crime; they go deeper, to evaluating the basic mission of the police, and what people want from the police."


Of course saying officers should “go deeper” is not the same as doing it. Nor is it the same as providing the training to teach them how. Unfortunately training programs that teach such things - problem-based learning, emotional intelligence, PTO field training – do not show up in Future (even though the COPS office and PERF promoted development of those programs).

One quote by a LAPD supervisor suggests an escape from this institutional autism:

“…when [officers] spend time in the high-probability areas, they need to be doing problem solving. There is something there that is attracting criminals; we tell officers to look for the magnets. The goal isn’t more arrests, the goal is crime prevention.”

Very true! Except throughout 45 pages of text crime prevention was cited only 9 times and never explained fully.


In Planning in Turbulence an author concludes: “our level of ignorance about social systems is quite astounding, yet our analytical approaches…assume away this ignorance outright through the specification of incomplete models based on incomplete or often inaccurate data.” 

That was 28 years ago regarding urban planning. I police science any better or are we facing that exact same paradox?

In SafeGrowth we overcome this by developing neighborhood teams who run their own prevention plans alongside local cops. LISC’s Community Safety Initiative publications describe how we do it.

Another workaround emerges with street cops themselves who peek inside our communities. For example consider success stories in Camden NJ and Virginia Beach.


Future of Policing describes the Camden NJ police using forfeiture funds in 2011 to purchase technology and form partnerships with other law enforcement. But a year later real change exploded.

As the New York Times reported, fed up with a flood of crime, tired of strict union rules inflating costs, 30% absenteeism at work and overtime pay for basic duties, the City of Camden shut down their police force and started over.

Without union rules they rehired 150 of the 200 old officers back and hired another 250 new officers. They instituted foot patrols, had volunteers walking the streets, and expanded youth programs. They properly staffed their CCTV and ran more enforcement.

The result? Youth program involvement increased, response times plunged from 1 hour to 4 minutes, crime rates dipped and murders dropped from 21 to 6.

Virginia Beach police Chief Cervera talking to Boy Scout Explorers - photo VBPD

A national leader in both the PTO program and problem-based learning, Virginia Beach went one step further. The news clip "Ask a cop for coffee and some conversation" describes how.

Once a year Chief Jim Cervera has his officers of all ranks walk neighborhoods and knock on thousands of doors to ask what residents think of their police.

Says Cervera: "We want the surveys to prompt real conversations. There is nothing better than two people from different social, racial or ethnic backgrounds having a heart-to-heart discussion about a common goal."


No sensible person wants the mantle of anti-tech Luddite. Science is part of the way forward. But as Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow makes clear in Governing Science, it needs careful watching. Those who champion science are not the new Lords of Truth. They are Tech Emissary’s with flashlights to find our way in the dark

Turning crime around will mean a neighborhood planning system with three equal partners: carefully governed science and technology; active neighborhood groups working directly with their local police; and cops and residents co-trained in the kinds of problem-solving methods we know work so well.

We've only dabbled in these things. Now it's time to deep dive. It's called neighborhood governance and it is our future. That also didn’t show up in the report. But it should have!

Friday, September 12, 2014

What's happening to our police? Part 1

Hot of the press: Future Trends in Policing from the COPS Office, PERF, and the Target Corporation. It is a report of a 2012 survey and summary of a one-day session with police leaders on the "Future of Policing."

It reveals what some police executives think might happen in future. Is it a prophesy we really want?


The survey reported 94% of respondents said their agency was involved in community policing, 89% in problem-oriented policing (COPS). Good news, right?

I've taught hundreds of police instructors over the past few years. Every time I ask them about COPS few, if any, admit to knowing anything beyond the superficial. Practically none of their agencies are doing anything beyond a small sprinkling of COPS specialists, less than 10% at best.

Last month I asked again, this time whether they knew anything about problem-oriented policing. The class had instructors from the east coast, mid-west, Canada, and the south. Same results: Out of 25 police instructors only 1 knew what POP was and he was from Madison, Wisconsin (the home of the POP Center).


Do police survey responders inflate whether they are doing COPS when they respond to a national survey on the topic? Saying one thing, doing another?


Future Trends had very little discussion of problem-oriented policing. In 45 pages of text it was cited only 3 times.

I did however notice the report was awash in GPS, cybercrime, body cameras, facial recognition software, predictive policing algorithms and intelligence-led policing. My personal favorite was NG 911 - Next-Generation 911.

