Monday, December 28, 2015

Kafkaesque policing - detours versus directions

Abstract paintings often have a Kafkaesque feel
As we end 2015, the term Kafkaesque comes to mind. It describes some hopeless struggle against bureaucratic, sometimes malevolent, machines. Since this is a future we want to avoid, the following cautionary tale seemed an appropriate year-end story.

Franz Kafka was a 19th Century German writer with books about “surreal predicaments and incomprehensible bureaucratic powers” in which his characters descend into alienation in the face of absurdity.

Think of films like The Trial by Orson Wells, Mulholland Drive by David Lynch or the futuristic crime dystopia by Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange.


Kafkaesque thoughts surfaced when I read the 2013 and 2015 programs of the Police Innovation Conferences. These conferences were not really about police innovation as you might expect. Rather they were technology conferences offering a tech version of police innovation with some very cool gizmos such as drones and robots, brain fingerprinting, and body cams.

The gizmos look cool and I’m sure they have useful applications.

However in today’s police environment there is a much bigger picture. If this were one single technology conference it would be a fun curiosity. But today policing is inundated with so many conferences of similar themes, they detour rather than direct us to a sustainable, post-Ferguson future. A small sample:

  • A national conference on future police trends in which the future is technology 
  • A conference on Smart policing that navigates the future with data and intelligence analysis
  • In Canada, economics of policing conferences with perpetual prattle about fiscal efficiencies and belt tightening, all the while ignoring the private sector and problem-oriented policing strategies that will achieve it. 


I have yet to see conferences about innovations in police training, such as basic academy courses that teach cops how to work with urban planners to build safer, CPTED-sensitive parking lots before carjackings and car thefts unfold.

Where are sessions on innovative methods to help get cops out of cars and into neighborhoods to work with social activists and faith groups to cut the roots of gang membership before the shooting starts.

There is little available about emotional intelligence skills that arm officers with better conflict resolution and situational awareness tactics to disarm offenders without killing them, or risking officers lives.

To be fair, there are a few candles in the dark - conferences focused on practical, grass-roots police work such as this year’s Problem-Oriented Policing conference in Portland. There are also a few small conferences such as this year’s Police Society for Problem-Based Learning in Madison or the International CPTED Association conference in Calgary. But these conferences do not command the policy discourse. What does? The Armadillo!


One session at these tech conferences was “Empowering the community - low tech crime prevention”. This session was about how police retrofitted an armored combat military vehicle called an Armadillo with video cams, audio surveillance, and so forth.

The goal? Deploy the Armadillo...
“to high crime areas or places that have experienced a spike in public nuisance type events. The Armadillo feels right at home when parked directly in front of a drug house or problem bar… a symbolic representation of restorative justice in places that have demonstrated public nuisance activity..” 

“At home in front of a drug house or problem bar?”  No doubt there is honest intention here, yet you just know Kafka is rising from the dead!

“A symbol of restorative justice?” Seldom was a more Kafkaesque phrase served up in the name of public safety.

In the spirit of a more common-sensical and balanced future, may we dispense with tactics that awaken dead German writers and get on with the task of building safer, collaborative neighborhoods in 2016.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

"We were all color blind"

The title above is a quote from one of my favorite people in 2015 - Amelia Price.

Every now and then I recognize a stellar community development worker, organizer or thinker, what we affectionately call SafeGrowthers. In 2009 it was Sarah Buffie in Africa. In 2012 it was Andy Mackie and his harmonicas in Washington State.

At the close of 2015 there are so many to recognize that electing one leaves an unpalatable choice. It's an embarrassment of riches! Candidates range from Calgary planner Anna Brassard - who organized the first-ever SafeGrowth Summit - to the resolute commitment of LISC community safety coordinator John Connelly, who promotes remarkable SafeGrowth programs in Milwaukee.

One of Philadelphia's commercial corridors - sites of SafeGrowth training - photo Philadelphia LISC

But today I choose one from Philadelphia. Amelia Price emerged as a leader and role model worth signaling out for accolades.

Amelia is a commercial corridor manager and she was a member of the Philadelphia SafeGrowth training. Part of her story emerges in the YouTube above. Listen to how Amelia describes her SafeGrowth team and who needs to be part of such teams. She knows the value of CPTED and promotes it in her work.


Listen to how she describes the Philadelphia police officers who work her neighborhood, how the team began changing attitudes and how those officers contributed to making a safer street (police officers, take note).

My favorite Amelia quote:
"We were all color-blind. Although we all looked different, we never looked at skin; we look at each others' heart. And I noticed right away that they also had a passion for their community."
Of course Amelia  does not take credit for all the incredible work of her team, the police, or the organizations helping to make this happen - Philadelphia Department of Commerce, Called to Serve CDC and Philadelphia LISC. She does what stellar leaders always do - credit those around them.

Amelia, you make the world a better place. To you and your fellow SafeGrowthers around the world, know this - you are loved for what you do. Thank you!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Why go downtown at all?

Shanghai at sunset, as seen from the observation deck of the Jin Mao tower.
The sun has not actually dropped below the horizon yet, rather it has reached the smog line. Photo Suicup - Creative Commons 

Unpleasant, polluted, and uninteresting downtowns trigger an exodus of legitimate eyes on the street. Without that it's impossible to achieve a critical mass of fun things to do: play chess in the park, go to bars, bicycle to music events, lounge on street furniture, listen to music from buskers, and people-watch during a relaxing stroll.

What empties downtowns?

For one thing, pollution. This week, yet again, there were more headlines about life-threatening smog choking Chinese cities, smog that comes from, no surprise, polluting industries and millions of gas guzzling, carbon emitting vehicles.

Madison Square Gardens streetscape. New York has worked on improving the downtown experience. Colors and lights play an important role. 

