Sunday, March 30, 2014

A cry from the dark

A half century after an infamous New York murder: Have we learned anything?

It was 3AM and the short walk from the train station to her front door was lit by a few streetlights. There may have been music from radios escaping partly opened apartment windows. Some neighbors were still awake. She'd walked home from work on this route before and it probably seemed familiar and safe. It wasn't.

Suddenly a stranger walking down the street chased and accosted her. Over the next half hour, newspapers later wrote, 38 people saw or heard her cry out as the murderer repeatedly stabbed, raped and then killed 28-year-old Kitty Genovese.

This happened in 1964 only 3 years after, and 12 miles east, of where Jane Jacobs wrote about street safety in Death and Life of Great American Cities.

This month two books commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragedy: Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and Its Private Consequences and Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, and the Crime That Changed America.

Few cases have spawned so many theories and books. I've blogged on this, particularly in relation to the CPTED concept, natural surveillance. Environmental psychology now calls it the bystander effect or the Genovese Syndrome.

In short, if people can surveil an area but do nothing about crime, eyes on the street mean nothing. True, some offenders may still desist if they think they are being watched. But even this surveillance deterrence has limits. It won't apply to psychopaths, drug addicts, or the inebriated, a big list in the possible offender category.

The latest research by Timothy Hart and Ternace Miethe examined the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and discovered a bystander was present in 65 percent of the violent victimizations reported in the survey.

Environmental psychology research produces replicable results showing the by-stander effect. The fact is this: If most people do nothing, natural surveillance means nothing.

Politicians look for the simple answer. Good Samaritan laws - forcing by-standers to act under penalty of law! Legal thinking often boggles the mind! In emergencies people don't think of penalty for inaction. They think of escape. 

Fortunately, there are better solutions. Since the 1980s we've known social cohesiveness increases the power of people-caring. Social cohesiveness, research confirms, increases the power of natural surveillance. Eyes that care take action. When people know each other, know their area, have a sense of connectedness and can clearly watch their neighborhood, natural surveillance works.

In recent SafeGrowth classes we saw firsthand why pairing social cohesion strategies with natural surveillance is crucial. Students tell me that some 1st Generation CPTED instructors still fail to properly teach 2nd Generation CPTED.

There is no excuse for ignoring these essential lessons. Read about the Kitty Genovese tragedy. Let’s not repeat history!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Eyes Wide Open - Magnificent Melbourne

Love locks on pedestrian bridge

Among her many contributions to urban culture - especially in regards to crime - Jane Jacobs shone a light on what she called the subtle "ballet of the street". Hers was the gift to look and see what locals and city officials actually do to their pubic spaces and how they treat or mistreat them.

The ability to see with Eyes Wide Open is the cultivated skill of looking with an uncluttered mind unswayed by prejudices (as impossible as that seems).

This week we introduced SafeGrowth planning to Melbourne, Australia. We found limitless opportunities to practice Eyes Wide Open on the downtown streets of that magnificent city: subtle feasts like socks knitted over road barriers (who came up with yarn bombing, anyway?); sublime feasts like personal love locks locked on a pedestrian bridge.

Like pennies in a fountain, love locks just show up 
Knit graffiti? Traffic barrier's get cold too!
Melbourne's rich array of urban micro-tweaks show up to a much greater extent than most other places I've seen. I suspect it's partly why so many downtown streets buzz day and night.

No doubt crime occurs downtown. We watched cops arrest at least one inebriated troublemaker. Plus three of our SafeGrowth teams are tackling crime and fear issues downtown.

City designers use indirect blue bench lighting - subtle yet aesthetic
Yet from the library staircase that university students control like protective hens to the graffiti laneways that show up on tourist maps (this is, after all, a city-of-laneways), downtown Melbourne epitomizes the diversity Jacobs so loved on vibrant public streets.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

POP Center closes - Combat cops score?

Mythical arsenal of the combat cop - POP Center latest to fall
"The best we could get out of them was more kind of tactical stuff, police officer safety, weapons and tactics kind of stuff..." - Mike Scott POP Center Director

A sign of the times: The Center for Problem Oriented Policing - the nexus for advanced policing tactical problem solving - is gone! The website remains, but the conference and all the research activities are now defunded by the US government.  

A news article describing the event says: 

"The center has been instrumental in changing the way police look at crime, focusing on root causes of crime trends and ways to prevent them, rather than merely reacting to incidents.

The philosophy underpinning the center's work stems from the work of  Herman Goldstein, a UW law professor who in 1979 introduced the concept of problem-oriented policing, which he later expanded into a 1990 book that has inspired the approach throughout the U.S. and in many places abroad."

Combat policing has never seemed so close.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Reassurance policing and useless studies

Sir Leon Radzinowicz was a giant in criminology. Escaping from the Nazi’s in WW2, he founded the first-ever department of criminal science at Cambridge in 1941 and then the world famous Cambridge Institute of Criminology in 1959. He wrote some of the most influential works in criminology, spoke multiple languages and was knighted for his excellence in British criminology.

In 1999, a year before he died, I watched one of his last lectures. He was formal, insightful and he spoke with such élan! He was remarkable! His topic: the increasing repressiveness in the justice systems around the world.

That was before 911 security laws, exploding US prison populations and the ascendency of the combat cop over the community cop. Radzinowicz was a latter-day soothsayer. He nailed it!


I thought of Sir Leon this week regarding another trend he feared: the increasing paranoia by new scholars to publish simply to keep their jobs. In his last interview (below) Radzinowicz spoke of the then new publishing climate where studies provide little value and where statistics are overused and say nothing.

Then I read a recent study about reassurance policing, an academic fad with UK academics regarding so-called signal crime, or how disorderly behavior disproportionately increases crime fears. Kind of a BBW…Brit-Broken-Windows.

Their study examined how well mall shoppers identify cops and security guard uniforms from photos of cops and security guards. Their goal: find out whether different uniformed patrol officers patrolling in shopping malls created “different effects on feelings of safety about crime.”

The results? Uniform police officers might foster anxiety among some members of the public because they suggest crime is a problem, basically what Wendy Sarkissian reported in her guest blog last year. But they also found uniformed police officers reassure other members of the public because they signal formal "guardianship" (I’m not making this up! Honest!)

Sir Leon, please forgive us! I can just feel him cringing.


How about we actually make the community safer and involve the community doing so? Maybe they can co-design their spaces with designers, co-manage the space with property managers, and take some defensible space ownership of their shopping venue!

That way they would be safe and they would feel safe since they would have a hand in making it that way. It would be “reassurance policing” without so much formal “guardianship”, fancy uniforms and more useless studies! And then we can let Sir Leon rest in peace.