Sunday, December 25, 2016

School sexual abuse - Who guards the guardians?

Removing external threats does not remove internal threats
by Mateja Mihinjac

In The Republic, Plato asserted it is absurd “a guardian should need a guardian”. Five Centuries later the Roman poet Juvenal rejected this and claimed guardians do not always behave ethically and should not be trusted. Incidents of child sexual abuse by school personnel, estimated in some studies between 3.7% to 4.1% (almost 1 in 20), suggest that Juvenal may be right.

While increased focus has been placed on external threats such as school shootings, children remain largely defenseless from internal threats of sexual abuse by staff.

I was recently tasked with investigating whether child-safe schools can be designed to prevent child abuse by school staff. This led me to dig deep into the literature, while remaining skeptical the solution to this social problem was physical modification.

Too often internal threats are hidden and remain a secret
The first step required understanding the contextual factors leading to abuse. Some of the findings revealed:

  • Incidents occur in settings that provide isolation, such as during one-on-one interactions often in boarding houses, camps, cars, during after-school and extracurricular activities, or at the perpetrator’s home
  • Abuse is characterised by gradual desensitisation where “grooming” behaviours commence with increased attention until escalating to obscene gestures and inappropriate behaviours.

Exacerbating the problem is inadequate legislation, unsatisfactory institutional policies and procedures, inadequate awareness, institutional blindness, and inability to centre strategies on child welfare. All that leaves children vulnerable to abuse by those who should be protecting them.


The second step was research into preventive strategies, revealing the problem needs a holistic multi-level approach. These include:

  • Child safety policies and training for everyone (including children, parents, and teachers) that clarify acceptable behaviours
  • An institutional culture with zero tolerance policy for all forms of child abuse
  • Management practices that minimise opportunities for inappropriate encounters
  • Community strategies (media campaigns, bystander interventions)
  • Institutional transparency.

Schools must offer safe environments for study and play

Design Out Crime strategies proved ineffective for addressing the intricate problem of institutional child sexual abuse. Instead, responses should embed child safety at individual, organizational and systemic levels while also giving children a voice in the matters affecting them.

As Juvenal might suggest, trusting guardians is not simple and responsibility for preventing child abuse falls to wider society at all levels including neighborhoods, parents, and schools.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Snow cities – More than just pretty pictures and eggnog lattes

Winter cities pose special challenges for safety and accessibility

by Tarah Hodgkinson

This past week, in cities all over Canada, thousands of pictures have been posted to social media about snow. Canadians are used to snow of course, except for Vancouverites, who see snow about three times a year and never see it last. This year it has snowed several times already in Vancouver and residents and city crews are struggling to keep the roads clean and drivers safe.

However, while we may like to take pretty pictures of the recent snowfall, or complain about how drivers can’t seem to figure out how to drive in these conditions, the snow also creates serious issues for aging or (dis)Abled populations. For over a decade I have been an ambassador and advocate for those living with Multiple Sclerosis. Thus, every winter, I witness the struggle that winter weather creates for both aging and (dis)Abled Canadians.

Snow limits access for (dis)Abled and aging people  

SafeGrowth blogs in the past point to CPTED in winter cities. In this case, the major issue is that cities have not been built with (dis)Abled or aging people in mind. Planners, developers and engineers have excluded many people who do not fit the “normal” shape and created infrastructure for the “standard” body size and abilities. Furthermore, (dis)Abled people are rarely included in decisions about city design or policy.

Even when there is city policy that considers the needs of the (dis)Abled, in practice these needs are ignored. For example, a recent study in Prince George, BC found that although city bylaws required sidewalk snow removal, in practice removal rarely happened. Residents often had to complain and when it was finally removed, it was done so hastily that it created further barriers for the (dis)Abled.


The issue here is two-fold, not only are (dis)Abled individuals unable to use these spaces easily or effectively, but they also experience a great deal of emotional and physical stress in going about their daily activities resulting in both mental health issues and feeling permanently excluded or out of place.

How can we expect to engage everybody in a community, when some are unable to leave their homes for weeks at a time because of poor city design? Cities have been able to overlook many of the concerns of people with disability, as they are often poorly funded and inaccessibility prevents participation.  However, with an aging population there is now a tipping point of public pressure that cities can not ignore. Design must change with the changing times.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

CCTV marries A.I.

Who will keep watch in isolated places?

I have been pondering security technology encroachments into public life, particularly regarding CCTV monitoring. There was a time, it seems now very long ago, that the UK began installing CCTV. Hundreds of millions of dollars, and over four million (and counting) CCTV cameras later, the UK is the most surveilled society on earth.

