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Marc My Words - Crime Prevention By Design

20 May 2005

Marc My Words - Crime Prevention By Design

Last weekend I was privileged to be in Hamilton at a conference held by Community Patrol. There were a variety of speakers, all of whom were encouraging and positive about strategies we could use to deal with crime in this country.

My imagination was captured by one particular topic that I had researched in my book Justice with Both Eyes Open, namely for environmental design and the manipulation of the environment to lower opportunities for crime. There will never be a magic bullet but this is one strategy in a wider scheme to combat crime.

Inspector Tony Lake from the Queensland Police Service told us about design interventions that reduce crime, reduces the fear of crime, and identifies the triggers that allow opportunity for crime - the risk to the offender, the effort the offender is required to engage in to commit crime, minimising the excuses to offend, and decreasing the potential rewards to the offender.

Risk of crime to the offender is another way of looking at the opportunities for offending; these include things like entry and exit, formal surveillance of the area, surveillance by employees, and informal surveillance by passers by. Perceived effort for crime is shaped by factors such as target hardening, which could be anything that makes it physically difficult to commit an offence, such as locks and bolts, fencing, and controlled (single) access and exit.

Reducing opportunities for excuses by offenders involves the consideration of rule settings; like warning signs and guards who ask for explanations. These stimulate the conscience and facilitate compliance. Reducing the imagined rewards of crime by removing or concealing the target involves such as control of money held on premises, identifying property with suitable labels and security protection, placing tempting commodities out of sight when unmonitored, and marking banknotes.

All of these strategies change the environment by effectively reducing the physical environment¡¦s propensity to support criminal behaviour, as well as reducing the fear of crime.

We were told of three key elements in designing specific spaces in private buildings: (i) designation, in other words, what is it used for (ii) definition, ¡V how is the space contained (area) and (iii) design, does this support effective functioning or is there conflict. These are all technologies which can be applied to social planning, urban planning and design, security risk management, new sites and the redevelopment of existing sites.

The idea of crime prevention through environmental design has been current for 30 years; although its application has been restricted to community designs in North America and to a lesser extent, in Australia. It is a process that involves collaboration across a range of agencies including local councils, police, community organisations, designers and architects. The strategy has four distinct categories:

-ƒnTerritorial reinforcement ¡V acknowledges community ownership of public spaces and sends a positive signal to the community that the place is cared for and is safe. It is about creating defensible space and can be enhanced by increased participation by the community in sports meetings in public parks.

-ƒnSurveillance ¡V makes people feel safe in public areas where they can see and interact with others. Offenders are deterred from committing crime in areas that are well supervised. Pruning shrubs to reduce hiding places for offenders, opening up spaces to increase the possibilities of apprehension and identification, likely assistance from others using the area, clearing side lines and placing lighting are well tested measures.

-ƒnAccess control ¡V implies the use of physical and symbolic barriers that attract, channel or restrict pedestrian and vehicle movement. These will increase the effort required by offenders.

- Space management ¡V is similar to the broken windows philosophy of New York. Regular maintenance of public spaces includes coordination of activities, cleanliness and rapid repair. Professor Ross Homel in his research at Griffiths University has showed that disorder and lack of care for public spaces does not in itself cause crime.

Nevertheless he found that cooperative dealing with disorder and physical changes to the environment can improve community cohesion interaction between the public and the local authorities and this cohesiveness has a critical impact on criminal offences occurring. Environmental design modifies the behaviour of people its success depends on its use within a mix of safety strategies.

It targets the place rather than the person as a point of control and crime prevention. The broken windows approach, which has proved so successful in New York, suggests that leaving graffiti and vandalism unattended gives the impression that no one in the community cares; and the toleration of minor offending is a major contribution to offending.

The success in places like New York and Brisbane prove that the reverse is also true. Addressing small crimes and providing visual cues in our community impact greatly on perceptions of community and individual intolerance to crime. As with all strategies, there are unintended consequences. Inspector Tony Lake recounted an incident where a ticket seller in a Brisbane railway was replaced with a machine to minimise violence.

This led to vandalism on the machine, and the Brisbane Railway Service had to hire a person to protect it as a consequence; an example of a strategy which was not well thought through. In a nutshell, the crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) approach that can be boiled down to two propositions: (i) to make people feel safe (ii) whilst making potential offenders feel unsafe, and unsure of success in their criminal purpose.

This is a strategy that New Zealand must adopt as part of an overall initiative to reduce offending, to reduce crime and to reduce the number of victims in our country. What was so wonderful about the weekend in Hamilton with Community Patrols was to hear how the Patrols worked with the Police to almost double the eyes and ears on the streets.

In such positive ways they make life safer for all of us. We don¡¦t hear many good stories about crime prevention in this country but Community Patrols and the Police involvement with them must be congratulated. Community Patrols is a completely voluntary organisation, nobody gets paid, and Police involvement at that conference was also voluntary and unpaid.

It goes some way towards proving the point that New Zealand is a country filled with people who care and are prepared to do something about it. The weekend made me very proud to live in a country where men and women such as these demonstrate a selfless community spirit.


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