Tied to air pollution is suburban sprawl, another poison to downtown life. Bound as it is to excessive driving and greenhouse gas emissions, American sprawl triggered the exodus from downtowns and led to inner city crime.

Today a friend sent a YouTube of a historic video from the 1960s. It tracks the genesis of the expanding suburbs long before we knew the impact of large expressways and acres of free parking on acres of asphalt surrounding thousands of new shopping malls.

Toronto enhances the downtown pedestrian experience with modern and attractive light rail options. Photo Kallan Lyons

The video shows life at the very beginning. City centers were in rapid decline, crime was skyrocketing, and after a decade of romance with drive in eateries, there was a new love affair with convenient drive-in everythings. Nobody walked anywhere!

It was the beginning of the sprawl generation. The video is set in St. Louis. Ferguson is a 17 minute drive away. How little some things change.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Green answers for crime - 3rd Gen CPTED

Some words confuse rather than clarify, like "sustainability”. Planners use it to mean sustaining a viable neighborhood. In CPTED it means a prevention program that lasts. But in science it means we must sustain the natural world of water, air, land, flora and fauna so that we may continue to…well, live.

The science version of “sustainability” ranks a tad higher on the What-Really-Matters-in-Life-o-Meter. 

Third Generation CPTED hopes to bridge the sustainability gap between places, people, and the natural world. 3rd Gen CPTED emerged from an M.I.T. paper for the U.N. regarding improving urban security through green environmental design. 


I highlighted it two years ago in 3rd Generation CPTED and the eco-friendly city.

The key idea:
The premise of third-generation CPTED is that a sustainable, green urbanity is perceived by its members and the outsiders as safe. Third generation CPTED’s focus on sustainable green environmental design strategies insists on practical measures, physically or cybernetically enhanced, that foster the perception of urban space as safe beyond mere concerns about crime.
Obviously 3rd Generation CPTED theory has tremendous promise. 

Except 3rd Generation CPTED does not exist! 

It is an idea from a discussion paper! There is no formal theory. No one has deployed and tested its principles. Those who wish to claim the 3rd Generation mantle will cling to jelly. Like ether - it’s there, but it’s not there. Yet!

It is time for the emergence of 3rd Generation CPTED. It must be a real theory with practical strategies. 

But that birth rings alarm bells. As co-developer with Gerry Cleveland of 2nd Generation CPTED, we warn there will be obstacles along the way. Here are a few alarms we faced:


  • Demands to modify. Sometimes that makes sense. Walter Dekeseredy suggested adding gender to create “gendered 2nd Generation CPTED”. It was a reasonable proposition now inhabiting the community culture principle of 2nd Gen. Third Gen will be no different. This is how science proceeds.
  • The Comfort Clingers. There are many CPTED Traditionalists and opportunity theorists of a particular vintage who cling to 1st Gen and still don’t like 2nd Gen because they think it stains original CPTED with the “white noise” of social relationships (as though social relationships had nothing to do with crime). What deluded silliness. No doubt there will be climate-change deniers who ignore 3rd Gen and cling to lights and CCTV.
  • Turf protection. Some academics describe 2nd Gen as fluff, partly due to white noise silliness and possibly because they didn’t invent it. But take a moment and consider the irony dripping off that sophistry: The theorist protects his turf from intrusions with the same vigor that wolves protect their kill in the forest. Yet when the Grizzly bear shows up at a wolf kill, the wolves discover they are not top predator! Same with 2nd and 3rd Gen CPTED. What the turf protectors will discover is that it is the most suitable theories that prevail, not those with the loudest voices. 
  • The number crunchers. Some demand more evaluations ignoring that plenty of empirical evidence already exists on 2nd Generation CPTED, for example Robert Sampson’s expansive book on the power of collective efficacy or Steven Schneiders research showing the success of collective action for prevention crime.
Ultimately, as with all new theories, 3rd Generation CPTED will survive based on its logic and practical use. Innovative, courageous, and committed researchers… apply here!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Watch out for the bears - words from a Mountie

A CPTED town with nature next door. Monkman Provincial Park near
Tumbler Ridge, British Columbia- photo Peace River District

“You know your CPTED designs work when bears use the walkways.”

Mike Clark, an old friend and retired Royal Canadian Mounted Police Staff Sergeant, spoke those words with a smirk and a twinkle in his eye when he began his CPTED lectures. No one knew what he meant because no one knew the wit of the storyteller.

Some may remember my blog about Tumbler Ridge, the world’s first CPTED town built in northern British Columbia. When planners and architects crafted plans for this new town in the mountains they visited Canada’s first CPTED course in Vancouver in 1982.

Former RCMP Fairmont Academy (now closed). Site of Canada's first CPTED courses.
- photo Creative BC
Police students and instructors on that course helped redesign the land uses and pedestrian walkways using CPTED. To my knowledge, CPTED had never before been implemented into an entire town at such an early stage with such depth.

Mike Clark was a student in that initial class. Eventually Mike was promoted and his first posting was commander of the detachment in that very same Tumbler Ridge, the town that he helped design. How many CPTED practitioners get to live in a town they themselves helped plan? Another first.

I met Mike years later when I ran that CPTED course and Mike became one of our best trainers. He often began his lectures about the success of CPTED in Tumbler Ridge with that bear story.

He would tell us that, not only did residents frequent those well-designed walkways (thereby deterring burglars), but so too did local bears. While residents met in the safety of groups to socialize and walk, burglars worked alone. What happens when a lone burglar meets a bear while searching for a burglary target?

Unsurprisingly, Tumbler Ridge had low burglary rates, an irony not lost on my jocular friend.

Mike died a few weeks ago. Over the years I have written about well-known architects and criminologists, but none had the authentic, real-life spirit and pioneering CPTED experience of Mike Clark.

