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!