We were assured that would never happen in the US, or other developed countries. Violate our civil rights? No way cried the libertarian and democratic pundits in unison. 

Still, if you have nothing to hide…

Today, London and Beijing have over 400,000 CCTV each (proving politics is no guarantee either way). In the US there are over 30 million CCTV cameras, mostly in private hands. But there are now CCTV on streets in every major US city (Houston and Chicago lead the way with over 14,000 in Chicago alone) and public support is growing.

Will the brain behind the camera soon be an intelligent computer?


On one hand, we applaud when police apprehend the Boston terrorists due in large measure to public CCTV. We also later watched those same terrorists as they planted and exploded the devices - prevention was not a result of those cameras. 

I always applaud traffic intersection CCTV to cut car crashes, especially in my city where drivers spend more time in narcissistic self-obsession trying to beat the red light rather than watching where they are going. 

CCTV in public spaces is not new


Recently I’ve been reviewing the latest in CCTV analytics, intelligent tracking and real-time scene analysis. In other words, CCTV on steroids. The latest is no longer motion detection or auto tracking (so old school). The latest is intelligent video analytics, a major evolution from facial recognition software of yesteryear. Video analytics is made possible by exponential increases in processing power and so-called ‘intelligent’ algorithms. 

And now it is part of security and public safety, watching for suspicious movements, packages, behaviors. Watching you! How does the computer know what to look for? It uses algorithms based on past behavior. In future, it may use artificial intelligence to learn on its own. And that is where things get interesting.

Wired magazine puts it this way:
“voice, image, and motion recognition will transform human-computer interfaces into a seamless interaction between the user and all the computing devices in that person’s life.”
A few years ago I blogged about economic theorist Jeremy Rifkin, his forecasts, the Internet of Things and his predictions for disruptive technologies. It seems he was right. Should we be worried?

- Gregory Saville

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Ethics in criminology - avoiding Frankenstein

Frankenstein - a story about over-extended science 

by Mateja Mihinjac

The story of Frankenstein, when a scientist’s experiment runs amok, is a fictional account of science gone wrong. A few weeks ago I attended a criminology conference about crime prevention and communities. The conference targeted academics, police, local councils and groups like Neighbourhood Watch and Police-Citizens Youth Clubs.

The take-home message as it turned out, however, was not an appreciation for cooperative community-driven crime prevention. Instead, the delegates were fascinated by presentations on evidence-based criminal justice showcased through the technical whizz of some presenters and the call for a scientific response to crime.


The evidence-based mantra is the latest trend in criminal justice and policing, often called the evidence-based approach (EBA) in crime prevention and evidence-based policing.

These academics (they call themselves “scientists”) maintain that criminal justice policies should be driven by scientifically evaluated strategies that have been proven to work, a laudable goal to be sure. But to support these arguments, EBA proponents like to compare the evolution of criminal justice to medical science.

The biological and physical sciences use experiments in controlled labs
They maintain that by applying scientific techniques that allow for objective, comprehensive and rigorous assessments, they will be able to guide public safety professionals with approved solutions and thus eliminate guesswork that had guided their work in the past. It is a proposition long criticized as unrealistic by social research experts like National Academy of Science member Stanley Lieberson, former chair of the Sociological Research Association.


Crime is a social problem characterized by complicated causes and interconnected underlying factors. The science that the EBA crowd follows is based on quantitative number crunching and the kind of controlled experiments that are simple to control in the chemistry lab, but far less so on the street where crime occurs.

How likely is it that the same methods in physical science are ideal methods for truly understanding the complexities of crime? How realistic is it to think the multifaceted social factors of social disorder and crime can be extracted, reduced to small components and then tested in experimental designs?

Harvard’s Malcolm Sparrow also warns that relying too much on evidence-based practice is a risky proposition; it risks dependence on a limited pool of validated solutions and dependence on quickly outdated solutions in today’s rapidly changing society. Further, Sparrow says that the excessive time needed to establish a knowledge-base to satisfy evidence-based policing proponents means that results may take too long to be operationally relevant.

Data-driven, computational experiments can take years to complete
One argument for establishing evidence-based practice is to eliminate the disconnect between academics and practitioners. But escalating the evidence-based rhetoric does not help narrow this gap; in fact, it only perpetuates the division between the two.

This is especially true when EBA academics consider themselves as governors of the research that judges policies rather than establishing a mutually beneficial collaborative relationship. There is no worse way to create top-down solutions that exclude those who are affected by these policy decisions — the public.