[NERD ALERT: I love that stuff. Anytime I hear references to Star Trek - The Next Generation, my nerd-o-meter tingles. Beam me up!]

In other words science will come to our rescue? Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, what a wonderful day!


Survey statement: "In the future agencies will place less emphasis on community policing." 

75% of police agencies in the survey disagreed with that statement. Glass-half-full, right? But 25% offered no opinion or actually agreed that in future cops will do less community policing!

In other words, after 35 years of publications, conferences, training courses, and successes that account for at least some reduced crime, 1-in-4 police survey respondents see less community policing in the years ahead! Sounds more like a glass half-empty!

Considering the Ferguson riots two weeks ago that portends a bleak future.

Next week: Part 2 - The good news

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Stargazing in Tucson

Shopping mall parking lot - LPS lighting with halide lighting in adjacent property 

Stargazing is a remarkable activity and even if you don't know what to look for, an overhead canopy filled with stars is awe-inspiring. The Dark Sky Society (and astronomers everywhere) agree. Me too!

Nowhere does this have more power than Tucson, Arizona where I've been this past week. The city has some of the strictest regulations to keep light pollution down. Like other communities with national astronomy observatories, it promotes those dim, orangish-hue low pressure sodium lights (LPS) for streets and parking lots.

I visited mall parking lots this week in and around Tucson. LPS are everywhere. They are awful!

Shopping plaza parking lot with pedestrians walking across - look carefully
The engineering lighting standard for mall parking lots is 3 footcandles (FC). An on-line survey of 9 communities reports an average 1 FC in most of those communities.

In one lot that I visited I doubt LPS produced 3 FC or even 1 FC! I love stargazing but I would not enjoy walking those lots at night.

Thankfully the economy is changing the story. Tucson is in the midst of the nation-wide LED transformation for more savings and it is switching LPS street lights over to Light Emitting Diode lighting. I hope mall owners in and around Tucson get the message. I would not want to be a victim walking to my car. Nor would I want to be a property owner sued by a victim of violent crime in those spooky, target-rich lots.

Tree tops benefitting from LPS lighting

Monday, September 1, 2014

A few years after tomorrow

There are these new urban regeneration schemes called malls-without-walls, one example being the Liverpool One development in the UK. They bring to mind Oath of Fealty, a science fiction by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. They raise a thought worth pondering.

The Liverpool One land development is owned by the British Duke of Westminster. It privatizes 35 downtown streets and spans 42 acres all controlled by a private security force and CCTV. Of course big shopping malls are not new but they are usually relegated to the suburbs far from the downtown core. Not this one.


The Liverpool One land development project turns a new corner. Costing up to $2 Billion it is a central city shopping mall on steroids - hotels, plazas, shops, golf course, apartment towers, open air designs all policed by private security.

Decades ago Oath of Fealty prophesized a massive high-tech, city-in-a-city called Todos Santos, constructed following race riots and walled away from the chaos of Los Angeles surrounding it.

A thousand feet tall, single-structured super city, Todos Santos residents lived with constant surveillance in return for safety away from the grime, crime and bedlam that was a future Los Angeles. (Imagine the opening sequence of the film Bladerunner). Residents gladly offer up their Oath of Fealty for the benevolent Todos Santos security blanket.

In 1981 Oath of Fealty prophisized a new kind of city
Liverpool One is nowhere near that. It is a mega mall on steroids, not as sophisticated as the futuristic arcology, Todos Santos. It looks like a well-designed, upscale mall. Its private streets are subject to regular city by-laws.

Thus far.

Yet it is more interconnected than most open air malls and has abundant private security and pervasive CCTV. And like all evolutionary trends it exists in a context.


Consider the fear triggered from watching the Ferguson mayhem this week, dozens of riots in cities around the world in recent years and, in spite of declining crime rates, millions who now live in gated communities.

In all these contexts there is one constant. Fear! Who wouldn't want to live in a beautiful, secure place of the future?

Consider the comments about Liverpool One by Roy Coleman, criminology faculty at Liverpool University: "The rules for the newly privatised city centre fabricate an ideal citizen - aspirational in consumption and thinking big with urban pride."

That sounds very Todos Santos. It leads me to ask some elephant-in-the-room questions: If we have the resources and desire to build safe mini-cities within cities where people can freely choose to live, is that a good thing? Or if it is such a bad thing, why are so many of them showing up?

Monday, August 25, 2014

The latest crime trends - up or down?

