Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Lessons from the lands of ice and fire

Glaciers, fires, storms, and heat -
the link between extreme weather and urban violence
by Mateja Mihinjac

As we enter a new decade, I can’t help but wonder: How might my work and the work of other safety and crime prevention professionals be affected as temperatures continue to rise and weather conditions become even more extreme?

I am fortunate to have lived and worked in various countries, including Australia and Canada. People often associate the first with hot weather and beaches and the latter with cold winters and snow. This is especially true at this time of year when large parts of Australia are experiencing extremely high temperatures and devastating fires while Canada may be bracing for the next polar vortex this winter.

Are these two countries, on the opposite sides of the globe, struggling with contrasting environmental conditions that relate directly to contrasting crime and safety concerns?

Brilliant sunsets can indicate air particles from distant forest fires


There is long-standing research on violence and the thermal environment, or what is sometimes called the seasonality of crime. It reminded me of research I came across a few years ago about the possible association between temperature and crime.

That research found a correlation between warmer weather and various forms of crime and incidents and attributed this to an increase in outdoor activities during warmer days. The researchers of this study in Philadelphia also suggested that extreme temperatures, especially extremely cold, have the opposite effect as people are discouraged to go outdoors.

However, there is Canadian research contradicting that view and suggesting violence can also increase at the opposite end of the thermal scale.

One 1995 study in Canada’s Arctic Nunavut Territory reported that violence rates among the Inuit in the north were far higher in Baffin Island villages (most of which are above the Arctic Circle) than those in the warmer cities over a thousand miles (2,000 kilometers) to the south.

Climate stress and crime is a distant meditation -
until it appears in front of us


While the Arctic study is explained through cultural and sociological causes, the Philadelphia study falls into a group of opportunity-theories that suggest comfortable weather conditions at any time of the year (warm gentle summers, balmy winters) are associated with the increased number of people outdoors resulting in increased concentration of both targets and potential offenders.

Other studies suggest the rise in alcohol consumption during the hot months of the year contributes more to murders and sexual assault, as well as other crimes such as road rage. This is especially a problem where temperature variations are large. Therefore, in these instances, it appears extremes in high temperatures or mango madness might be behind violent and aggressive behavior.

The homicide data in the State of Queensland, Australia for the past 22 years show a somewhat increased homicide rate during the hottest months of the year: December and January. This association was especially strong for the tropical north where temperatures are most extreme.


However, when the data were examined for the Brisbane City police division for both homicide and all crimes respectively, they found no identifiable monthly patterns. This suggests that while temperature conditions may be part of the crime puzzle, we cannot draw conclusions about crime based on this single variable.

Perhaps thermal effects on violence apply to both high and low-temperature extremes, as the Canadian research suggests? It seems that the opportunity-theory does not always explain why some places are less safe than others, especially in relation to temperature.

This has been our experience during SafeGrowth programming in neighborhoods throughout the world. Even with extreme temperatures, healthy and vibrant neighborhoods with plenty of pro-social opportunities tend to be safer. Could it be that, whatever temperature extremes a community suffers, opportunities for pro-social behavior are a powerful prescription for building healthy communities with fewer crime opportunities?


Climate change and crime in the future
A new kind of city-building
In 2014, Harvard trained economist and statistician Matthew Ranson made a bold prediction:
"Between 2010 and 2099, climate change will cause an additional 22,000 murders, 180,000 cases of rape, 1.2 million aggravated assaults, 2.3 million simple assaults, 260,000 robberies, 1.3 million burglaries, 2.2 million cases of larceny, and 580,000 cases of vehicle theft in the United States."
Sobering words as we begin a new year!

And yet, as we have seen over the past few years, there are solutions at hand if we choose to adopt them. Collectively we can find effective answers to both halt the progression of global warming and to address community safety challenges that may be associated with the temperature effect.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

The making of a smarter city

by Gregory Saville

As the year ends, I’m remembering the air of electricity and innovation emerging at the Helsingborg 22, Smart City Summit in Sweden that I attended in November. It was a remarkable event! It triggered a thought that sticks in my mind…

By 2030 over 60% of the entire world will live in urban centers. Most of the leading industrial countries of the world are already predominantly urban: over 80% urban in the U.S., Canada, Australia, UK, Chile, Sweden, South Korea, Mexico, and Brazil.

It’s similar in India, that historically so-rural subcontinent of villages and farms. A decade ago, I recall listening to India’s Minister for External Affairs describe the rapid urbanization of his country, a billion-person behemoth soon to top China as the most populous country on the planet. Today it has some of the world’s largest cities.

Megacities are invariably tall cities
We’ve also seen the eruption of the megalopolis – the megacity once prophesized in Sci-Fi fare. The latest UN statistics now say it’s real:
  • 43 megacities now have over 10 million people, including the metropolitan areas of New York City, London (within the M25), Los Angeles, and Paris;
  • 6 megacities have over 20 Milion - Cairo, Mumbai, Beijing, Dhaka, Mexico City, Sao Paulo;
  • 2 have over 26 million - Shanghai and New Delhi; 
  • 1 has a staggering 37 million - Tokyo, the world’s largest city.
It seems too obvious to state that the key to our future is creating sustainable, livable and healthy cities. Not so obvious is the key to habitability: safety from crime and fear of crime.