This does not mean, as the saying goes, that we should throw the baby out with the bathwater. Evidence-based practice has an important role to play, particularly in crime prevention and policing. Evidence-based research provides directional patterns that might support the effectiveness of certain measures.

However, decision makers should not rely solely upon today’s trending EBA promises especially when solutions may infringe upon social equality. Ethics cannot be pushed aside from decisions made too quickly from a complete lack of evidence, or too slowly from a plodding EBA platform in which “scientists” take months or years to conclude anything of value.

Sparrow partially attributes the overwhelming focus of the evidence-based policing movement on place-based interventions such as situational crime prevention, CPTED or hotspot policing. In these cases, ethical questions seem very distant when researchers use secondary data, such as crime statistics collected by police, and their computational calculations do not directly involve people.

It is ultimately still people who will experience the effects of place-based interventions.

"Big Data" does not solve our problems if we have weak connection to
those under study
One example of this vulnerability is evidence-based solutions such as target hardening in situational prevention or CPTED that minimize criminal opportunities (when crimes may not have actually occurred) but may also reduce opportunities for liveability, walkability or socializing. This is why we need to engage communities each step of the way during evidence-based research and practice. Other professions do it — why can’t we?

Schram neatly summarizes the evidence-based versus ethics-based debate:
“we need less top-down research which focuses on a ‘what works’ agenda that serves the management of subordinate populations and more research that provides bottom-up understandings of a ‘what’s right’ agenda tailored to empowering people in particular settings”. 

Friday, November 11, 2016

Shining light onto LEDs - disturbing findings

Fly into any major city at night and you’ll notice vast swaths of bright white lights replacing the yellow hue from high-pressure sodiums, once the preeminent lord of night lighting across the urban fabric.

The white light is from LEDs - light emitting diodes - and cities are installing them in an implementation tsunami. They are cheaper and they are brighter, but I have been bothered by their excessive glare and, during our night site visits, I always warn students about the lack of research on LED and human behavior. Over the years I’ve blogged about sodiums and Randy Atlas has guest blogged here on LEDs. But research has been scant.

Until now! And the early results are worrying.


The American Medical Association has released a statement condemning the health effects of LED street lighting.

The AMA identifies two concerns:

  • First, the bright glare is caused from the wavelength and color rendition from LEDs. Apparently the high intensity of LEDs emit large amounts of blue light that appears white. This causes a glare problem worse than conventional street lights and it’s why the light dispersion from LEDs is so difficult to control, even with cutoff shields. Says the AMA: “Discomfort and disability from intense, blue-rich LED lighting can decrease visual acuity and safety…creating a road hazard.”

Engineers use a color rendition index to assess light sources impacts 
- photo by Adoniscik 

  • Second, it also turns out that the blue-rich LED streetlights suppress melatonin levels and people end up with disturbed sleep cycles. Says the AMA: “It is estimated that white LED lamps have five times greater impact on circadian sleep rhythms than conventional street lamps.” In large studies the AMA says this causes “reduced sleep times and impaired daytime functioning”. Not good.

Obviously, the AMA studies are not the final word. For example, the blue from LEDs can be controlled.


The lighting industry, understandably, is not happy with the AMA conclusions. One source says “As with any new technology, there are a lot of unknowns that only time will be able to tell what the results/answers will be.”

That is the same thing we have been saying about LED lights from the beginning. In the budget-saving rush to install LEDs we know very little about the behavioral, social and medical consequences from these new light technologies.

Students of CPTED know that lighting research regarding safety is based on quantity, not quality. I have yet to read a single study on light source quality and crime related behavior. This knowledge gap isn't limited to LEDs, we also have inadequate qualitative information on halide or sodium light sources.

Until we do, it’s probably best to look for successful cities with exceptional lighting, such as Melbourne, Australia, and see what they do right.

Melbourne, Australia has award-winning, city-wide lighting designs - photo by
the extraordinary lighting engineer Ian Dryden

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Storytelling - A narrative for change

Storyteller Katrice Horsley performing at the New Orleans SafeGrowth Summit
Guest Blog: MATEJA MIHINJAC is a criminologist completing a PhD in CPTED at Griffith University, Australia. She is a SafeGrowth Advocate, a member of the International CPTED Association and the American Society of Criminology.

At our New Orleans SafeGrowth Summit four weeks ago we had the pleasure of hosting a National Storytelling Laureate for the United Kingdom and a storyteller of 30 years, Katrice Horsley. Katrice injected us with warmth, energy, and passion for creating social change through what she refers to as “narrative for change”.