Just arrived: The January-June crime statistics for 2013 !

Each summer the FBI releases semi-annual results from year before crime statistics. To criminology geeks like me they are like candy. And guess what! For the 73 cities over 250,000 population crime is the same it has been for decades. Down!

But not everywhere!


Murder, the most reliably reported crime, is still declining. In Philadelphia murders are down -36%, New York -19%, New Orleans -20% and San Antonio -41%.

Why? In the Big Apple maybe broken windows or stop and frisk policing works? Yet both are controversial. Plus cops have been accused of cooking the books. In New Orleans I'd like to think Hollygrove's SafeGrowth program had at least some impact along with the new CeaseFire anti-gang program.

The truth is it's difficult to claim victory from programs in one place when crime falls in other places without those programs. Doing so is willful blindness.

Speaking of willful blindness, there are criminologists who claim auto crime is down due to the spread of more sophisticated security technology. They ignore that crime declined across many categories (in many countries), when security technology was absent (as in domestic violence). When crime categories plummet together, how logical is it that security technology explains auto theft declines but nothing else? 


There are much more important things than crime theory-squabbles. Alarmingly, murders are climbing  in a number of cities. In Las Vegas murder was up 56% (from 32 to 50), in Indianapolis 41%, (46-65), Cincinnati 45% (22-32), Baltimore 9% (105 - 115), Memphis 7% (56-60), and Dallas 17% (62-73). Are these statistically significant or normal variations?

Either way it is troubling. In a few of those cities new police programs are already in place. Memphis uses the predictive policing program called Blue Crush. Apparently, at least with murder, it isn't working.

Are the good times over?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Discovering the city at night

Uplighting sidewalk tree canopies with green tint - all photos from Ian Dryden

A few months ago I met award-winning industrial designer Ian Dryden from the city of Melbourne, Australia. He taught me about Melbourne's street lighting program. Given the links between fear and street (in)activity, this is a very big deal.

Most cities get poor grades for night lighting. Melbourne gets an A.

Melbourne has an incredibly active downtown night life. It wasn't always. One long-term resident told me it was once a waste-land with few people daring to walk dark downtown streets. When the city changed direction and chose to attract an evening crowd to socialize in a safe, positive way, designers and planners stepped up.

Decorative lighting above and below bridges
Ian and his colleagues were among them. Melbourne's public lighting program is sophisticated. It creates both a luminous and carbon neutral city, no small feat with current energy costs.

They light parks, tram stops, news stands, benches, and sidewalks. They string interesting blue (and energy efficient) LEDs above intersections. Where most cities inadvertently obstruct street lights with tree canopies, Melbourne embellishes them with tinted uplighting.

New induction lighting for Swanson Street tram stops
This week the 2014 Australian Smart Lighting Summit is in Melbourne and they get to celebrate among lighting peers. They should. Congratulations!

Melbourne park lighting
Blue LEDs over intersection - a canopy of stars

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Police reform? Better start swimmin'

It's impossible to write about small wins cutting crime and ignore police controversies that go viral. This weekend teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri in a struggle with a police officer.

Aside from mainstream media we know little about how events happened. We do know Michael Brown's death is triggering protests, riots, and national attention. It has gone viral. Now the online vigilante group Anonymous is threatening to post the personal information of Ferguson police department members unless politicians create a Mike Brown's Law with strict national standards for police misconduct across the USA.

Some steps have already been taken along these lines. In 1994 the government passed a crime bill that expanded a form of civil enforcement called the Consent Decree. It is allows the federal government to install legal oversight over police when civil rights have been abused.

Since then 20 police departments have been subject to Consent Decrees including Detroit, New Orleans, Los Angeles and the latest in Seattle. In Seattle some officers are pushing back with a counter suit to roll back the proposed use-of-force controls.


Next year author Joe Domanick will publish Blue: The Ruin and Redemption of the LAPD about the Consent Decree in LA and what happened. In his blog Domanick describes police resistance to such changes:

...while police officers and their thinking is far more diverse than 20 years-ago, old, bad habits are nevertheless still being passed down from one cop generation to another.  They die hard. And police of a certain generation don’t like change, particularly liberal reform that they perceive only makes their jobs harder and more complex...

It all makes me think of Dylan's lyrics:

Gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown

Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The wall and the window - Mystery in space

Reading studies on crime and place I was recently struck by a mystery among environmental criminology researchers who study CPTED, particularly territoriality (the wall) and natural surveillance (the window).