I am sad there will be no more CPTED bear stories from our affable Mountie Sergeant from Tumbler Ridge. Goodbye Mike - Maintiens le Droit.

Friday, November 20, 2015

Tactical Urbanism in Cairo

Photo Joseph Dana Next City

GUEST BLOG: I met Angela LaScala-Gruenewald during work in New York City and she later attended our Philadelphia SafeGrowth training. Angela is a recent college graduate with research currently focussing on criminal justice initiatives and public safety. She offered this blog on tactical urbanism in Cairo, Egypt.   


The image above depicts what appears to be a strategic piling of dirt and trash; it serves multiple purposes -- an informal structure, a small seed of resistance, a necessary public good.

I first learned about this Do-It-Yourself highway exit ramp while taking a class at the University of Chicago. A teacher’s assistant flashed this photograph on the lecture hall wall and launched into a discussion on the control of space in Arab urban centers, and the tension between private and public, formal and informal, recognized and subversive movements – all motivators of the endless conflicts in the Middle East.

Take for example the use and transformation of public squares, from Tahrir Square to Yemen’s Freedom Square on the doorstep of Sana’a University. While there is nothing new about protesting in squares and fighting for control of space during periods of political change and popular uprisings, the significance of the transformation and importance of these spaces still hold.

The highway exit ramp in the peripheries of Cairo plays a role in this narrative as much as the large downtown plazas. While thousands of protestors fought for control of Tahrir Square, smaller transformations took place across the city through growing informal construction projects in these peripheries and informal areas known as ashwa’iyyat (slums).


The ashwa’iyyat contain over 60% of Cairo’s population, but are largely ignored by Egypt’s government and denied access to public goods, such as highway exit ramps.The Cairo highway ramps served as examples of innovative urban design, part of the Do-It-Yourself movement, but less couched in the concept of the political.

Meshing these two perspectives together highlights the importance of informal transformations of public space, especially in communities fighting for access in the face of a negligent regime. The highway exit ramp in Cairo’s ashwa’iyyat brings the two together. It is a quiet protest simultaneously delivering a necessary public good. It is political and it is practical. 

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Century of the Neighborhood

Taking a break from deliberations at the 2015 SafeGrowth Summit
Engaged citizens from around the world
Four months ago I posted about President Obama’s eulogy following a racial massacre in South Carolina.

This morning we heard news of another massacre, this by terrorists in Paris. In today’s global village a tragedy for one is a tragedy for all. From that view, these are times of storms.

“When you come out of the storm,” said novelist Murakami, “you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”


Last week a small group of SafeGrowth advocates and some likeminded friends from around the world mapped a new way out of these storms in the first-ever SafeGrowth Summit.

One of the SafeGrowth work teams - two day of visioning the future
We met encircled by Canada’s Rocky Mountains in Canmore, Alberta. Hailing from different countries and cities small and large, participants included residents, artists, planners, police officers,  architects, criminologist, activists, but mostly active and engaged citizens.

Our task? Search for practical paths that build community resilience and lead away from crime and violence.

Four diverse teams found their own ideal visions. One crafted neighborhood hubs, a 21st Century shared public gathering space far beyond today’s community center. Another began building a tailored style of hands-on curricula to educate a new generation of neighborhood leaders.

Each team resonated with the idea that it is within the geography of the neighborhood where solutions arise.

Local graffiti artists running their first-ever art show for Summit participants
Following the Summit participants shared their ideas with residents of the 12 CSI Neighbourhoods at a social event on Calgary’s International Avenue, an event punctuated by the inspiring art show of local graffiti artists and music from a youth quartet from Calgary's Multiculural Orchestra.

We are writing Summit results to publish a book in the spring. For now teamwork continues; it continues to frame a way out of the storms of violence, crime and intolerance facing us in the years ahead. And it continues to verify, once and for all, the 21st Century belongs to the neighborhood.

Last day performance by a youth quartet from the Calgary Multicultural Orchestra 

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Nightmare on Elm Street - CPTED and displacement

Halloween front yard spookiness - harmless fun in the neighborhood
Tonight is Halloween - that ancient Celtic harvest festival where children turn into goblins and threaten mere mortals with tricks or treats. Not really the stuff of serious nightmares, more the frivolities of fun.

Last week the International CPTED Association ran another successful conference with exceptional speakers from around the world. Presentations are online at the ICA website.

Saskatoon planner Elisabeth Miller, criminologist Tarah Hodgkinson and myself delivered our research on something that represents a real nightmare for 1st Generation CPTED practitioners – the return of displacement.


Displacement is an old enemy of 1st Generation CPTED. Moving crime from one  place to another violates ethical practice and the promise every crime prevention practitioner should make to do no harm.

Over the years a body of mainstream research has grown up around the idea that displacement isn’t inevitable and that crime levels are cut through displacement.

Research by Catherine Phillips at the Nottingham Trent University questions the orthodox view.

This year Elisabeth, Tarah and myself were able to test this for real. We examined a well-known disorder hotspot at a fast food restaurant in downtown Saskatoon. We were able to track disorder in years before and after the restaurant was demolished.

This is where a real-life nightmare begins.

Spiders target opportunities where-ever they arise - Offenders do the same

The mapping results suggested displacement to a nearby homeless shelter. Street interviews confirmed many of the same offenders moved there. But then results got scary.

While calls for police service declined throughout the area, this particular displacement did not seem to reduce calls nor create benefits. Instead it appears to have triggered an eruption. The homeless shelter calls increased nine-fold!

If our further research bears this out, displacement research will need a re-think because our findings suggest something very scary. Not the frivolities of Halloween fun but the stuff of serious nightmares.

Monday, October 26, 2015

The carless city

1903 - streets for people - photo by shopy

It felt strange looking at a faded, black and white wall photo of a downtown street from 1900. No expressways. No cars. Only horses, buggies and Victorian dressed pedestrians. The Model T Ford was eight years away.