We learned how storytelling can serve as a powerful transformational method for achieving social change to promote empowerment and social justice. Several organizations such as Transformative Storytelling for Social Change use storytelling to form meaning and experience through narrative and do so in a fun and non-threatening way. As Katrice also explains:
“Storytelling is the main way that we make sense of ourselves and of the world around us, both through the stories we choose to hear and the stories we choose to tell. New findings in neuroscience now show us how important narrative is in creating an identity for ourselves and also in experiencing and understanding how others make sense of their worlds.” 
Katrice uses imagery and tools to envision narratives 
Katrice challenged some of our narratives that become beliefs, not only about us as individuals, but also about our neighborhoods. We learned how to express our own stories, and our neighborhood stories, in creative ways that included props like textiles, cards, and threads.

These are powerful methods for creating change through narrative and they equipped us with new skills for neighborhood development. Katrice showed how storytelling can deliver outcomes such as:

  • Building networks 
  • Enabling a just process for all voices
  • Raising political awareness about common problems
  • Serving as a catalyst for change

One of Katrice's sketches for our SafeGrowth narrative
Katrice’s powerful performances during the Summit echoed the SafeGrowth message that, just as we can envision multiple futures for change, there are many narratives for our neighborhoods. Narrative induces particular emotions and attitudes and, if we confront those honestly in stories, we can challenge ingrained beliefs that block progress. That allows us to better tap into new ideas towards some desired future. In Katrice’s words: “If you want to effect a change then narrative is the way forward”.

Katrice helped us see the great potential that transformational storytelling has within SafeGrowth programs for planning vibrant and safe 21st Century neighborhoods.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

SafeGrowth Summit in New Orleans

Search Conference participants enjoyed the French Quarter after sessions
Tarah is a senior researcher in the Integrated Risk Assessment Instrument Research Group in Vancouver, Canada. She is a certified SafeGrowth Advocate and is completing her PhD in criminology at Simon Fraser University. 

Two weeks ago, the ever expanding SafeGrowth program, in partnership with Louisiana AARP, held our third SafeGrowth Summit. Six teams from across the country joined us in New Orleans, including Chicago, Los Angeles, Birmingham, Baton Rouge, Los Angeles and of course New Orleans.

Our week included a very special visit from Nobel Laureate for Storytelling, Katrice Horsley from the UK, who was an incredible addition to our team (this will be the focus of an upcoming blog). Suffice to say, many of us walked away with a plethora of new skills for neighbourhood development.

One conference participant presenting preliminary SafeGrowth plans 
As always, the search conference involves a stage of visioning. Sometimes this part is as important as the action plan. Participants envisioned a future where people could work, live and play in their neighbourhoods. They envisioned places that were no longer car dependent. They envisioned extensive public transit networks, renewable energies, and neighbourhoods full of festivals, diversity and acceptance.

The results of this session were inspiring and resembled similar results from other search conferences. We realize that today, when groups are asked to envision a desirable future, what emerges are ideas for walkable, diverse, multi-use, and sustainable neighbourhoods.  The results of the planning stages of the search conference included numerous plans for changing each of the neighbourhoods represented at our event.

Additional work occurred throughout to refine plans
In one city, discussions focused around expanding community engagement strategies on a new metro transit system. In another, engagement included safety on possible shuttle service and a Rails-To-Trails project. On yet another, sidewalk and intersection safety initiatives are leading to the possible development of a cross-city neighborhood exchange program to help build social cohesion between different neighborhoods in the city.


By the end of the event the teams began to incorporate tactics to work with neighborhoods, residents, and stakeholders early in the planning stages. They saw the value in directly involving neighbourhood organizations before moving forward with any changes.

The concept small is beautiful resonated throughout. Finally, the conference highlighted the storytelling skills of Katrice who entertained with her unique way to share lessons of change and hope. We agreed that this will definitely become an important feature of SafeGrowth in the future.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Street tunes vs the IPNAS genie

Street musician amazes and entertains in New Orleans
Traveling across the country in recent weeks I enjoyed street musicians from one coast to the other. They came in the form of brass jazz bands in New Orleans to piano players on the Venice Beach Boardwalk in Los Angeles.

Every urban center in the world features street musicians - also called buskers - those performers who provide entertainment for handouts.  In France, they are Troubadours and in Mexico Mariachi bands wander the streets and beaches.

Buskers have been part of city life for centuries, probably dating back to antiquity. England’s Henry VIII first licensed them as minstrels. And among their numbers, you can count Benjamin Franklin, Josephine Baker, Tracy Chapman, Rod Stewart and Guy Laliberte, the founder of Cirque du Soleil.

