Saturday, March 31, 2018

A tool for the archaeology of fear

Safety Audits examine the nighttime city

by Greg Saville

They link neighbors in common cause against crime and they collect data to build fear maps in ways never before possible. And yet community Safety Audits are among the most misunderstood, and misused, tools in CPTED. 

In 2005 the United Nations Habitat program recommended the Safety Audit as a method to assess street crime and fear around the world. Safety Audits originated in the 1980s as a method to assess safety in bus and subway stops during the infamous Scarborough serial rapist crimes in suburban Toronto (ending with the arrest of serial murderer/rapist Paul Bernardo and his wife Karla Homolka).

I took part in those original Toronto Subway Safety Audits in 1988 and published a study about their power to unify residents as they record their perceptions of the neighborhood at night. Properly facilitated and staffed, Safety Audits are unique and empowering and they collect information not available on standard fear of crime surveys.

Parking lots are a frequent target of Safety Audits

The first mistake is to think Safety Audits are the same as CPTED surveys or visual inspections for crime prevention. CPTED surveys work well on buildings and streets to assess crime opportunities in the nooks and crannies of everyday places. But CPTED experts cannot conduct a properly implemented Safety Audit; rather they can only facilitate residents. It is the native intelligence of residents that is recorded in a Safety Audit, not the assessment of an expert.

Some think Safety Audits are the same as a community walkabout, a Jane’s Walk, or Night-Out-Against-Crime. Those are not a systematic and coherent data collection activity like a Safety Audit.


Authentic community Safety Audits:
  • Use a small group of locals to answer audit questions
  • Are generally conducted at night 
  • Are conducted within a 75 yard/meter radius of a location and then move to other locations to audit an entire area
  • Include women since they experience the night environment different than men.

Police, residents, CPTED facilitators, and others participate in Safety Audits

Unlike CPTED surveys, Safety Audits extend beyond the physical environment and hone in on social factors: How involved are local residents about their neighborhood? What is the history of this place? How might local residents help improve conditions? 

The latest versions of Safety Audits use computer tablets and GPS enabled software to more accurately record fear and map perceptions. A few years ago I recorded a VLOG with LISC Safety coordinator Mona Mangat on how to conduct a proper Safety Audit.  

Safety Audits are the ideal tool for crime archaeology – they help residents dig up fear and perception discoveries of their nighttime city that may be invisible in other crime assessment methods.