Saturday, July 31, 2021

A 25-year experiment - the International CPTED Association

A 25-year experiment in crime prevention through environmental design
- photo Wiki Creative Commons

by Gregory Saville

Twenty-five years ago I participated in an experiment. Paul Wong, Barry Davidson, and I decided to sponsor an international conference on crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). We had no idea if it would work, a vague hope that something bigger would come out of it, but no guarantee that anything would occur. 

We met in Calgary with 70 other CPTED acolytes including (among others) Stan and Sherry Carter from Florida, Tim Pascoe from the UK, Tom McKay from Peel Region in Ontario, Patricia and Paul Brantingham from Burnaby, BC, Mike Sheard and Brian Foote from Vancouver. The International CPTED Association (ICA) grew out of that conference.

This year the ICA celebrates its 25th Anniversary with hundreds of members all over the world. The current ICA President is from Chile, the Vice President from South Africa, the Executive Director is from Slovenia, the Secretary, and Treasurer from Canada and Board members from the U.S., Australia, India, Malaysia, Ecuador, Denmark, the Netherlands, Britain, Mexico, and New Zealand.

But things were not always so rosy and, like CPTED, the ICA ebbed and flowed with the political currents of the day. The ICA was born following a period of criminological research in the 1980s, some of which led to new ideas like situational crime prevention and environmental criminology, and others that led to the broken windows theory and routine activities theory.

Downtown Calgary, Canada - home of the inaugural ICA conference
- photo Wiki Creative Commons


Some of that research was revolutionary: Situational crime prevention gave us practical prevention strategies; environmental criminology showed how crime clusters along pathways and urban nodes; the geography of crime described crime hotspots.

But not all new theories were helpful. Some were Mr. Potato Head theories – full of holes and bland in taste. Others were saturated with fancy euphemisms that complicated simple ideas. Yet others removed the social aspects of CPTED and replaced them with target hardening. 

Then there was broken windows theory, which some consider CPTED. Broken windows transformed into zero-tolerance enforcement – a controversial police enforcement tactic for anti-social behavior. Broken windows back-fired spectacularly, especially politically. While it cut crime in New York, crime also declined by the same rate in San Diego with zero broken windows tactics. Broken windows tainted the original CPTED message. Even today, unwitting activists still claim broken windows is CPTED. 

Broken windows co-creator, Professor George Kelling, once told me he could not fathom how his theory went so far off track. In my view, broken windows ended in the hands of police managers suffering institutional autism – an inability to communicate outside their profession and themselves. Distortion comes easy to those who do not read history. The same thing happened in CPTED when practitioners, falling victim to slipshod assertions, adopted target hardening and CCTV cameras and ignored the social world where crime actually happens. 

The 2005 joint conference of the ICA and the Institute for Electronic and Electrical Engineers. Loyola Marymount University overlooking Los Angeles.


Fortunately, the ICA is a practitioner-oriented organization more interested in what works than what sounds good, a kind of self-correcting organizational Occam’s Razor. In the early 2000s, it began introducing more holistic strategies, such as certification programs. ICA conferences travelled from Canada and the U.S. to Australia, the Netherlands, Chile, and Mexico. 

Within a decade the ICA had online training resources and a network of experts around the world. Gerard Cleveland and myself introduced 2nd Generation CPTED at ICA conferences in 1997 and 1998, which brought social factors back into CPTED. Since 2017 the ICA has dramatically expanded with webinars, course accreditation, online masterclasses, newsletters, white papers, and new guidebooks. This past year the International Standards Organization published the first-ever CPTED ISO, which ICA members helped to create. In short, the ICA is flourishing.

Introducing the ICA at the first-ever CPTED conference in Honduras, 2017


In some places today CPTED remains mired in target hardening – a buffet of lights, locks, and cameras with hedge trimming for flavor. Poorly trained practitioners still use these methods to exclude groups, thereby promoting what is called ‘hostile architecture'. Social activists have caught on and, rather than figure out the true nature of CPTED and how hostile practices deviate, they label all CPTED as racist using the same biased reasoning that they blame on CPTED practitioners. 