I wonder if those pedestrians had the foggiest notion of the transport tsunami that would befall their children a few decades forward?

Expressways and cars changed everything. Horses and buggies vanished. Expressways depleted cities of the middle class and led to deserted high crime downtowns. They triggered sprawl and, along with vanishing streetcar lines, the decline of urban villages. In return cars offered individual freedom to roam and opportunity to escape congestion and crime in congested downtowns.


Last week another mobility tsunami emerged - car free cities! Norway announced that the central area of the capital city Oslo will be car-free in 4 years. The Oslo council plans to permanently ban vehicles from their central city.

It’s hard to argue the plan isn't futuristic. SafeGrowth blogs in the past describe similar visions, a theoretical design called The Venus Project and an urban experiment called Masdar City, currently under construction.

Oslo, however, is the first existing major city with over a half million residents to attempt it for real. It is unclear how 60 kilometers of new bike lanes will help residents navigate Oslo’s -5C, snowy winters. Horse buggies perhaps? Yet their plan to create a carless city heralds a truly visionary future.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Lights on, lights off

Front entrance to a Boulder neighborhood high school
Boulder, Colorado is a small and dynamic city at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains north of Denver. It is walkable, interesting, and generally safe for most residents.

Sauntering through a neighborhood one evening last week I photographed the high school pictured in these photos. High pressure sodium, it seems, is the lighting of choice. I have written about the visual appeal of sodium lights when bounced off brick walls. While lighting at this school was uneven with blind spots, it did allow nearby residents and strollers to view the school. The warm color was attractive for evening walkers.

This lights-on approach is popular in many schools.

Brick color shows well with sodium lighting, but uneven spread increases blind spots
One Handbook for School Safety and Security describes how schools should light up the entire school perimeter at night with enough illumination to detect movement at 100 yards.

Cringing at that, the Dark Sky Society argues for lights-off citing how some schools reduce crime at schools by turning lights out.

Lights-off also shows up in a booklet on CPTED Fundamentals for Schools by CPTED expert Tod Schneider. Tod writes:
Sometimes good lighting attracts misbehavior, while darkness drives people away. Many schools have gone to darkened campuses for this reason. School resource officers have found that good lighting made schools ideal hangouts after hours, while darkness discouraged kids from congregating

To light or not to light?
Lights-off is supported by at least one rigorous study, the Chicago Alley Lighting Project. That study uncovered an increase in crime after installation of lights. But the authors admit that may have masked the real results – better lighting means more residents can see, and report, more crime.

Ultimately, lights-on or lights-off depends on neighborhood context because the by-stander effect may make all the difference. Some neighborhoods are just not that connected to their schools and residents are unlikely to walk by, or look at, a well lit school.

Though I wonder, isn't that less about lighting and more about neighborhood culture?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Uncovering the Great Murder Mystery

In 2010 Vanessa Barker published an intriguing study just released on the internet: Explaining the Great American Crime Decline.

I love this study.

Barker reviews three studies on the crime decline: Frank Zimring’s The Great American Crime Decline, a report by Goldberger and Rosenfield and a book by Wallman and Blumstein, The Crime Drop in America.

You might think the crime decline topic is old turf with explanatory paths we’ve walked many times: less street cocaine, bigger and fuller prisons, tougher policing, smarter policing, legal abortions.

Alas, says Barker, none of those standard stories emerge from the research intact.


Barker moves away from standard stories onto Insights from Urban Sociology. Crime theorists will recognize references to collective efficacy and neighborhood structure. For those unfamiliar with crime theory, SafeGrowth is a megamenu of these same insights. Probably why I love the study...duh!

The changing structure of downtowns and changing youth culture falls squarely into these insights. Such changes help build more cohesive neighborhoods, not in places like Ferguson but in enough places to make a difference.

These insights include social and environmental factors this blog has held front and center, like business associations, non-profits, schools, social services, cultural activities, transport systems, and housing. They include examples of collaborative commons and social cohesion.


That’s when Barker drops the bomb! When she re-examined urban ecology studies on immigration she discovered how increasing immigration has helped reduce crime, not increase it!

“Sampson…suggests that increased immigration in the 1990s sparked urban renewal and economic growth in immigrant-dense neighborhoods like Queens and Bushwick in New York, the West Side in Chicago, South Central Los Angeles, and cities like Miami. The influx of immigrants corresponded with increases in income and decreases in poverty.”


I’d love to see that debate in elections now underway in Canada, and next year in the U.S. Sadly what we get instead is hollow sound-bite nuggets from a bunch of nattering numpties.

Case in point: Last week the NDP party in Canada proposed to hire 2,500 more cops. They want to cut crime on Canadian streets…streets where most crime is still declining!

Pockets of Crime expands urban ecology theory -
collective action by residents can turn the tide,
but only when physical conditions are right


Sadly the standard stories persist, lately in the theory that crime declines resulted from increased security worldwide (in technical terms, guardianship). And we are served up a buffet of advanced statistical techniques that hit and peck at data in shiny, new datasets.

It’s a kind of infinite monkey theorem for big crime data. Remember the theory that predicted the monkey who hits and pecks keyboard keys for infinity will almost surely end up creating Hamlet.

I say leave the monkey alone! Barker and colleagues are onto something, something we’ve known for a long time.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Our enemies in blue

Our Enemies in Blue by Kristian Williams
This week I heard from two old friends, an ex-police chief and a current chief. Echoing sentiments in our recent book You In Blue, one offered, “there needs to be a new narrative”. The other, surprisingly, referred me to the controversial anti-police book by Kristian Williams,  Our Enemies in Blue: Police Power in America.