Many cities license buskers, such as Toronto and London where they must audition to play on subway platforms. Most cities regulate them to ensure they are not a nuisance or hazard.

Venice Beach Boardwalk street entertainers - a top tourist destination in LA
From a street safety point of view, they offer the opportunity to bring some legitimate eyes onto isolated areas and activate dull spaces with interesting life. A few years ago Steve Woolrich blogged here about the successful Red Deer, Alberta street piano.

Little attention is paid to busking in the crime prevention literature. But our experience suggests that properly applied to key areas, street musicians can activate public places and make them safer. If anything it is usually the buskers who are victims of theft, not the other way around.


My concern in recent years has been the over-regulation of buskers like street musicians, especially considering the UK’s newest law, the Anti-Social Behavior Crime and Policing Bill.

Under the oddball acronym IPNAS - Injunctions to Prevent Nuisance and Annoyance - the new law heaps a cornucopia of rules on everything from irresponsible dog ownership to border security and terrorism. And like all omnibus bills, they are a Genie out of the bottle once they get into the hands of local authorities with bizarre predispositions (aka Ferguson).

New Orleans brass jazz band - a beloved local tradition 
I understand attempts to cast a wide net of hyper-regulation over the streets of UK cities, especially when threatened by street thugs, drunks, and hooligans.

But for every action, there is a reaction. This action could also limit the ability to activate streets with human entertainment and instead replace it with cold, mechanical CCTV eyes with the promise of a safe viewshed on downtown streets, a strategy with mixed empirical results in the UK and even more questions in the US.

Then I found a review of the IPNAS laws in The Guardian. It brought to mind the stories of some of our greatest cultural contributors, Benjamin Franklin, Rod Stewart, Tracey Chapman and Guy Laliberte:
These laws will be used to stamp out plurality and difference, to douse the exuberance of youth, to pursue children for the crime of being young and together in a public place, to help turn this nation into a money-making monoculture, controlled, homogenised, lifeless, strifeless and bland. For a government which represents the old and the rich, that must sound like paradise.


Friday, September 30, 2016

New Orelans SafeGrowth Summit

Twenty eight years ago a group assembled on the shores of Lake Couchiching, Ontario, 150 kilometers north of Toronto. They met to brainstorm new ways to prevent and analyze crime, deploy community police officers, and build safer cities.

The event was summarized in a book I authored, Crime Problems, Community Solutions - Environmental Criminology as a Developing Prevention Strategy. It was the beginning of SafeGrowth.

Next week a group of AARP representatives, community members, criminologists, planners, and others interested in crime, safety, and vital neighborhoods will gather in New Orleans to continue a journey started long ago. The New Orleans Summit and Search Conference is the first in the south/eastern U.S.


The Lake Couchiching event was the first-ever search conference in criminology, a method of community visioning and planning developed shortly after WW2. It set the stage for a different style of crime prevention based on the place and time of crime events - today called situational crime prevention.

The community and police representatives at the event thought cohesive neighborhoods also mattered a great deal. Thus was born the SafeGrowth philosophy of neighborhood planning.

Today SafeGrowth theory is a formal method of crime prevention. In the past few years we've had  more Search Conference events, one in Canmore, Alberta and another in Sacramento, California, to expand the concept. The New Orleans conference is the latest.

Watch our SafeGrowth website for our latest ideas to more forward.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Crime and trees? The horror!

Oddly, the past few weeks I have received emails regarding press stories about trees and crime. Trees so seldom show up in stories on crime unless there are efforts to trim them up or down.

This time some local residents (well, one or two) complained that trees cause crime. Local reporters - perhaps hungry for news copy on a slow day - eagerly hyped the horror-in-the-park story because trees are, apparently, crime causing according to some residents.

True, untrimmed trees that obstruct overhead lights or block sight-lines into risky areas might be a problem, but so are parked cars, dumpsters, large hills and great big heaps of smelly, putrid trash (ok, my polemics got the best of me on that last one). And all that is a problem of maintenance, not trees.

Obstructed sight-lines versus aesthetics
In fact trees cause no more crime than anything else, except they are beautiful, they clean the air of pollutants, control stormwater, provide shade on sunny days, add a green and textured aesthetic to barren parks and they increase property values.

I have blogged before on trees-and-crime and the fact is the overall impact from trees is positive. And data support that contention.


Research by the Illinois Human-Environment Research Laboratory on the Robert Taylor Homes public housing project in Chicago shows treed areas had up to 58% fewer violent crimes. In 2011 the U.S. Forest Service did a similar study in Baltimore and discovered tree canopy’s over roadways corresponded with a 12% reduction in crime.

