Friday, September 23, 2022

A social time bomb and a night of terror

An idyllic tenting scene under a dark sky near the city - photo Creative Commons 

by Greg Saville

We spend a great deal of time in this blog describing how to prevent crime using SafeGrowth neighborhood planning. We offer up case studies of cities around the world where we work with people as they turn their neighborhoods back from the brink of crime. 

But there is a risk of telling the big story from a birds-eye view at the expense of the sensational crime story from the street. Gore never deserves sensationalism and gratuitous violence never deserves the spotlight. But then there are exceptions. This story is one. 

Because I am personal friends with the victims, and one told her story on Facebook, I decided to share their story about a hate crime. We may never know who is behind the crime, so I am speculating about the motive and the offender.  


Last Friday, two of my friends from the Denver Art Society were camping in a city park and were attacked by unknown assailant(s). Someone threw a Flashbang grenade at them and fled. My friends went to the hospital - he had bruises and ear damage and she had shrapnel injuries, cuts, and bruises. Luckily their injuries, while traumatizing, were not fatal. 

Photos of Molly's injuries after the attack. Photo from Molly's Facebook page
with a GoFundMe campaign for her medical bills

My friend Molly describes the event on Facebook in her own words:

 “I’d never been so scared as I was the night my friend & I were bombed in Denver. I had lost housing last minute & took it as an opportunity to explore a new way of life. I had decided to sleep outside with my friend Tim. To me in no way did I see myself as homeless, but of course, society did.”

She then recounted the moment of the attack:

“Around 12:30 am on September 7th, I was awakened by a bright light flying towards me; the most intense flash I’d ever experienced. Followed by an earth-shattering bang; an explosion. The loudest sound imaginable and then some. I had in earplugs and still experienced ringing for days. Our tents were destroyed and I saw the depths of the experience. I became terrified for my life. Blood was all over me, time was moving in slow motion.”



In conversation with my friends, I could not nail down a motive for this crime – there were no drugs or gangs involved. Because my friends were sleeping out at night in a city park, passersby no doubt assumed they were homeless. At that moment, of course, they were. Affordable housing is astonishingly rare in Denver, rents are exorbitant, costs of living are high and with inflation, it’s only getting worse. 

In the middle of this social catastrophe, extremism is on the rise. Extremists feel they need to lash out violently at any available target and the homeless are an easy target. 

It is a social time bomb…tick, tock.


The photo is a Flashbang grenade. In the U.S., although they are possible to obtain, they are classified as Dangerous Devices by federal law. They are an explosive weapon used by military and police SWAT. They are also loved by militant extremists - terrorists, really! 

According to one police website:

 “...flash-bangs pack a punch — heat exceeding 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, a blast reaching 175 decibels, and a flash of 1 million Candle-power. As such, safe handling of them is a must.” 


Flashbang "stun" grenade used by the Israeli armed forces


Regular retailers don’t sell Flashbangs to civilians, so it’s unlikely street hoodlums did this. More likely it was fanatical extremists looking to make some deranged point about homelessness.

Molly and her friend called the police, but most of the investigation involved finding out if they were dealing drugs (they weren’t). Unfortunately, that is where the investigation ended. We are told there will be no police investigation because there is no evidence and no witnesses. The offender(s) remain at large, perhaps waiting for another opportunity to repeat their violence.

Near the scene of the crime in Denver


In SafeGrowth we rarely delve into the large P politics of the national discourse when it comes to preventing crime. The fact is that solutions are often local, collaborative, and straightforward. 

But now and then we must acknowledge the role of the big issues on victims of crime – homelessness, militant extremism, and easily purchased weapons that kill or maim. When will we insist that authorities do more about fanatical militants and amply supplied weapons? When will we wake up to the threat from extremists? 

Today I am thankful my friends are recovering from their wounds. They are safe from the maniacs who would harm them for whatever deluded reasons. For now, at least, my friends are safe.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Personal journey into CPTED - A planner's story

Marriott Bessborough hotel - historical landmark in downtown Saskatoon, Canada

by Elisabeth Miller

As a SafeGrowth advocate and senior urban planner in one of Canada’s major cities, Elisabeth Miller was one of the first Canadian planners to apply CPTED to her everyday work. She is an ICCP-certified CPTED professional with the International CPTED Association and an executive board member of that organization. She is an author of the book SafeGrowth, and a consultant to cities across Canada, the US, and Australia. She helped establish Saskatoon as the first city in Canada to adopt both CPTED and SafeGrowth as administrative policy. This is her story.

I am always curious when I meet other CPTED professionals or practitioners, what their background is, and how they arrived at incorporating CPTED into their professional work. CPTED, especially Second Generation and Third Generation CPTED, speaks to my heart and I can see how proper and inclusive application of CPTED would be helpful to any community. 

I first heard of CPTED at a British Columbia conference about 25 years ago in the mid-90s. It sounded very interesting and an excellent way to help make my community safe. Shortly after this conference in 1996, I attended a 5-day training on CPTED, a course that taught both 1st and 2nd Generation CPTED. I was hooked!