Our Enemies attempts to string together a series of violent police incidents like Ferguson and Baltimore into a wider historical chain stretching back decades. According to Williams, links showing up today - zero-tolerance, order-maintenance policing and quality-of-life policing - are but the latest manifestation of an age-old chain.


Agree or not, Williams is not the first to suggest alternatives to the criminal justice system. Restorative justice, CPTED, the Interrupters, and SafeGrowth are all modern examples. Williams’ examples are a tad more unconventional and less stable. (The now defunct Black Panthers is one.)

Still, Williams’ central theme has been widely researched in the police literature: “The police do provide an important community service - offering protection against crime. They do not do this job well, or fairly, and it is not their chief function, but they do it and it brings them legitimately.”

Williams curiously ignores decades of collaborative problem-solving in the POP world - no doubt because POP refutes his point. But the fact that most police basic training academies ignore POP, reinforces it.


Williams asserts: “it is a bad habit of mind, a form of power-worship, to assume that things must be as they are, that they will continue to be as they have been... The first step toward change is the understanding that things can be different. This is my principal recommendation: we must recognize the possibility of a world without police.”

I’m not sure what that world would look like. But the fact that this sentiment has sizable voice and more listeners than ever before tells us the ripples started in Ferguson are splashing on shores far and wide.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

CPTED - The death and life of social

GUEST BLOG – Mateja Mihinjac is a criminologist at Griffith University, Australia completing her Ph.D. on the implementation of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). She is a certified SafeGrowth instructor and has taught SafeGrowth in Australia and New Zealand. This is her first SafeGrowth blog.

Diane Zahm, urban planning professor, and former ICA Chair, once wrote that without citizen involvement and practices relevant to the local neighborhood, implementation of CPTED strategies is “merely security and not really CPTED”.

I uncovered that quote recently while researching CPTED theory and history. I was amazed at how much information supported the social and motivational aspects of CPTED and yet, I discovered, it was largely ignored in contemporary CPTED literature. From my research, it was clear that CPTED, as originally intended by the pioneers, was more similar to SafeGrowth than to the CPTED practiced today, what we now call 1st Generation CPTED.


In Death and Life of Great American Cities, journalist Jane Jacobs wrote of city life and “eyes on the street” as the best example of urban design that supports informal control and builds social capital. Similarly, public housing authority Elizabeth Wood emphasized that people’s needs and desires should be paramount in urban design but that “design cannot do everything for the population”.

Architect Oscar Newman’s 1972 concept of defensible space was based on the social connections between people to create the kind of informal territorial proprietorship that prevents crime. Obviously, from the perspective of all these original writers in the field that later became CPTED, the power of social cohesion to prevent crime is not a consequence of architectural design but rather its prerequisite.


Following Newman, in the 1970s the U.S. government funded extensive research into CPTED - the Westinghouse CPTED studies. They evaluated the most comprehensive demonstration of CPTED projects in four different cities. One factor arising in those studies was the importance of motivational reinforcement - getting residents to become informed on prevention methods, working together to prevent crime, and to building a sense of social cohesion in their neighborhood. Motivation reinforcement somehow got lost in the CPTED implementation process in later years. 

A 1993 evaluation of the Westinghouse studies concluded:

“The reason for inconsistent and temporary effects appears to be that crime and violence arise from interactions between the social environment and the physical environment, which cannot be controlled entirely through manipulations of the physical environment.”

Volunteer-run outdoor library. Social reinforcement activities in Ljubljana, Slovenia
Photo by Marusa Babnik

Given the power relegated to social reinforcement in the early CPTED project work, how did social characteristics get lost in modern CPTED theory?

Social motives for crime receive practically no attention in modern CPTED except in the 1997 invention of Second Generation CPTED in which social and community aspects are reintegrated back into CPTED practice and theory.

With the renaissance of community development in the new field called collective efficacy, the exciting social design concept called tactical urbanism, and the evolution of SafeGrowth as a new way to plan safer neighborhoods, I hope CPTED will join these new 21st-century movements and fully integrate the social and the physical. Because it is within the community where the power to drive social change emerges.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Target hardening - the journey into the desert

Razor wire - the ultimate target hardener
This week I fielded inquiries about target hardening. It reminded me of the story of the mirage in the desert:

When the desert traveler dying from thirst sees the mirage of an oasis he diverts toward what he mistakenly thinks is his salvation. He does so, not because it is real, but because it is all he knows and because he is desperate.

This is what happened when shop-owners in London installed spikes to deter sleeping homeless people. The global backlash became an embarrassing public relations nightmare far worse than homeless people looking for a bed. Clearly, target hardening was a mirage that backfired.

Target hardening remains a mirage because we have very little research about its impact on community-building or on the perception of the public. Target hardening definitely conveys a message. What message does it convey about buildings, benches, urban parks and residential property? Does it drive people away for fear of crime? Is that message helpful for building local pride in our future communities?

Target hardening seeped into CPTED language in spite of its utter absence in the early literature from the CPTED pioneers. As far as I can tell, target hardening as a CPTED strategy showed up about a decade after CPTED was born.

Then in the early 1980s Ronald Clarke adopted target hardening as a component of situational crime prevention and that is where it has resided ever since.

Historically target hardening has been around a very long time. Some instructors like to equate medieval forts as examples of target hardening, but stretching a metaphor to antiquity does a disservice to contemporary democracies where human rights bind modern societies together.


Still, target hardening persists in the security lexicon because at times it works very well. I use it when other options don’t work such as high risk public housing prior to community-building programs. Regrettably, research on the topic is thin. Most target hardening research obsesses on common property crimes such as burglary, vandalism and thefts and to a lesser extent, robbery.

There is scant research on crimes against persons such as homicides, shootings or gang related violence, and what does exist is spotty. Luckily some research on target hardening still shows up in the property crime literature.

