Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A vision for policing the future

Campus of the Western Australia Police Academy - photo by Step Forward

An antipode is the spot on the other side of the world from where you stand. If you stood in Washington, DC and tunneled through the Earth you’d emerge near Perth, Western Australia (well, more or less).

And since the White House last year released their vision for police reforms, Report on the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing, that tunnel will have many advantages aside from 4,000 fewer surface travel miles.

Following months of anti-police violence and racial discord on American streets, the Task Force report responded with a far-reaching call for police reform. Given similar, albeit less dramatic, calls for reform elsewhere across the globe, this report is an oracle for a better future in many countries.


The Task Force wants to transform police culture from warriors to community guardians. Problem-based learning (PBL) and the field training equivalent called PTO were two ways it recommended getting there. This delighted those of us who developed and wrote those programs for the COPS office and the Reno Police a decade ago.

That is where the Washington-to-Perth tunnel comes handy.

My colleague Gerry Cleveland and myself spent last month working with curricula developers and instructors at the Western Australia Police Academy north of Perth. Coincidentally these were major steps that accomplished many of exact recommendations in the Task Force report.

Modern architecture at the WA Academy


Walking onto the WA Academy you admire the beautiful ultramodern architecture. It reminded me of a futuristic Star Fleet Academy from the sci-fi Star Trek series. The physical impression is that forward-thinking training makes sense here.

We certified a number of staff in PBL and emotional intelligence (EQ) skills, the very lifeblood flowing through the Task Force report.

Of course the WA Academy is building upon work already underway elsewhere. For example the academy in South Dakota has a significant head start. They too have trained their staff in PBL/EQ and made major steps into that same future.

If you read our recent book, You In Blue, about this education reform movement, the progress in South Dakota figures prominently.

Similarly at the LAPD academy, PBL trained instructors have made changes to curricula. In the late 1990s the Royal Canadian Mounted Police academy was among the first to experiment with PBL.

Walkways and running tracks for recruits

But Western Australia might have three advantages.
  1. For a number of years they have retained some impressive academy leaders who commit to a future in PBL/EQ – and, unlike some academy directors elsewhere, they don’t waver! 
  2. Their police leadership has committed to problem-oriented policing and evidence-based policing as central to their service delivery. 
  3. One of the stumbling blocks to POP and EBP is a warrior cop culture resistant to change and too few properly trained officers skilled at critical thinking and problem-solving. Critical thinking and problem solving are the primary skills that PBL and EQ teach. 
[Note to Washington - A Tunnel-to-Perth might be helpful right about now.]

Saturday, January 30, 2016

SafeGrowth moves north

North Battleford, Saskatchewan - photo Creative Commons
This week we delivered SafeGrowth training in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, a Canadian city of about 15,000 in central-north Saskatchewan. Over the years North Battleford has had its share of troubles, including a top crime ranking for Canadian cities a few years ago.

This week city officials, police, and residents teamed up to expand their crime prevention and community development work. SafeGrowth training is now underway in a range of projects throughout the city. As well, representatives from three other nearby northern cities joined the training - the cities of Lloydminster and Prince Albert in Saskatchewan and Red Deer, Alberta.

SafeGrowth training class - photo Steve Woolrich
My co-instructor Elisabeth Miller and myself worked with this impressive bunch, committed as they were to learn how to improve community life. Next month we will see what they produce.

I grew up in a northern Canadian city and I have a soft spot for the people who call them home. The best northern places boast a strong sense of community, industries like mining and lumber with well paying jobs, and outdoor adventure activities in unspoiled forests. The worst northern places suffer high unemployment with boom/bust economies, social unrest, substance abuse and the high crime so often accompanying that social dysfunction.

Walking out to winter parking on the morning commute to SafeGrowth training


There was recently a somber reminder about the seriousness of crime prevention work in northern communities. One week ago in the small aboriginal town of La Loche, 300 miles north of North Battleford, four people were gunned down in a multiple murder - two were teachers at the La Loche high school. A few years ago a gang shooting killed one resident directly across from the La Loche RCMP police detachment.

