Friday, June 30, 2023

Revisiting blue lights - the New York City project

by Mateja Mihinjac

Over a decade ago our colleague Ivana Dankova wrote a guest blog presenting her research on blue lights in Glasgow

She reported not only the beautification effect of blue lighting but also a calming effect they might have by inducing serotonin production. In her research she echoed the findings of the Japanese study  that demonstrated the possible link between blue lighting and reduction in suicides. 

It appears that blue lights are not out of fashion just yet. The New York City Metro Transit Authority (MTA) is now installing them at subway stations with the purpose of deterring suicide attempts in a so-called Track Intrusion Blue Lights pilot program.


The pilot program emerged as one of the MTA’s Track Trespassing Task Force’s recommendations for curbing a surge in track intrusion incidents over the past five years. The MTA observed 234 incidents in 2022, amounting to a nearly 25% increase in incidents from 2018 and decided to respond to calls for action following the task force’s recommendations.

Some claim that blue lights trigger calming serotonin responses
in the brain, thereby calming potential suicidal and criminal impulses


One of the most cited studies on the link between blue lights and suicide prevention comes from the metropolitan area train station system in Japan. The study examining data in a period between 2000 and 2010 found an 84% drop in completed suicides at 11 treatment stations with blue lights installed compared to 60 control stations with no blue lights installed.

In a subsequent study, the authors also examined the displacement effect of suicides. While finding a 74% drop in the number of suicides between 2000 and 2013 at 14 stations that had blue lights installed they found no increase in the number of suicides at five neighbouring control stations with no blue lights installed. (They did not measure whether suicides displaced to other locations.)

In another study analysing all railway suicide attempts in Japan at stations with blue lights, the authors cautioned against magnifying the effect of blue lights. Their detailed analysis of data showed that the majority of suicide attempts had not actually occurred within the station premises at night when the lights would be on. 

The scientific evidence for blue light effectiveness is mixed, 
but some data suggest it has at least minimal impact

They concluded “The installation of blue lights on platforms… [has] a much smaller impact than previously estimated.” The authors suggest that the estimate of the preventive effect of blue lights should be more conservative.  

The City of Glasgow, Scotland, and Nara City, Japan, also reported a reduction in crime rates owing to blue lights and some call for the installation of blue lighting in American cities to reduce a surge in violence.


More evidence is needed as research on the effectiveness of blue lights is still up for debate. At this point, it seems blue lights alone will have a limited effect on crime and suicide prevention. However, even with minimal impact, its relatively low cost compared to other more effective methods such as full-height platform screen doors  make it an attractive and quick alternative for decision-makers expected to act on public order and related social issues.

It appears that the MTA’s Track Trespassing Task Force is well aware of the need for a holistic approach, such as SafeGrowth, that does not rely only on blue lights, but that (among other responses) includes: 

  • partnerships with relevant organisations, 
  • a crisis lifeline campaign, 
  • a subway safety plan with the expanded presence of NYPD, 
  • the installation of track intrusion detection systems, 
  • expansion of CCTV, 
  • a screen door pilot program. 

Similarly, just as individual hardship cannot be addressed with one isolated response, neither can neighbourhood safety and liveability. As we have emphasized repeatedly in this blog, a holistic approach that is tailored to neighbourhood-specific issues, along with partnerships with local residents and stakeholders, is the best way forward. 

Saturday, June 24, 2023

Innovations in responding to street drugs - The SafeGrowth Person of the Year

The magnificent scenery of Prince George, BC, Canada 
- photo Creative Commons Wikipedia

by Gregory Saville

I recently visited Prince George, a beautiful city of 75,000 surrounded by the lush forests, rivers, and lakes of northern British Columbia. It is a northern regional rail center for Pacific freight to cities in the east and a major producer of lumber products. If you want an outdoor experience like no other, and friendly people to guide you, Prince George has lots to offer. 

It also suffers the same homelessness, toxic street drugs, and crime as every other major city in North America. Except, Prince George must also contend with climate refugees escaping towns and First Nations communities from the worst spring wildfire season on record. 


In some ways, Prince George is an innovator in responding to their blight issues, particularly the street drug situation. On one hand, Prince George suffers the same toxic street drugs, overdose deaths, crime and homelessness as cities everywhere. On the other hand, the British Columbia approach is rooted in harm reduction. Those knowledgeable in crime prevention and drug abuse know very well that the criminal justice system, as necessary as it is, cannot effectively dig at root problems that are better suited to social services and public health systems.

Prince George is one of many cities employing supervised safe injection sites, places where professional medical staff can supervise addicts to avoid overdoses and hopefully help them get off drugs (which also means getting them off of the offender/victimization wheel of crime). It is only a small step in the overall crime prevention/livability journey, but it is a necessary one that eases the suffering of street addicts. 

Downtown businesses suffer vandalism 

It also makes a major impact on overdose deaths and the resources to deal with them. A single overdose requires police, paramedics, hospital emergency nurses, doctors, and social workers. Last year alone, Prince George paramedics had over 1,000 calls for overdoses costing millions of dollars and, more importantly, terrible suffering for the addicts and their families. 

Safe places for harm reduction create a necessary first level of services to help addicts. The benefits are legion.


I met some remarkable community members in Prince George who were making a difference - city officials, business people, police, and by-law officers, people who are dedicated to making things better. I met provincial health officials from the safe injection site. Remarkable people, all.

Jordan Stewart, with her son, on a break at work 

And then I met Jordan Stewart, an indigenous First Nations woman who works downtown at a harm reduction storefront called The Pounds Project Society

Jordan is a former drug addict and homeless person herself. After struggling with her demons for years, she managed to claw her way back to a life of purpose. She got off drugs and off the street. She went to university, graduated with a nursing degree, and became a professional nurse focused on public health and drug addiction. She chose to pay it forward and confront a very dark part of the world that she herself knew all too well. She chose to make a difference. 

First, Jordan realized that half of the overdoses were from inhalation, a situation not yet addressed by the injection programs. Because she is a former drug addict, she knew that addicts who were inhaling were just as likely to die from an overdose. 

The Pounds Project - a comfortable, safe place (with a bathroom)
to supervise addicts and avoid overdoses

Then she founded a storefront project – the Pounds Project - with all the necessary approvals and volunteers, to help run it. She started small with a refurbished container and gradually located a storefront downtown where addicts could access services. She has been running this center for years and has not had overdoses at her center. Street people are able to find a safe space and a bathroom – something many communities forget to provide, and then wonder why they have public health issues near homeless encampments. 


It is a truly remarkable story of survival and commitment, superseded only by an inspiring young woman named Jordan Stewart. I doubt if Jordan would consider herself a community leader but, from what I could see, she is as impressive as any community leader I have seen in 30 years of doing this work.

Years ago I nominated people who represented all that is good in community leadership and SafeGrowth - outstanding citizens who give of themselves and make a better world. 

In 2009 it was Sarah Buffie in Cincinnati, and in 2015 it was Amelia Price in Philadelphia. I have not nominated anyone for SafeGrowth of the Year Award for a while, and Jordan has never been trained in the method. But it is obvious that Jordan Stewart fits into that rarified category of someone making a difference. 

People like this are hard to find. They inspire others. 

She certainly inspired me.


As I wrote this, I learned that the Pounds Project was defunded. Jordan and her team are faced with the unhappy choice of closing down their operations and turning away needy people in Prince George. It is hard to imagine the reasoning behind such a decision, especially given the inevitable increases in overdose deaths. There will no doubt be increases for police and hospital services, along with paramedic calls for services, as if those workloads were not already too high. What a shame. 

Jordan, her team, and the city of Prince George deserve better!