The truth is we know very little about the broader impact of target hardening. And our ignorance portends a rather scary future until we answer the single most important question about it: Is target hardening simply a mirage diverting us from more substantial, sustainable, and community-minded answers?

Thursday, August 20, 2015

CPTED event of the year - 2015 ICA conference

Looking down from the Calgary Tower observation deck - photo imgur at buzzfeed 
If you have not been following crime prevention or CPTED websites you may not know about a must-see event - the upcoming 2015 International CPTED Association bi-annual conference. This year it is October 19-20 in Calgary, Canada, where the ICA was born twenty years ago.

In 1996 there were few, if any, regional CPTED organizations and there were no international CPTED organizations. Even today it remains the only global association offering a certification program for CPTED practitioners.

The bi-annual conference is an ICA showcase for new theories, emerging practices, and creative ideas in crime prevention through environmental design.


The roster does not disappoint. Consider these topics:

  • Translating CPTED into transport environment during London’s Olympics
  • The return of displacement - CPTEDs nightmare
  • Implementing CPTED from Queensland, Australia to Pompano Beach, Florida
  • Urban design and criminality in Brazil
  • The crime capital of Canada - a community response
  • Inclusive urban spaces in Latin America for women
  • Perspectives of crime and disorder in South Africa
  • CPTED in cyber space

Sunrise over Calgary, site of the 2015 CPTED conference - photo by Michael C, Tourism Calgary 
Guest speakers include Paul Ekblom, professor at Central Saint Martin’s University of the Arts, London. Ekblom is a leading author and researcher on CPTED and will talk about “CPTED: Are our terms and concepts fit for purpose, and if not how might they be improved?”

Michael Sutton is a criminologist from Nottingham Trent University in the UK and will talk about “The routine activity theory of crime masquerading as causality”

Dr. Randal Atlas, myself, and ICA Executive Director Barry Davidson will facilitate an open session about homelessness and CPTED and what practitioners might do to better respond.

Rachel Armitage, professor of criminology and director of the Secure Societies Instutute a the University of Huddersfield, UK and Chris Joyce of the West Yorkshire Police will present “Why my house; Exploring offender perspectives on risk and protective factors in residential housing design”

For more information see the ICA website.

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Every time they want to count you out...use your voice

Facilitating safety audits with Saskatoon kids - doing it their way
GUEST BLOG: Tarah Hodgkinson is senior researcher in the Integrated Risk Assessment Instrument Group in Vancouver, Canada. She is a member of the International CPTED Association and a certified SafeGrowth practitioner. She is completing her PhD in criminology at Simon Fraser University.
Like the lyrics above from the best selling track Sing, too much crime prevention targets at-risk youth, but it rarely consults them. In The End of Education, Neil Postman told a fable of New York City falling into desperation. The streets are in disrepair, people are afraid to go outside and the police are unable to control the ballooning crime problem.

Not knowing what to do, the Mayor’s aide prepares to flee the city, but first reads Thoreau’s Walden, especially the quote, “Students should not play life, or study it merely, while the community supports them at this expensive game, but earnestly live it from beginning to end. How could youths better learn to live than by at once trying the experiment of living?”


I recently participated in a safety audit with local youth in Saskatoon,  Canada. With the help of a local planner and SafeGrowth advocate, Elisabeth Miller and planner Haven Rees, we reworked some of the safety audit to make it more youth friendly. We taught safety audit principles through games and examples. Finally the youth conducted a safety audit in one of Saskatoon’s neighbourhoods.

The experience reminded me how rarely youth are brought to the table when discussing safety, despite their unique experience in the urban environment. This group was particularly interesting, because they were all newcomers to Canada. Many were from countries much more violent and crime-ridden than Canada.  Their experience is particularly unique, because they experience fear and safety differently.

Children from different countries see spaces differently - Safety Audits capture that
For example, while conducting the safety audit one youth exclaimed, “of course I feel safe here! It’s so much safer than Russia!”

The youth in the safety audit told a different story than adults often do about their neighbourhoods. In a Block City exercise they were given the opportunity to build a neighbourhood with schools, shops, homes, and churches. They placed parks and shops very close to their home.

During the safety audit they also noticed things in the neighbourhood that we had missed. We were consistently surprised by their awareness and eagerness to participate. They were excited that we were taking their contributions seriously and genuinely intended to use their feedback.


I’ve had the privilege of teaching youth throughout my career. I often see their frustration when they are counted out from decisions because they are too young, or not given opportunities because adults feel they haven’t learned enough yet. However, when given the opportunity they can create beautiful and inspiring things. I’ve been impressed by the efforts to include youth here in Saskatoon.

Similar results are reported in this blog by educator Fleur Knight during her work in New Zealand schools.

I hope others will recognize the importance of involving youth in policy and neighbourhood improvements and we will stop doing things to and for youth, but rather with them.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Steel palms and transformation in Philly

Affordable HACE housing in Philly - a transformed neighborhood

One of the more offensive ideas I’ve come across in criminology is the theory that some high crime neighborhoods never change. Giving the lie to that myth is the above photo from new affordable housing by the non-profit housing group HACE in a transformed Philadelphia neighborhood. Yet, the criminology theory suggests such neighborhoods remain crime-ridden for decades and they are impervious to recovery. Equally offensive - and no less true - is a belief that zero-tolerance enforcement in crime hotspots or hardening targets in those high crime neighborhood is the best we can do.

No doubt crime persists in some places. Enforcement and situational prevention too can help. But they are far from the best we can do. Places do change and we can be part of that change. To peddle the inevitability of crime persistence or the impossibility of neighborhood rebirth is to embrace empirically unsound, intellectual funk.  


That was my thought last week in Philadelphia where we worked with Philadelphia LISC, the Philadelphia Commerce Department, and Police Department to launch more SafeGrowth community development projects.