It brought to mind other concept errors in crime and place research, specifically crime generators, permeability, cul de sacs, and the Achilles Heel within routine activity theory. This time the mystery cycles around guardianship.

Here’s the storyline…

Researchers regale the power of natural surveillance to enhance guardianship. Guardianship presumes to increase the risk that offenders will be seen and caught. Natural surveillance has appeal because you can observe whether a space has lighting, sightlines and nearby windows. Because surveillance presumably will produce more preventive action by residents (or reluctance by offenders to show up), you can then measure what happens.


Natural surveillance assumes that people who see something out of place will act, thereby providing guardianship. Thus it is “real”. It's an assumption borne out nicely in low-crime, upper income areas but not so much in lower-income, high crime areas where residents are afraid to step outdoors and when they do their presence doesn’t deter anything.

Fences, windows and flowers creating territorial control on a San Diego public walkway 
On the other hand researchers question the power of territoriality to enhance guardianship, mainly because they say territoriality lacks "definitional rigor" and it isn’t “real”. Floral decorations or landscaping…is that it? Maybe it’s access control, walls and gates? Even worse, territoriality varies from place to place. Horrors!

They suggest natural surveillance is preferable to territoriality because it seems more measurable. That’s how they solve the mystery of territoriality. They ignore or downplay it, label it with   definitional problems and claim it isn't "real".


Historian Howard Zinn warns us about such storylines: “Realism is seductive because once you have accepted the reasonable notion that you should base your actions on reality, you are too often led to accept without much questioning someone else’s version of what that reality is.”

Consider this: If territoriality isn’t real, then how is guardianship any better? And why shouldn’t territoriality vary from place to place?“The real world,” says Zinn, “is infinitely complex and constantly changing.”

Perhaps social science research methods are too simplistic to tell us anything complex? Perhaps it is guardianship that has a definitional problem, especially given territoriality’s much longer provenance.

What provenance? Consider Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities, Robert Ardry’s The Territorial Imperative, Edward Hall’s The Hidden Dimension, Oscar Newman's Defensible Space, and Alice Coleman's Utopia on Trial. And all that territorial work still continues today such as Kevin Leydon’s study on walkability and social capital.


CPTED practitioners seldom complain about such things because context always comes first.

For example in SafeGrowth practitioners and residents use a Risk Assessment Matrix for surveys, safety audits, site visits, and asset maps. Together they create a profile of the neighborhood and what residents feel about it. Only then do they determine to what extent designs enhance territoriality.

Overcoming "definitional rigor"?

Simple: Ask the residents and work with them to discover what they feel enhances their territorial control, a method known as action research and action learning. Mystery solved.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

...this is a bed

Temporary homeless shelter on city bench - photo Spring Advertising

My blog on London's design out crime spikes to deter homeless haunted my thoughts until I read a recent story from Vancouver.

RainCity Housing is one of those hard-working non-profits we don't hear enough about. They provide social housing, help those with mental illness and addictions and work to get the homeless into housing. Spring Advertising is a creative advertising firm who worked with RainCity to design an innovative bench cover that morphs into a temporary shelter at night.

It's a far cry from homeless spikes. Of course an ad stunt is obviously no solution to homelessness. Then again, neither are the spikes that cruelly dot London's landscape.

We might not have the answer to the problem of homelessness but as the RainCity/Spring collaboration suggests, we can still be humane.

In the day it's a bench... the night it transforms into a bench shelter.
- photos by Spring Advertising

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Graff war in the streets of Melbourne

My architect friend Frank Stoks sent me a news clip of an emerging graff war in Melbourne.  Frank is a well-known CPTED expert in New Zealand. Back in the 1980s questions from his PhD thesis comprised the basis for the Toronto's Women's Safety Audit - now the United Nations Safety Audit.

Melbourne Australia is a remarkable city of culture and walkability. Our SafeGrowth teams continue their exceptional work in 4 neighborhoods, recently highlighted at a recent Australian criminology conference. Melbourne is also known for its vast array of street art and graffiti, particularly in laneways, much of it under city supervision mentioned in an earlier blog, Eyes Wide Open, Magnificent Melbourne.

Now, according to this news clip, a graff war has broken out between the street artists commissioned by the city to create the murals and some culture jamming taggers who are not. Says one street artist: "The council is commissioning the work to stop tagging and not including the guys who have come from the graffiti background, so they're alienating the scene."

Check it out here.