Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Harmscapes - social ecology and evolving securities

Policing and security roles are shifting dramatically in the era of harmscapes 

by Tarah Hodgkinson 

The nature of security has changed dramatically in the 21st century. This is largely due to the changing nature of harm, changes that have significant implications for policing and security. In a recent discussion with colleague and renowned criminologist Professor Clifford Shearing, we explored his leading research on 21st-century “harmscapes” and what he calls evolving securities. 

What does this mean? 

In the last year alone, we have seen an expansion of policing into public health related to the COVID-19 pandemic. We have seen the devastating effects of climate disasters, which threaten food and water supplies and threaten physical security and safety around the world. We are seeing cyber-attacks on banking systems that require extensive knowledge of technology. The nature of harm is changing and so is the security needed to address it. 

Climate change represents a new form of insecurity

Professor Shearing and other researchers from the Evolving Securities Initiative have been exploring case studies like these to better understand the interaction of humans and the earth and the role that will play in the future of safety and liveability. This work recognizes the importance of social ecology – a core tenant of the SafeGrowth philosophy – and how the biosphere, lithosphere, atmosphere, and humans interact to create and address these harmscapes. 

Evolving interactions of humans with the Earth demand a
new conception of security and the regulatory agencies that police it

Policing researchers (myself included) need to recognize the expanding role of policing and security. What does this mean for governance and safety? How does power function in these newly emerging organizations? How will we partner with practitioners in these new organizations to improve the safety and liveability of 21st-century communities? 

It is no longer appropriate to see policing as something done only by police agencies. There are multiple actors and regulatory bodies that “police” these emerging harmscapes. It means the way we research and understand these evolving securities must change. 

Climate change affects farming and food supplies
and could devastate the world's food production

Thursday, August 12, 2021

Fake news, CPTED, & the search for authenticity

A fake of the masterpiece painting by brilliant painter, Goya "City on a Rock"
- photo Creative Commons

by Gregory Saville

I recently spoke to some senior administrators about Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) and how they might use it to cut crime. They knew a little about the concept, but it was clear that they had been victims of fake news. It brought to mind an old question in philosophy: What does authentic actually mean? Why should you care?

You should care because many of the ingredients that flavor a high-quality life depend on authentic products, systems, and technologies that we now take for granted. Consider food and water. Governments regulate and inspect our food/water supply and require that those who produce or ship it must follow standards of hygiene and public health. 

Millions of deaths throughout history were caused by infected food or unregulated water systems that transmitted diseases like typhoid. Today, mass deaths from food or water are rare in most of the developed world and, thankfully, increasingly rare in the undeveloped world. Authentic public health matters. 

It’s the same in crime prevention. Authenticity matters a great deal for your own livability.


How does one determine authentic CPTED and effective crime prevention? 

Dictionaries describe authenticity as something supported by unquestionable evidence and verified and accepted as real “because of agreement with known facts or experience.”

The Detroit police "Green Light" crime prevention zone uses
CCTV surveillance to make it safe. Some reports suggest otherwise.  

There is a great Ted Talk by Daniel Levitin, a neuroscientist and cognitive psychologist, who describes ways to compare authentic facts from fake news. I have drawn on some tips from Dr. Levitin, and applied them to crime prevention and CPTED: 


Early writing about CPTED described cutting hedges for better visibility and territorial markers to help residents control their own properties. That was 50 years ago and crime prevention science has learned much since then. CPTED has grown up. It now includes 2nd Generation CPTED to build community cohesion and pro-social activities. CPTED is no longer just surveillance, blight removal or painting murals to enhance community pride. If you want to know the latest, go to the website of the only non-profit, professional and international organization for CPTED – the International CPTED Association (ICA), or the regional affiliate chapters of the ICA.


When searching online for CPTED expertise or training be careful to locate names, bios and expertise of those behind the website or delivering the course. If you cannot easily find those names, bios, or expertise - in plain view - go elsewhere. Never assume because the website claims it is a “national” center or it provides “certification” that is true. Check to see if they are affiliated with the ICA. Check to see if that site is for-profit, or non-profit. Follow the money! 

Does that website provide the names of a diverse group of experts with a wide variety of experience, because that is how CPTED actually works. Otherwise, you are probably dealing with a small group of for-profit consultants – usually retired police or security. Don’t misunderstand; I have no problem with for-profit consultants with policing, criminology or urban planning expertise (I am one of them!) But, they come with different qualities, experiences and reputations. As they say – caveat emptor.

CPTED target hardeners say this New York bench should have dividers to
prevent homeless sleeping. Really?


The problem in CPTED today is “authorities” who do not read the source material or the related scientific research. They make wild claims like “lighting prevents crime”. It doesn’t! With the right research and in the right context, it might help! But that’s far from a done deal. Or they offer inauthentic facts and claim “eyes on the street” cut crime. Strategies like natural surveillance or even CCTV might help in the right location, with the right pre-diagnosis. But that is not a definitive fact. Claiming otherwise is not only inauthentic, it’s wrong. 

If you want authentic expertise, read historical bibliographies of the science, read the latest studies, or ask a formally certified CPTED practitioner who holds a professional certification from the ICA. Embrace authenticity.