Elisabeth Miller - A personal story from her 25-year history
with urban planning and CPTED

My planning experience up to this point included neighbourhood planning and working directly with communities. Prior to that, I worked on municipal Concept and Sector plans, Land Use and Zoning Bylaws, and other policy related projects – activities that will be familiar to most urban planners. I believe I had a good variety of planning experiences.

The CPTED class was a very interesting combination of police (mostly police) with a few planners thrown in. It offered lectures, group work, site visits, buzz groups, and other problem-based learning activities to situate the learning in our brains. It was a very intense training environment – I loved every minute of it!

Once trained, my task was clear: Implementation!

And THAT was a big deal.


Fortunately, I had a very supportive manager. He also saw the benefit of including CPTED in the way we planned our city and encouraged me to include it wherever I could. So, I included it everywhere! I did not ask, I just included it and decided if the powers that be pushed back then I would deal with it then. 

I added knowledge of CPTED to job descriptions, reviewed plans and commented even if I wasn’t asked. I crafted an “elevator speech” to use on senior management and City Councillors whenever I had a captured audience in the elevator, and I brought various departments to work together to review civic projects.  The idea was, I help you and you help me.

Today, CPTED designs show up throughout Saskatoon
- in this case at the downtown transit center

Working together worked well for all. We decided it might be time to make this a formal part of a planning review, but how should we do this? It meant working with all the different departments that would be involved or who would benefit from a CPTED review. As a corporation, the City of Saskatoon made a conscious decision to start with our own civic projects before moving on to the private sector. This was a very interesting and challenging process.

I interviewed every departmental, divisional, or section manager responsible for projects that would benefit from the application of the principles of CPTED. That was almost a full-time job for a few months. Some were informed, others worried about added time, and there was a small group that really did not care. It was all part of the story that I uncovered. The next step was to get the private developers on board!

We met with local land developers to ensure they understood the process and that it would not cost them more time or money. That led to the establishment of The City of Saskatoon CPTED Review Committee.

Saskatoon's design guideline book provided for urban designers

In 2008 we created a formal administrative policy identifying what would be reviewed, who would do the reviews, and when they would be reviewed. The whole journey took years to accomplish and nowadays the Neighbourhood Safety section looks after the CPTED Review Committee as well as a number of other programs and activities that incorporate the principles of CPTED. 

Over the past 20 years, we managed to offer CPTED (and now SafeGrowth) training to over 400 staff members and others from the community. I believe that Saskatoon today is a safer city due to the work done by the Neighbourhood Safety section and the incorporation of CPTED and SafeGrowth into the planning process.

So, to my professional planning colleagues and other urban designers, the next time you notice someone excited to find out you are a planner at a CPTED activity or conference, it’s probably me. Say hello!

Tuesday, September 6, 2022

A terrible loss - mass murder in James Smith Cree Nation

Unfolding news coverage of the Saskatchewan mass murder
- headline from screenshot  

by Tarah Hodgkinson

In the wake of the tragic mass murder in James Smith Cree Nation, Saskatchewan, we would be remiss not to take this time to offer our heartfelt condolences to this community. 

On Sunday night, two men went on a stabbing spree, killing 10 people and harming over 15 others in the small community just east of Prince Albert. This is one of Canada’s worst mass murders and a terrifying experience for this First Nations community. 

Police found one suspect dead while the other remains at large and suspected to be somewhere in Regina at the time of posting this blog.

The Canadian prairie province of Saskatchewan contains a number of First Nations
communities populated by North American indigenous peoples.
James Smith Cree Nation is one of those communities.

This incident is absolutely heartbreaking. Not only for the community, but for the country as we wait for the suspect to be caught and for justice for the victims’ families. 

Saskatchewan is a special place for all of us in SafeGrowth. We have been working with the city of Saskatoon for over 15 years building the SafeGrowth network. Mateja and I worked with SafeGrowth advocate and senior Saskatoon planner Elisabeth Miller in that city’s planning department. 

We have partnered with North Battleford on their crime issues and on building community cohesion.  Many of us have spent time working throughout the province and connecting with the wonderful and committed people who live there. 

Saskatchewan is well known for its beautiful scenery and
spectacular northern lights. Mass murders are extremely rare.
The last mass murder was over 50 years ago.

That is why tragic news emerging from the James Smith Cree Nation reservation, a community only a hundred miles north of the city of Saskatoon resonates with members of our team. We have not been to the James Smith Cree Nation, but we know that the pain and suffering from this mass murder must be devastating to those communities and the victims.


We have written extensively in this blog about how public events and celebrations, like farmer’s markets and fireworks, can bring people together. We have documented the cohesive power of local events and community markets and gardens.

We have described how exceptional events can mobilize people, such as the New Zealand earthquake in 2011 or during extreme weather events.

And so, we know that this devastating event is going to have the same impact as other collective events. It will bring the people of Saskatchewan together. Together to find the assailant and fight for justice. Together to mourn and rebuild. 

And we will be with them. Every step of the way. 


A final sad note a day after we posted this blog: News from police in Saskatchewan report today that the remaining suspect in this mass murder was arrested and transported to hospital where he died from "medical distress".