We’ve been here twice over the past few years, most recently last year where impressive project work is still underway. One of those SafeGrowth projects started four years ago - Rainbow de Colores park - won accolades and was featured in an award-winning video for reducing crime and transforming a drug infested, shooting gallery at a handball court into a safe place alive with neighborhood life.

Last week energetic and dedicated commercial corridor managers, police officers, architects, city officials and residents began SafeGrowth projects in commercial corridors across the city. We did our training on 5th Street North, an area called El Centro de Oro, often associated with high crime and some of the highest drug dealing hotspots in the city.

Safety Audit walkabouts during our SafeGrowth training in Philadelphia
There is much to be done here (and elsewhere). The truth is that positive transformation is no more inevitable than stagnation. Fortunately work is already underway.


For example on 5th Street positive things are happening: street-scaping, thriving restaurants, an active arts and music scene, and vibrant community groups such as the innovative HACE (the Hispanic Association of Contractors and Enterprises) where we held our training. This corridor is revitalizing. Things are looking up!

You know something special is going on when you hear that local residents and shop owners take it on themselves to clean graffiti from the decorative, steel palm trees lining 5th Street North. To one author those hand-crafted trees are “a beloved symbol of the many Latin American islands represented in the local population.”

Obviously, undeterred by obsolete criminology theories, local pride and cohesion is where neighborhood transformation begins.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Propaganda gardening - the unifying language of food

Sprouting cemeteries - placemaking with food - screenshot from TED Talk
GUEST BLOG - Mateja Mihinjac is a criminologist at Griffith University, Australia currently completing doctoral research into the implementation of CPTED. She has co-taught SafeGrowth in Australia and New Zealand. Mateja worked in the Constitutional Court in Slovenia and is an active member of the International CPTED Association.

Food is a great conversation starter and starting place for building community. At least a portion of everyone’s daily life revolves around food. The community of Todmorden, West Yorkshire in England took this a step further and created a vision of community building around the local food production cycle.

The Incredible Edible project’s modest beginnings reach back to 2008 when the volunteers of Todmorden first started planting fruit trees, vegetables and herbs, and activating unused land by planting communal gardens all over the town. The project has since become an all-community, sustainable local initiative, explained in this TED talk by Pam Warhurst.

Edible reflects many of the same principles in successful SafeGrowth projects:

  • the recognition that everyone is part of the solution
  • the importance of education and involving the youngest in building resilient and sustainable communities and  
  • bringing on-board local businesses for connectivity and support without needing to rely on government agencies.

The Incredible Edible project skilfully employs placemaking through the language of food. This revolution, as the residents of Todmorden like to call it, has now spurred worldwide attention with the Incredible Edible initiatives emerging on all continents. Edible shows the power of small actions when it comes to building communities.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Police shootings - an internet meme?

Did the Combat Cop meme migrate north?
There is this thing called the internet meme - a viral phenomenon that transmits behaviors from one culture to another. Television, print, internet, films - they all carry ideas far and wide. Police cultures from one country to another are no different.

Is it possible that police shootings of civilians is one of those memes in police culture?

In You In Blue we did not write about the number of civilians shot by police, but we did discover 48 police officers were shot and killed last year. That is three times lower than a few decades ago. It raises a question: Have the numbers of people killed by police also declined? Actually, it seems the opposite.

One report by the Bureau of Justice Administration suggests about 500 to 700 people are shot by police, often in encounters on the street during crimes in progress.The Guardian newspaper finds that by July of this year alone over 500 people have been fatally shot by police, suggesting the numbers are increasing.

Sadly, we have no idea if that is beyond what normally happens. With over 750,000 police officers in a country of over 350 million we have no idea whether that is beyond the “average”, if such an average even exists!


I had a cursory look at Canadian police shootings for the past decade and made an interesting discovery. Unsurprisingly the Canadian rate is considerably less than the U.S. rate. With fewer handguns it stands to reason there will be fewer incidents of police confronting armed suspects.

Police-civilian fatal shootings in Canada - 2005 to 2015

What was surprising was the uptick in Canadian police-civilian shooting deaths over the past few years. Ten years ago it rarely rose above 5 per year for the whole country! (California, slightly larger than Canada’s population, has over 90 this year alone).

But five years ago the Canadian numbers started to increase - 7 in 2010 and 21 in 2014. By July this year that number was already 17, nowhere the U.S. rate but still alarming.

Are these increases just a blip on the statistical radar screen? Or are Canadian cops influenced by happenings with their U.S. counterparts?

Our final chapter in You In Blue is on The Warrior Agenda. To the Combat Cops in combat cop culture, “warrior ways” is an appealing meme. To the rest of us it is a nightmare. Is it moving north?

Monday, June 29, 2015

Coming out of the storm - A SafeGrowth Summit

Announcing 2015 SafeGrowth Summit

The post Great Recession years in this first part of the 21st Century carry great change, much of which fires the turbulence we see around us this summer.

A US President sings a eulogy following a racial massacre. American cities simmer in urban discord following police shootings. Broken windows and stop-and-frisk remain incendiary police tactics. And in Britain and Australia, quota-driven policing is seen for the sham that it is.

It's hard to imagine a more apt time to remember Haruki Murakami's words from his book Kafka on the Shore.

“When you come out of the storm, you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”

In response to the turbulence we just launched a three-pronged reply:
  1. An upcoming SafeGrowth Summit,
  2. A new SafeGrowth website with a network of SafeGrowth advocates, services, events, and answers
  3. A  police recruit training book by Gerry Cleveland and myself - You In Blue - outlining the shape of  21st Century policing. 
Check them out. We can choose our way out of this storm. That's what it's all about!