Yet another study in Portland, Oregon revealed similar tree crime-reducing effects.

It’s not uncommon that myths about crime show up in public debate, but it’s a tragedy when fears based on made-up theories shape public policy.

Friday, September 2, 2016

SafeGrowth in the university - from the classroom to the street

Simon Fraser University main campus quadrangle - Image by Soggybread, Creative Commons
GUEST BLOG: Tarah Hodgkinson is a senior researcher in the Integrated Risk Assessment Instrument Research Group in Vancouver, Canada. She is a member of the International CPTED Association and a certified SafeGrowth instructor. She is completing her Ph.D in criminology at Simon Fraser University. 

Last spring, I had the pleasure of teaching a fourth year university class on crime prevention at the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. The course had not been offered in several years.

I was nervous as this was my first upper year seminar course, but I wanted to provide the students with an experience rarely seen on university campuses today. I wanted them to have a chance to guide their own learning, engage with their own neighbourhoods and finally write a paper that they could use for something more than just a grade.

I set up the class to include the SafeGrowth method and created a problem-based learning (PBL) format to teach it. In PBL the students work together in teams and select a real-life, complex crime problem in a neighborhood. Their learning is based on research-in-action.


In PBL students conduct a SafeGrowth® assessment on that neighbourhood and work to address that problem. In addition to their field work, students each read a different book that had been key to informing the SafeGrowth philosophy or crime prevention. They then participate in seminars with short interactive presentations on that week’s material, presented by the students themselves.

During their field work they practiced real-life learning in the same way a professional consulting team might engage a neighborhood: they conducted site audits, contacted city officials, learned more about crime mapping and developed an evidence-based plan.

They learned about search conferences and safety audits, not by reading about them, but by actually doing them. Their final paper was a report they could give to a city counsellor or funding agency – hence, not just for a grade.

Located atop Burnaby Mountain, the university overlooks Greater Vancouver - photo SFU
I had no idea how the students would respond since they were so used to lectures and tests. I was sure they would revolt. I feared the worst, but I got the best. When I trusted them to take chances, I saw them flourish. I saw them connect with each other, connect with their neighbourhoods, and learn that they too had a voice.


I asked them to write a thirty second pitch about what they learned. Their responses were shocking. Very few spoke about the content. Rather, they told me that for the first time in university they felt that they had made real connections, real friends. In an era when many lament the loss of integration and connection, they integrated and connected.

They discussed the rewards of engaging with their neighbourhoods and realized that they could do something immediately to make changes. They said they felt listened to and that they had finally learned something. In a class where I did not do any traditional teaching, the students learned something. Imagine!

Not only did they learn that learning-by-doing and this intensive collaboration style - the action-based method - is the philosophical lynchpin of SafeGrowth and successful crime prevention. They also learned when I gave up lecturing and classroom control, when I trusted them to work together on real problems that is when real learning happened. It is then when we truly start to solve community crime problems.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

The POP conference is back!

Tempe Mission Palms Conference Center, Tempe, Arizona - site of 2016 Problem Oriented Policing Conference
After some bleak years of de-funding, the International Problem Oriented Policing Conference is back! After a funding hiatus in 2014, the 25th POP conference reappeared last year. This year the 26th conference will be in Tempe, Arizona,  October 24-26

The conference program says it all:
Problem-Oriented Policing Conference is often described by attendees as the most substantive policing conference they've ever attended. Each year, police officers and police leaders, and all the ranks in between, as well as crime consultants and crime researchers, come together to discuss what they've learned about trying to reduce different crime and safety problems.
Along with complimentary problem-solving conventions such as the recent International Police Problem-Based Learning conference and last year’s International CPTED Association Conference, the International POP Conference is one of the few global policing conferences focused on the daily business of everyday policing.

Problem-Oriented Policing section of the Office of Community Oriented Policing website 
The problem-solving conferences are based in practical cop experiences. In other words, they are real-life. This year’s POP conference does have topics tapping into recent controversies dominating the media - Police Legitimacy and Policing Terrorism - but the program is also loaded with crime and safety themes:

  • Introduction to CPTED (by yours truly)
  • Police and PTO/Problem Based Learning 
  • Homelessness 
  • Intimate partner violence, and 
  • Leveraging community engagement to reduce fear of crime.

Professor Herman Goldstein (retired), the remarkable scholar who started the problem-oriented policing movememt
There will be numerous Herman Goldstein Problem-Oriented Policing Award submissions from around the world. And, as always, Professor Herman Goldstein will attend the event.

