Sunday, December 31, 2017

Hope for 2018 - Ode to fallen friends

Littleton, Colorado apartments where 5 officers were shot this morning
- photo GoogleEarth
by Greg Saville

Year-end SafeGrowth blogs often reflect the year ahead, the kind of future we want to build, and the successes we’ve made in the past year. This year there was plenty to report! But at this moment I find that impossible to think about. Only hours ago there was yet another mass shooting in Denver, Colorado, this one in a townhouse apartment project about 30 miles south of where I’m now writing this blog.

What does one say when officers respond to a domestic situation that turns into an ambush by a well-armed assailant? How does one respond to the fact that five sheriff deputies were downed on arrival, one fatally, and another two residents were also shot (but thankfully, survived), before the gunman was killed by police. Three shot citizens, four injured officers, one officer dead! Terrible...

I have been personally involved in police fatalities with officers I worked alongside. I know the consequence of emotions in the aftermath. I know the shock and raw thirst for vengeance, and the frustration at having no one alive to hold accountable (and the inevitable search to hold someone, or something, accountable).

It’s a helluva way to end the year!


First, we must ensure there are heartfelt condolences to the family and friends of the slain and injured officers, and to the residents shot in this tragedy. Their lives will never be the same. Then we need time for grieving and eventually an inquiry into how, and why, this happened. Steps for prevention and safety must follow.

But when all that is done, when it is time to move on, there is one lasting thing that we must retain, or reclaim...Hope! That is not a small line item from our emotional ledger; it is the most important one!

It is not the easy kind of optimistic hope that blinds us to the realities of obstacles along the way, like the reality of mental instability, substance abuse, too many weapons too easily obtained, or the vicissitudes of risk in an unpredictable job.

"Only in the darkness can you see the stars" - Martin Luther King Jr. 
Rather it is the kind of hope that provides us with the resilience to overcome obstacles. That is the kind of hope I’ve seen in all the successful SafeGrowth practitioners over the past year (the most recent being Herb Sutton from the last blog). It’s also the kind of hope that we need to share with our fellow citizens in troubled communities as we develop new ways to tackle the problems of our day - homelessness, substance abuse, and acts of violence like those we saw this morning.

Hope and optimism! That is what is needed to move forward and build a better future. That is difficult to see when faced with the darkness of violence. But hope provides a candle in that darkness. As Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Only in the darkness can you see the stars.”

Our sincere condolences to all victims of violence this past year. In their memory, may we dedicate ourselves to making our communities safer in 2018.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

No dress rehearsal - the North Battleford story

Intersection Repair...North Battleford style - photo Herb Sutton 

by Greg Saville

Sometimes it is in smaller cities where seeds of innovation germinate and when that happens it is usually due to a few local champions. Those champions almost always credit others. In my view, they are the unsung heroes of the SafeGrowth and community development story.

I have lauded local champions over the years: Cincinnati's’s Sarah Buffie in 2009, the late Andy Mackie from Port Townsend, Washington in 2012, and Philadelphia’s Amelia Price in 2015. This year I met more but I want to applaud one: Herb Sutton.

Herb is the crime prevention coordinator from North Battleford, a small city of about 20,000 population in central Saskatchewan, Canada. For years North Battleford held the title of the highest crime severity rating of any Canadian community with a population of at least 10,000 people.

Herb Sutton - North Battleford crime prevention coordinator and
newest ICA board member

Elisabeth Miller and I taught SafeGrowth and CPTED to Herb two years ago and then last year ran a training in North Battleford. Herb’s team project for the 2015 SafeGrowth training was building a community garden next to a new homeless shelter to break down some stereotypes and decrease disorder problems.

A summary of that project concluded: "This project …provided opportunities for business owners, employees, and their families to meet [shelter] staff and some of the clients, as well as clean up the area. It was through planned and intentional efforts to build relationships that we were able to reduce the NIMBYism and fear of crime.” 


Since then Herb and his colleagues have moved forward and this month’s issue of Canada’s national magazine, Maclean's featured that work. Maclean's showcased both the success and the challenges of programming in North Battleford. Like much crime prevention in troubled places, progress is slow. Yet to date it is impressive: regular team meetings on CPTED and problem-solving, town hall meetings on safety, a new CPTED review committee, downtown art, block parties, and safety audits.

Community building and intersection painting to build community cohesion
- photo Herb Sutton

It has produced early results. While crime rates in Saskatchewan increased 9%, this past year crime severity in North Battleford declined 8%. But all this is not without setbacks. Chronic underfunding continues and recent spurts in gun violence from gang activity persist. But so too does the work of Herb and his colleagues.

In a way, that demonstrates the seriousness and leadership of a remarkable champion. As Canadian rocker Gordon Downie from The Tragically Hip once lyricized,

With illusions of someday 
Cast in a golden light. 
No dress rehearsal 
This is our life.

That seriousness and persistence is, ultimately, our life. It is the only way forward. Thanks, Herb, for the inspiration.

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Rise of the robots, Revenge of the Homeless

Security robot on patrol - Video Washington Post
Luddite: (adjective) one of a group of early 19th century English workmen destroying laborsaving machinery as a protest; broadly: one who is opposed to especially technological change - Merriam-Webster

by Greg Saville

The story of the Luddite resonated last week with word from San Francisco about a controversy surrounding the  K-5 Security Robot. We blogged on the K-5 a few years ago - On the threshold of a robotics revolution.

Since then the journey of the security robot has not been straight; it has been drowned in a Washington DC fountain and it has mistakenly run over a toddler's leg at a Palo Alto shopping center.

And last week, according to Newsweek, the security robot was removed from duty after deterring homeless encampments near the San Francisco SPCA. Apparently homeless people vandalized the SPCA robot, angry about being singled out by the SPCA and the security robot.


The issue is layered. On one hand, security robots are the latest technology and like all new technologies, they can be applied in ways both sacred and profane. There are places, such as underground parking lots, where an automated security patroller with surveillance tools can keep watch and help make isolated places safer.

In the San Francisco case, SPCA representative Krista Maloney says“staff wasn't able to safely use the sidewalks at times because of the encampments… since the SPCA started guarding its facilities with the robot (known as K9) a month ago, the homeless encampments have dwindled and there have been fewer car break-ins.”

But beneath the surface lurks a darker story.

There must be a better way. Photo Wikimedia Commons


This blog has reported on the so-called hostile architecture movement, especially CPTED tactics used to dehumanize places to exclude certain groups over other groups. Dealing with homeless encampments, which by definition means dealing with homeless people, with a security robot, is a questionable tactic. And the homeless have been outraged. Since the security robot began patrolling in front of the SPCA, the Washington Post claims it has been "allegedly smeared with feces, covered by a tarp and nearly toppled by an attacker."

Are there better, more humane, solutions? In some communities, Housing First programs seem to work. In fact, the Canadian city of Medicine Hat, population 65,000, claims to have eliminated homelessness with the Housing First strategy. Why isn’t San Francisco helping the SPCA and the homeless with such a program?