Blackstone Mountain Lodge, Alberta - Venue for 2015 SafeGrowth Summit

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Toronto tops safe cities index - but should it?

Night in Toronto - Rated best?
GUEST BLOG: Kallan Lyons is community development coordinator for a Toronto non-profit organization that provides affordable housing and support services for the homeless. In 2013 she spent six months in Ghana as a media trainer at the African University College of Communications. Prior to that she was contributor to the editorial board of the Whig Standard, the daily newspaper in Kingston, Ontario, and a reporter for Queen's Television. She has also blogged for Journalists for Human Rights.  


This year The Economist ranked Toronto one of the best places to live in the world, topping the charts in the 2015 Safe Cities Index.

I’ve called Toronto home for the past three years and recently moved to a newly gentrified neighbourhood in the west end. Crime rates have dropped and the local mall and subway station have been revitalized. Dufferin Station commuters now boast about the beautiful glass building and well lit buses that give their neighbourhood the glam it never had.

Interior wall foyer of new Dufferin Subway station
A 2009 survey revealed that 93 percent of Canadians feel safe from crime, and thus immune to crises in the United States such as the 2012 mass shooting in Aurora, Colorado.

Yet in 2012 an armed man opened fire at a downtown Toronto mall killing two people and injuring several others. One woman who escaped was a young American who blogged: "Gun crimes are fairly common where I grew up in Texas, but I never imagined I'd experience a violent crime first hand." Tragically she was killed in the Aurora shooting just months later, a fate she almost encountered in Toronto.


In 2013 Toronto again made national headlines. In my own recently gentrified neighborhood police shot to death an 18-year old Syrian man – Sammy Yatim – while he was alone on a streetcar after he drew a knife. What resulted echoed the aftermath surrounding the shooting in Ferguson. Torontonians erupted into a public outcry. Support poured in for the victim as faith in those who safeguard our community dwindled.

The result was a second-degree murder charge for the officer who killed Sammy Yatim.

This all emerged during a controversial "carding" program – contact information cards filed by police after street checks. Many minority community members denounce carding as a racially discriminatory program.

Toronto's revitalized Dufferin transit station
Safety is not just about gentrification. It’s about community and collaboration. There needs to be more community driven action and dialogue. Toronto may be rated one of the safest cities but we have a long way to go before public trust in our police is restored.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Police futures - A PBL conference in Madison

Madison, Wisconsin is one of those rare gems - a small city, a university town, nestled on northern lakes. Famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace graces the waterfront. Designed by Wright in 1938, it met opposition until final construction in 1997. A good idea, it seems, persists.

The University of Wisconsin in Madison was the perfect location for the annual Police Society for Problem Based Learning (PBL) conference where I attended this week.

Police PBL conference venue - the University of Wisconsin South Union 
I was impressed by this year’s amazing group of future-thinking police instructors at the conference. They explored PBL and showed how to keep the community at the core of training.


President Obama’s recent Task Force Report on 21st Century Policing makes that very point when it claims PBL “encourages new officers to think with a proactive mindset, enabling the identification of and solutions to problems within their communities.”

Given the depressing police news of late, this message was elixir for the soul.

We heard from one police agency implementing the PTO 2.0 street training program, a PBL replacement for obsolete field training known as FTO.

We heard from keynote speaker Michael Scott, director of the Center for Problem Oriented Policing, who connected some PBL dots. Mike is a long-time supporter of the police PBL movement and he drew a line connecting Herman Goldstein’s problem-oriented policing method and the PBL style of learning.


Professor Herman Goldstein also attended the conference and mingled with attendees throughout, offering participants golden opportunities to rub shoulders with a giant in the world of police scholarship. Few have contributed as much to great policing as Herman Goldstein.

Afternoon walk along Monona Terrace waterfront
I came to Madison after co-teaching emotional intelligence with Gerry Cleveland to the staff of the Law Enforcement Training academy in South Dakota. In You In Blue Gerry and I write about the impressive gains in South Dakota with their academy staff and curricula.

From this latest PSPBL conference and its problem-solving POP cousin, and from the South Dakota academy, I hope we are finally glimpsing the rebirth of American police training.  A good idea, it seems, persists.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

You In Blue – Guidebook for the new cop

A new book on policing by Gerry Cleveland and Gregory Saville
As I write, citizens in Cleveland are protesting yet another police shooting.

Sadly, the wrong members of the community receive the brunt of the blame. Vandals and troublemakers cause the problems, yet many in America are prepared to lay the blame at the feet of African American citizens.  That blame is both misplaced and unfair.

Irresponsible media fan the flames. They mix editorial opinions and ideological pundits into their news coverage, a cheap parlor trick guaranteed to boost their revenues. They ignore root causes. Fed up with the nonsense, one Baltimore resident confronted an on-the-street Fox reporter on national television during a protest (which that network censored).

Without doubt the media, vandals, and a minority of cops all carry an equal share of blame in what is happening in our cites. So does racism, poverty, corruption and criminal behavior. But there is another culprit looming large.

A different kind of policing for the 21st Century city
President Obama’s recent Task Force and their report into 21st Century Policing point to one of the root causes of what we are seeing on our streets.

That culprit is police training.


Today my colleague, Gerard Cleveland, a former cop, a lawyer and law lecturer, and I completed a new book that responds to the problem of outdated and improper police training. It is called You In Blue – A Guidebook for New Cops.  We wrote it as a guidebook for rookie cops and for those who train them.

The book includes chapters on academy life, street realities, intelligent tactical response, arming oneself with emotional training and the destructive issues arising from a warrior agenda.

We describe a method that academy directors and police leaders should have adopted long ago. We will be launching the book at the upcoming annual conference of the Police Society of Problem Based Learning in Madison, June 1-3.

Now is the ideal time to reconsider our broken training system.

Stay tuned.