Goldstein, the founder of problem-oriented policing, is the man who started it all. If you don’t know Goldstein’s history, it is online and well worth the read. The conference pays homage to his remarkable legacy.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Revisiting laneways

Navigating most urban laneways is an unsafe and unappealing journey 
A recent walk in  some urban laneways brought to mind mystery stories of Sherlock Holmes’ chasing murderers lurking in dark, foggy alleys.

In real life, laneways are a hidden and complex urban landscape we seldom consider in our formulations for safer cites. We write about them in our stories, but not until the New Urbanists reintroduced them as a modern feature of their residential street design did we refocus on them as a crime location.

Most experienced beat cops walk downtown laneways, especially at night, because that is where things happen. Burglars frequent them because they offer easy access to the rears of homes. And kids vandalize and steal from cars in them because laneways are traditionally hidden from view.

Attractive laneway design providing more than trash pickup
As I compared some lively laneway designs with others that were not (the top photo), it was obvious poor laneway design is not inevitable. Laneway research is emerging revealing other options. I have posted blogs on laneway life, laneway chic,  and permeable fine grain design.

Landscaping and porches at the rear laneway - no chain link fences needed
One Australian study on laneway crime suggests designers pay more attention to width/length, visibility from the ends, and the number of residences.

But our work in SafeGrowth, and my recent walks, suggests something different: laneway activation is much more than physical size and shape. It is also about creatively figuring how to retain car parking and trash disposal uses, while at the same time creating interesting places for socializing.

Territorial marker at the end of the laneway - a community garden  
That might sound unappealing at first. Yet the cool laneway in these photos features streetscaping, decorative lighting, a community garden at the end, and rear door porches to encourage laneway socializing. If designers provide an interesting option that residents need, they will use it and also keep it safe.

Providing lighting and window sight-lines to protect vehicles

Sunday, July 24, 2016


Sunset over New York
Public housing is an enigma in the fabric of the city. On one hand, most public housing is decent, safe and important. It provides an invaluable service offering affordable housing to those who, for various reasons, are left out.

On the other hand, far too much public housing results in the projects, unsafe warrens of drug dealers and crime.

In some ways, the worst side of unrepaired and ignored public housing emerges as a shadowland across the modern city, places that breed gang activity and fear. Our early SafeGrowth work began in such a place in Toronto.

The original defensible space writing of Oscar Newman was based on public housing in the 1970s, much of that in New York.

Public housing in Manhattan along the Hudson River

I recently spent time working in New York City. Anyone who studies or practices crime prevention will know the work of Oscar Newman, a Canadian-born, New York architect who created defensible space theory - also known in some circles as crime prevention through environmental design - CPTED.

Jake Blumgart’s Next City article about public housing in New York highlights the work of Newman with the New York City Housing Authority. It discusses his conclusions about design flaws and crime opportunity - the basic principles of 1st Generation CPTED - and how he later modified those early assertions about design and incorporated social factors into his formulations (after considerable criticism).

It describes Newman’s realization about the larger role of social structure of public housing - concentrating poor residents in one project, youth-to-adult tenure policies, and percent tenants on welfare. Those familiar with the Second Generation CPTED will recognize the revised ideas as the Capacity Principle. Second generation strategies in public housing show considerable promise, as reported by DeKeseredy.

Repairs underway at a public housing apartment in New York

A careful reading of early Newman’s Defensible Space, and especially his later Community of Interest reveals that he eventually came to consider design only one part of the crime opportunity equation. He was figuring this out as early as 1976:

"Research on residential crime patterns in 150,000 New York City public housing units has established that the combined effect of the residents' social characteristics and the projects' design affects the crime rate." 

Still, I doubt that Newman really calculated all the complicated shadowland equations of public housing. There is much work yet to be done.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Cities provide something for everybody...when they are created by everybody

Toronto neighborhood corner store - re-imagined
Today is America's Independence Day - the time for celebrating a government by and for the people. Sadly, local governance seems a long way off in the rhetoric that comprises this election season. So for solace, I turn to local governance on the street in the form of placemaking.

There are plenty of amazing street designs, laneway experiments, and examples of tactical urbanism that enliven and activate the street. The more people who walk and enjoy what Jane Jacobs called the street ballet the easier it is to humanize our neighborhoods and reduce fear and crime. This is the magic that is placemaking.

But did you ever notice how some versions of placemaking seem too expensive for the average person? Who has the time or money to redesign a laneway or install fancy lights, landscaping and pavement treatments?


An answer surfaced on recent trips to Toronto and Colorado Springs. The former took form in a small corner convenience store in a Toronto residential neighborhood.