Perhaps lessons from the SafeGrowth work in North Battleford will ripple out to other northern communities suffering violence and crime like La Loche? We can only hope. Clearly, there is much work to be done!

Monday, January 18, 2016

CPTED in transit - Connecting people, not just places

GUEST BLOG - Mateja Mihinjac is a criminologist at Griffith University, Australia completing doctoral research into CPTED. She has co-taught SafeGrowth and CPTED and is a member of the International CPTED Association. She kindly submitted this blog on her recent research on CPTED and public transit.

I was recently asked to conduct research on CPTED in a transit environment. When I surveyed the academic literature I expected to find articles focused on physical modifications and security features alone — this has been a constant in most transit agencies. I ended up pleasantly surprised.

There were numerous references to social elements in crime and perception of safety. Many authors recognised that the physical environment alone had limited effectiveness in managing risks of crime and perception of the riders’ safety.


For example, in the waiting environment Loukaitou-Sideris study in 1999 identified that negative land uses and deteriorated surroundings contributed to crime prone bus stops in Los Angeles. In London research by Newton, Patridge and Gill in 2014 showed that crime proneness at underground stations was characterised by its above ground social environment.

As early as 1991 Saville published research regarding how the shortage of human presence posed increased risks for riders in the walking environment. A few years earlier Van Andel discovered the same on the en-route environment for both bus and train locations.

Melbourne train station - beautiful well-lit architecture, active social spaces 
In 2010 Yavuz and Welch found that the simple lack of people on the platform induced fear for train users and that presence of CCTV did not mitigate this perception. Finally, research by Delbosch & Currie in 2012 and by Cozens and Can der Linde in 2015 demonstrated that social characteristics surrounding the waiting environment were more influential in perception of safety than characteristics of the physical design alone.


This research reinforces prior blogs regarding the importance of community culture and opportunity-based connection in the transit environment.

Improving social conditions at the micro environment is a major theme of 2nd Generation CPTED and SafeGrowth, identified in 2001 by Lusk as social bridges in the transport environment. Social bridges reduce anonymity amongst the riders and make them more likely to assist one another in case of an incident, a phenomenon now known as the by-stander effect.

Next time when you catch a ride downtown put your mobile phone away and have a conversation with a stranger. It may change your life for the better.

Monday, December 28, 2015

Kafkaesque policing - detours versus directions

Abstract paintings often have a Kafkaesque feel
As we end 2015, the term Kafkaesque comes to mind. It describes some hopeless struggle against bureaucratic, sometimes malevolent, machines. Since this is a future we want to avoid, the following cautionary tale seemed an appropriate year-end story.

Franz Kafka was a 19th Century German writer with books about “surreal predicaments and incomprehensible bureaucratic powers” in which his characters descend into alienation in the face of absurdity.

Think of films like The Trial by Orson Wells, Mulholland Drive by David Lynch or the futuristic crime dystopia by Stanley Kubrick, A Clockwork Orange.


Kafkaesque thoughts surfaced when I read the 2013 and 2015 programs of the Police Innovation Conferences. These conferences were not really about police innovation as you might expect. Rather they were technology conferences offering a tech version of police innovation with some very cool gizmos such as drones and robots, brain fingerprinting, and body cams.

The gizmos look cool and I’m sure they have useful applications.

However in today’s police environment there is a much bigger picture. If this were one single technology conference it would be a fun curiosity. But today policing is inundated with so many conferences of similar themes, they detour rather than direct us to a sustainable, post-Ferguson future. A small sample:

  • A national conference on future police trends in which the future is technology 
  • A conference on Smart policing that navigates the future with data and intelligence analysis
  • In Canada, economics of policing conferences with perpetual prattle about fiscal efficiencies and belt tightening, all the while ignoring the private sector and problem-oriented policing strategies that will achieve it. 


I have yet to see conferences about innovations in police training, such as basic academy courses that teach cops how to work with urban planners to build safer, CPTED-sensitive parking lots before carjackings and car thefts unfold.

Where are sessions on innovative methods to help get cops out of cars and into neighborhoods to work with social activists and faith groups to cut the roots of gang membership before the shooting starts.