In truth, the ICA has a formal code of ethics opposing hostile architecture. Sadly, too many CPTED practitioners are not ICA certified, not all courses are ICA accredited and they are not required to follow the ICA code of ethics. As they say, caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

In other places, CPTED has grown into community-planning practices called SafeGrowth. On this blog, you will find a rich history of neighborhood development, community-building with social and economic programs, and personal development through neighborhood programs like Livability Academies. Both 1st and 2nd Generation CPTED play a role in SafeGrowth, but the quality of life (what 3rd Generation CPTED called neighborhood livability) plays a bigger role. 

Happy 25th birthday to the International CPTED Association!

If you want to learn more about the ICA, or attend the 25th Anniversary ICA virtual conference, Nov 2-4, 2021, check out their website.

Sunday, July 25, 2021

Long time running - Crime severity in Canada's "crime capital"?

North Battleford water tower at night - photo Creative Commons

by Tarah Hodgkinson

North Battleford (NB), a city of 14,000 in Saskatchewan, has since 2009 held the title for the “crime capital of Canada” with the highest crime severity index (CSI) in the country. This led to a flurry of media coverage trying to understand how this small community could be so dangerous. 

Throughout this period, Herb Sutton and Ryan Mackrell, crime prevention advocates, residents, and SafeGrowth practitioners, were on the ground working to figure out what was happening and how to fix it. Enlisting my help, we conducted a city-wide survey of crime and victimization. 

Findings showed that residents generally felt safe. Violent victimization was low, and property crime was the most common issue. Residents identified a few areas in NB that felt unsafe but generally, they liked their community.


So, what was happening in North Battleford? Why was the CSI so high if victimization was relatively low and people felt safe? 

Unlike crime rates that simply divide the total number of crimes by the population and multiply by 100,000, the CSI assigns a “statistical weighting” based on the seriousness of each crime included in the numerator.

Serious crimes like assault and homicide are weighted more heavily; for example, one homicide is weighted the same as 306 assaults. Apparently, this allows for a comparison of crime seriousness across the country. 

However, like crime rates, the CSI is also impacted by population size. In technical terms, the total crime severity of all crimes, divided by low population size, is going to produce a higher crime severity index. It’s simple math. Just look at the highest crime severity indices for last year.  Every one of them is a small community. 

MacLean's Magazine labels North Battleford the "most dangerous place"

What does this mean for NB? First, they were labelled as the crime capital. That meant they had to fight a national stigma. Second, they still had very little information on which problems they might actually need to address. They had run a SafeGrowth training course in their city to analyse how to create more effective safety planning. But that didn’t change the government statistical reporting problems. 


Enter the crime location quotient (LQ). The location quotient addresses some of the limitations of population-based statistics. LQs do not suffer from the same issue of population size. Instead, LQs use total crime for the area rather than population figures and they produce a figure for crime specialization. For example, assaults within NB, can be compared against assaults for the province of Saskatchewan, as a whole. The LQ addresses areas that are over or under-represented for certain crime types. 

Main Street, North Battleford, Saskatchewan - photo Creative Commons

This allows practitioners to better understand which types of crime might be a concern (which type of crime specialization appears in their community) and how this specialization compares to other communities. 

I conducted these LQ comparisons in a recent article in the Canadian Geographer and demonstrated that in 2018, similar to other years, North Battleford did not specialize in violent crime compared to the other 14 municipalities in Saskatchewan. In fact, when examining violent crime, non-violent crime, and eight crime types, NB specialized only in mischief. 

While NB has held the record for “crime capital” since 2009, when using a geographical measure of crime (LQ), North Battleford drops to 12th place for violent crime and 3rd place for non-violent crime in Saskatchewan. Furthermore, in 2018, NB is under-represented for violent crime, assault, break and enter, theft of motor vehicle, and very under-represented for sexual assault. 


Is the CSI an inappropriate measure for understanding crime in Canada? My study questions its relevance. While the CSI offered another way to look at crime, its limitations have serious unintended consequences. Unlike what the CSI claims, this LQ study demonstrates that NB is not particularly “dangerous.” 