Sitting areas, barbeques, relaxing space for socializing - A corner store with a purpose 
After suffering a burglary last fall and installing window bars, the owner decided to explore some inventive placemaking of her own. She transformed the front and side of her shop into a mini-market and outdoor gathering place and then invited locals to enjoy.

Inside the store she brings in local artists and artisans with samples of their work. With a vested interest in seeing their own work, and the chance to visit with others, locals and families frequent the corner store and create their own neighborhood nexus with very little cost to the storeowner.

Walls for local artists to show their stuff - free of charge!


Another answer appeared along a downtown laneway in Colorado Springs. In this case locals used color and paint to enliven an otherwise dead space.

Colorado Springs laneway made fun with paint highlights
Rather than an alley with dead spaces, poor lighting and droll walls, these shopowners painted walls, installed local art, and used overhead colored LED lights to bring some energy to the space. When a few people located their shops along the alley, the space turned into a social gathering place.

Dull wall space transformed with paint
It really is not difficult to trust locals and work with them in coming up with ways to turn spaces into places. Jacobs said it 50 years ago: “Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and when, they are created by everybody.”

Adjacent restaurant getting in on some laneway action with colorful ad-art

Monday, June 20, 2016

The nightmare that won't end

Our work to help neighborhoods tackle crime was overshadowed this week when 49 people were killed by a murderer, madman or terrorist in an Orlando nightclub! Two weeks earlier that murderer sauntered into a local gun store and shopped an assault rifle and handgun from a gun dealer who would later claim “I don’t make the law”

Mass murder is not at all the same type of preventable crime as other crimes that we tackle. On one hand it accounts for a tiny minority of violent incidents each year. Yet taken on whole, the annual American mass murder toll is mind-numbing
  • 2016 - 49 killed in an Orlando nightclub
  • 2015-  9 killed at an Oregon college
  • 2015 - 14 killed by a terror couple in San Bernadino, 
  • 2013 - 12 killed in a Washington DC Navy Yard 
  • 2012-  26 killed, including 20 children, at Sandy Hook school 
  • 2012 - 12 killed in a Colorado movie theatre 


By my own calculations, since 2014, the number killed in mass murders (more than 4 killed at a single event) totals 694 victims! That is less than 3% of total of homicide victims in those years. About 14,000 people are murdered in the U.S. each year. 

To be clear, most murders are not mass murders but rather domestic violence killings and gang and drug shootings. 

Still, mass murders are the most gut-wrenching. And most mass murders have nothing to do with terrorism. Over 90% of mass murders since 2014 resulted from domestic violence or criminal madmen. 

None of which solves the problem. 

It is difficult for me to ignore the same arguments of reason and evidence against off-the-shelf assault rifles that I offered four years ago after the Newtown, Connecticut school murders


Instead pundits blather on about terrorism, background checks, LGBT hate crimes and mental illness. They dismiss gun control, probably because with millions of firearms in private hands, gun control is a hopeless genie long out of the bottle. 

We are left to watch President Obama delivering his 15th mass murder speech. And in spite of it all, the American gun/murder formula continues to produce yet more atrocities year after year.  It’s like a nightmare that won’t end.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

"What attracts people most is other people"

Just as I was writing about homelessness and walkable public spaces I received a Vimeo from SafeGrowth friend Sue Ramsay in New Zealand. It is a 4 minute video uncovering simple urban design and social programming features that make a public space fantastic.

It is all based on William H. Whyte’s 1980 book The Social Life of Small Urban Spaces, and to a lesser extent his follow-up book, City: Rediscovering The Center.

Whyte was born 100 years ago and he became mentor to Jane Jacobs and inspiration for the New York place-making group Project for Public Spaces.

Screenshot from William Whyte: In His Own Words by Clarence Eckerson Jr., Streetfilms 
For CPTED practitioners, William H. Whyte is among the bright lights in the history of urban design. He invented the idea of urban carrying capacity - later called tipping points - used throughout 2nd Generation CPTED. Like any student of urban affairs and planning he loved cities. He envisioned  the return of the Agora to the modern city and, best of all, showed us how to get there.

His ideas for reclaiming civilized, walkable, and fun urban places are simple, obvious and oddly ignored in too many cities. Here are a few that show up in the video:
  • the wonderful invention that is the movable chair
  • musicians and street arts make a place fun
  • fountains cannot induce sitting unless there are decent places to sit
  • protect access to the sun
  • water should be accessible, touchable, and slapable
  • street personalities make a public place more amicable.
Thanks to Sue for reminding us about one of our pioneers.

Water in public spaces should be touchable and slapable - Screenshot from William Whyte: In His Own Words