There is little available about emotional intelligence skills that arm officers with better conflict resolution and situational awareness tactics to disarm offenders without killing them, or risking officers lives.

To be fair, there are a few candles in the dark - conferences focused on practical, grass-roots police work such as this year’s Problem-Oriented Policing conference in Portland. There are also a few small conferences such as this year’s Police Society for Problem-Based Learning in Madison or the International CPTED Association conference in Calgary. But these conferences do not command the policy discourse. What does? The Armadillo!


One session at these tech conferences was “Empowering the community - low tech crime prevention”. This session was about how police retrofitted an armored combat military vehicle called an Armadillo with video cams, audio surveillance, and so forth.

The goal? Deploy the Armadillo...
“to high crime areas or places that have experienced a spike in public nuisance type events. The Armadillo feels right at home when parked directly in front of a drug house or problem bar… a symbolic representation of restorative justice in places that have demonstrated public nuisance activity..” 

“At home in front of a drug house or problem bar?”  No doubt there is honest intention here, yet you just know Kafka is rising from the dead!

“A symbol of restorative justice?” Seldom was a more Kafkaesque phrase served up in the name of public safety.

In the spirit of a more common-sensical and balanced future, may we dispense with tactics that awaken dead German writers and get on with the task of building safer, collaborative neighborhoods in 2016.

Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 20, 2015

"We were all color blind"

The title above is a quote from one of my favorite people in 2015 - Amelia Price.

Every now and then I recognize a stellar community development worker, organizer or thinker, what we affectionately call SafeGrowthers. In 2009 it was Sarah Buffie in Africa. In 2012 it was Andy Mackie and his harmonicas in Washington State.

At the close of 2015 there are so many to recognize that electing one leaves an unpalatable choice. It's an embarrassment of riches! Candidates range from Calgary planner Anna Brassard - who organized the first-ever SafeGrowth Summit - to the resolute commitment of LISC community safety coordinator John Connelly, who promotes remarkable SafeGrowth programs in Milwaukee.

One of Philadelphia's commercial corridors - sites of SafeGrowth training - photo Philadelphia LISC

But today I choose one from Philadelphia. Amelia Price emerged as a leader and role model worth signaling out for accolades.

Amelia is a commercial corridor manager and she was a member of the Philadelphia SafeGrowth training. Part of her story emerges in the YouTube above. Listen to how Amelia describes her SafeGrowth team and who needs to be part of such teams. She knows the value of CPTED and promotes it in her work.


Listen to how she describes the Philadelphia police officers who work her neighborhood, how the team began changing attitudes and how those officers contributed to making a safer street (police officers, take note).

My favorite Amelia quote:
"We were all color-blind. Although we all looked different, we never looked at skin; we look at each others' heart. And I noticed right away that they also had a passion for their community."
Of course Amelia  does not take credit for all the incredible work of her team, the police, or the organizations helping to make this happen - Philadelphia Department of Commerce, Called to Serve CDC and Philadelphia LISC. She does what stellar leaders always do - credit those around them.

Amelia, you make the world a better place. To you and your fellow SafeGrowthers around the world, know this - you are loved for what you do. Thank you!

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Why go downtown at all?

Shanghai at sunset, as seen from the observation deck of the Jin Mao tower.
The sun has not actually dropped below the horizon yet, rather it has reached the smog line. Photo Suicup - Creative Commons 

Unpleasant, polluted, and uninteresting downtowns trigger an exodus of legitimate eyes on the street. Without that it's impossible to achieve a critical mass of fun things to do: play chess in the park, go to bars, bicycle to music events, lounge on street furniture, listen to music from buskers, and people-watch during a relaxing stroll.

What empties downtowns?

For one thing, pollution. This week, yet again, there were more headlines about life-threatening smog choking Chinese cities, smog that comes from, no surprise, polluting industries and millions of gas guzzling, carbon emitting vehicles.

Madison Square Gardens streetscape. New York has worked on improving the downtown experience. Colors and lights play an important role. 

