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!