Placemaking community work underway to enhance community pride

The labelling of a small community like NB as the “crime capital” of Canada has damaging implications for the people who live there. It stigmatizes the community and disempowers local residents. My research suggests the media characterization of NB is largely unwarranted. 

Lately, the media has turned to another Canadian community – Thompson, Manitoba – and they now claim that is the new “crime capital”. To residents and policy-makers in Thompson and elsewhere in Canada: Please consider carefully the weight, and truth, of such statistical statements. Instead, we suggest it is better to spend time and resources seeking out more effective methods of local capacity-building and neighborhood resilience. 

Thursday, July 15, 2021

Who rules us? Who serves us?

Recent anti-government demonstration in Slovenia - 
photo Adriana Aralica

by Mateja Mihinjac

On June 1 of this year, 4265 tiny Slovenian flags appeared in the capital’s city park. The flags symbolised the number of lives lost in the preceding 12-months from the day the military jets flew over the country to celebrate the presumed “victory” over COVID. It was the day the Slovenian government declared the end of the epidemic following what the government claims were only 108 COVID-related deaths. Little were we prepared for what followed.

The sight of all those flags made me reflect with sadness on the unprecedented crisis over the past year. It also reminded me of the importance of local trust in governance – and good governance itself – to support the nation in times of crisis.

In the SafeGrowth movement, we put emphasis on building local trust and we teach problem-solving and community development with diverse teams within each neighbourhood. The goal is to promote democratic neighbourhood self-governance with the objective of creating safe, liveable, inclusive, and cohesive neighbourhoods. 

Our focus is on individual neighbourhoods at a micro-scale. But this process can be difficult when there are large, macro-scale obstacles halting progress – such as poor governance and an intense distrust of those who govern.

4265 Slovenian flags for each COVID death


I have blogged regarding public concerns about the Slovenian government and the misuse of powers during the crisis some months ago. While the current crisis has deepened distrust, for over a decade 80% of Slovenians have indicated low levels of trust in the national government and its legitimacy.

The OECD also reported a significant 20% drop in trust in Slovenian governance between 2006 and 2017. Conversely, in that same period, Poland, (also a post-communist country like Slovenia), has observed a 42% increase in trust. Clearly, there are things governments can do to create conditions of trust.

Low trust in Slovenia has been attributed to the perception of poor integrity, transparency, and fairness. According to OECD’s findings, the Slovenian government is much less open compared to other OECD countries, which impacts the levels of institutional trust. 

When it comes to a functioning democracy, trust matters a great deal. It has been common to hear accusations that national governments have acted abusively and granted themselves special powers beyond those necessary to address the pandemic. Those accusations now have support from research that confirmed this creeping threat to democratic countries. 

How do we move forward in such times?


As anthropologist Margaret Mead said, thoughtful and committed citizens are the key to progress. Others have added that organised collective action is just as paramount:

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, organized citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.”


Lake Bled, Slovenia - some of the most beautiful waters in the world
- photo Adiel Io, Creative Commons 

I recently witnessed some bright moments of democracy prevailing. Just this past weekend an overwhelming 86% of voters rejected the new Slovenian Waters Act due to provisions that would permit construction in the areas where it could threaten natural drinking resources. The referendum – with the second-highest turnout in Slovenian history – succeeded due to extensive efforts and organised action by citizens and civic organisations.

Some issues also require democratic actions on a local neighbourhood level. 

For example, very recently, in my local village, a group from the local community worked together to demand the removal of the company responsible for illegal waste storage in the neighbourhood. It demanded immediate action and the residents organised a news conference with attendance from the mayor, representatives of companies responsible for the waste, and the news networks. This collective action prompted the government to act. 

The way forward is a commitment to change coupled with organised action. Those are excellent ways to address both macro and micro issues. This reaffirms our SafeGrowth philosophy that an organised approach by informed and engaged local citizens is the key to forward momentum and effective problem-solving with communities large and small.