Tied to air pollution is suburban sprawl, another poison to downtown life. Bound as it is to excessive driving and greenhouse gas emissions, American sprawl triggered the exodus from downtowns and led to inner city crime.

Today a friend sent a YouTube of a historic video from the 1960s. It tracks the genesis of the expanding suburbs long before we knew the impact of large expressways and acres of free parking on acres of asphalt surrounding thousands of new shopping malls.

Toronto enhances the downtown pedestrian experience with modern and attractive light rail options. Photo Kallan Lyons

The video shows life at the very beginning. City centers were in rapid decline, crime was skyrocketing, and after a decade of romance with drive in eateries, there was a new love affair with convenient drive-in everythings. Nobody walked anywhere!

It was the beginning of the sprawl generation. The video is set in St. Louis. Ferguson is a 17 minute drive away. How little some things change.

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Green answers for crime - 3rd Gen CPTED

Green villages in a future Korea - photo by wohomedesigns

Some words confuse rather than clarify, like "sustainability”. Planners use it to mean sustaining a viable neighborhood. In CPTED it means a prevention program that lasts. But in science it means we must sustain the natural world of water, air, land, flora and fauna so that we may continue to…well, live.

The science version of “sustainability” ranks a tad higher on the What-Really-Matters-in-Life-o-Meter. 

Third Generation CPTED hopes to bridge the sustainability gap between places, people, and the natural world. 3rd Gen CPTED emerged from an M.I.T. paper for the U.N. regarding improving urban security through green environmental design. 


I highlighted it two years ago in 3rd Generation CPTED and the eco-friendly city.

The key idea:
The premise of third-generation CPTED is that a sustainable, green urbanity is perceived by its members and the outsiders as safe. Third generation CPTED’s focus on sustainable green environmental design strategies insists on practical measures, physically or cybernetically enhanced, that foster the perception of urban space as safe beyond mere concerns about crime.
Obviously 3rd Generation CPTED theory has tremendous promise. 

Except 3rd Generation CPTED does not exist! 

It is an idea from a discussion paper! There is no formal theory. No one has deployed and tested its principles. Those who wish to claim the 3rd Generation mantle will cling to jelly. Like ether - it’s there, but it’s not there. Yet!

Car charging stations of the future - photo by tatamouse  

It is time for the emergence of 3rd Generation CPTED. It must be a real theory with practical strategies. 

But that birth rings alarm bells. As co-developer with Gerry Cleveland of 2nd Generation CPTED, we warn there will be obstacles along the way. Here are a few alarms we faced:


  • Demands to modify. Sometimes that makes sense. Walter Dekeseredy suggested adding gender to create “gendered 2nd Generation CPTED”. It was a reasonable proposition now inhabiting the community culture principle of 2nd Gen. Third Gen will be no different. This is how science proceeds.
  • The Comfort Clingers. There are many CPTED Traditionalists and opportunity theorists of a particular vintage who cling to 1st Gen and still don’t like 2nd Gen because they think it stains original CPTED with the “white noise” of social relationships (as though social relationships had nothing to do with crime). What deluded silliness. No doubt there will be climate-change deniers who ignore 3rd Gen and cling to lights and CCTV.

Wuhan University research center in China, world's most sustainable building - photo by
  • Turf protection. Some academics describe 2nd Gen as fluff, partly due to white noise silliness and possibly because they didn’t invent it. But take a moment and consider the irony dripping off that sophistry: The theorist protects his turf from intrusions with the same vigor that wolves protect their kill in the forest. Yet when the Grizzly bear shows up at a wolf kill, the wolves discover they are not top predator! Same with 2nd and 3rd Gen CPTED. What the turf protectors will discover is that it is the most suitable theories that prevail, not those with the loudest voices. 
  • The number crunchers. Some demand more evaluations ignoring that plenty of empirical evidence already exists on 2nd Generation CPTED, for example Robert Sampson’s expansive book on the power of collective efficacy or Steven Schneiders research showing the success of collective action for prevention crime.
Ultimately, as with all new theories, 3rd Generation CPTED will survive based on its logic and practical use. Innovative, courageous, and committed researchers… apply here!