Experimenting with lighting a public toilet
in Smart City Helsingborg - Tardis of the future


This brought to mind the H22 Smart City Summit. Unlike the Smart Growth planning program, the Smart City movement is of much more recent vintage. It talks of artificial intelligence, how Internet-of-Things data devices might better manage transport, power, water supply, schools, hospitals, utilities, and even crime. It proposes a new age of connectedness and livability.

Just imagine… no garbage trucks, massive cuts in energy use, increased quality of life, smart LED street lights with sensors to watch street conditions, faster routing for self-driving cars, smart drone shopping that avoids parking lots, automatic air pollution elimination, faster emergency response for medical and fire emergencies, and so forth.

Helsingborg is taking a close look at all this. It is spending time and money to test new Smart City ideas and it plans to take neighborhood quality of life, urban planning, and urban governance to a new level. In 2022 it will show the world in the H22 Exposition.

In November, I joined Ifeoma Ebo from the New York Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, to present our work on SafeGrowth and CPTED in 15 high-crime New York public housing projects. The approach of our talented SafeGrowth team members was decidedly low-tech with plenty of community involvement. Summit participants seemed to see a link in our project to Smart Cities of the future.


Some think Smart Cities are a utopian dream that will destroy democracy.

Maybe that’s true! When we wrote about Smart Cities in our SafeGrowth book last year, the last chapter, A Vision for the Future, described one vision – except that was a dystopian, not utopian, vision.

I’ve also blogged here about another Smart City innovation – computer algorithms that try to predict crime, the so-called predictive policing. Since then, I’ve followed it in two cities that tried, and abandoned, predictive policing - one in California and another in my own home city. It seems we have a very long way to go.

Either way, Smart City concepts deserve careful monitoring and thinking. And given the explosive rate of urban growth around the world, we might have no better choice but to get the Smart City idea right. Helsingborg's H22 Smart City movement gives us a chance to do just that.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

To certify or not to certify? CPTED today

Good or bad CPTED?
Competent practitioners should know the difference

by Gregory Saville

How do you know if someone knows what they are talking about or whether they are just making stuff up? If an unqualified plumber hooks up your toilet improperly, you’ll know real quick they are not qualified. Ewww. Please…no more leaky toilets!

What about a practitioner in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design? CPTED has been around for 48 years and there have been many strategies practiced around the world. Do CPTED practitioners know that history and what strategies work best? In the past 23 years hundreds of case studies and presentations have been delivered at the International CPTED Association (ICA) conferences. Do practitioners know that work?

A few years ago, I gave evidence as a CPTED expert in court cases involving homicide and gang shootings. The lawyers asked me to carefully present my credentials. To help courts in the future, I later published “The evolution of spatial forensics into forensic architecture: Applying CPTED and criminal target selection” which outlined some legal criteria for CPTED evidence in court.


But what about CPTED consulting? How do you know if someone has basic CPTED competencies? What about “certification”?

What is certification? In some places, it is called professional designation or trade certification. You can be certified in anything from Pilates to architecture – though the differences are vast.

Decent sightlines. Clean bench in plain view. Does the practitioner
truly know why this is terrible CPTED?

Certification means a practitioner has a level of knowledge and expertise in a particular field. It cannot be offered by an individual consultant or a private company (even if that company calls itself a “certifying organization”), since that is hardly a credible or unbiased source. Instead, it means that a person has obtained some formal, third-party acknowledgement of competency. For many years, that was a problem in CPTED. There were no third-party organizations to certify anyone, not until the growth of the International CPTED Association.

As Josh Brown, the former Chair of the ICA certification committee described years ago:
“Certification also serves to lock out charlatans claiming to be trained or certified by merely attending a course or taking a test.Unfortunately, crime prevention practitioners just learning about CPTED may feel the bar raised a bit too far. Certification in the field of one's choosing is a way of indicating to yourself that you have arrived”
Some confuse certification with a professional “license” – such as a license to practice medicine. Governments are responsible for licenses whereas, as Wikipedia states, “certifications are usually awarded by professional societies or educational institutes.”


This month the International CPTED Association launched its latest program, the CPTED Course Accreditation Program (CAP).

It is a program designed to allow CPTED curricula writers and trainers to submit their programs to ensure they teach and evaluate 11 core CPTED competencies within their course. This program follows the original CPTED Certified Practitioner (ICCP) program for individual practitioners 15 years ago.

ICA Accredited CPTED Courses will bear this logo on the course material

The reason the International CPTED Association chose to launch certification programs is that, unlike engineering or urban planning, CPTED is not a formally recognized profession. While it does have scientific evidence that supports its foundations, much of that evidence emerges from academic criminology and it is not yet quite scientific, despite claims to the contrary. That is why an independent group of third-party, experienced experts in practical CPTED represented the ideal place to start the process of professionalization.


The ICA represents the first, and only, international association of practitioners, professionals, and academics dedicated to the advancement of CPTED around the world. Fifteen years ago a few dozen leading CPTED experts spent a few years crafting the parameters of what certification in CPTED actually means. That was the first major step forward.

The launch of CAP in the past month is the next big step. It’s not yet a “license” to practice since only a government can legislate professional licenses through law. But since CPTED is not yet a full profession, that isn’t realistic anyway at this point.

Today, anyone can claim CPTED expertise after a few days of training. The ICA certification programs now lay some firm groundwork for minimal standards that the public should expect when they ask for CPTED advice. It’s a giant leap forward. No more leaky toilets, please!