Friday, September 12, 2014

What's happening to our police? Part 1

Future of policing - diagram by wallpaperstock

Hot of the press: Future Trends in Policing from the COPS Office, PERF, and the Target Corporation. It is a report of a 2012 survey and summary of a one-day session with police leaders on the "Future of Policing."

It reveals what some police executives think might happen in future. Is it a prophesy we really want?


The survey reported 94% of respondents said their agency was involved in community policing, 89% in problem-oriented policing (COPS). Good news, right?

I've taught hundreds of police instructors over the past few years. Every time I ask them about COPS few, if any, admit to knowing anything beyond the superficial. Practically none of their agencies are doing anything beyond a small sprinkling of COPS specialists, less than 10% at best.

Last month I asked again, this time whether they knew anything about problem-oriented policing. The class had instructors from the east coast, mid-west, Canada, and the south. Same results: Out of 25 police instructors only 1 knew what POP was and he was from Madison, Wisconsin (the home of the POP Center).


Do police survey responders inflate whether they are doing COPS when they respond to a national survey on the topic? Saying one thing, doing another?

Policeman watching - photo by wallpaperstock


Future Trends had very little discussion of problem-oriented policing. In 45 pages of text it was cited only 3 times.

I did however notice the report was awash in GPS, cybercrime, body cameras, facial recognition software, predictive policing algorithms and intelligence-led policing. My personal favorite was NG 911 - Next-Generation 911.

[NERD ALERT: I love that stuff. Anytime I hear references to Star Trek - The Next Generation, my nerd-o-meter tingles. Beam me up!]

In other words science will come to our rescue? Zip-a-dee-doo-dah, what a wonderful day!


Survey statement: "In the future agencies will place less emphasis on community policing." 

75% of police agencies in the survey disagreed with that statement. Glass-half-full, right? But 25% offered no opinion or actually agreed that in future cops will do less community policing!

In other words, after 35 years of publications, conferences, training courses, and successes that account for at least some reduced crime, 1-in-4 police survey respondents see less community policing in the years ahead! Sounds more like a glass half-empty!

Considering the Ferguson riots two weeks ago that portends a bleak future.

Next week: Part 2 - The good news

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Stargazing in Tucson

Shopping mall parking lot - LPS lighting with halide lighting in adjacent property 

Stargazing is a remarkable activity and even if you don't know what to look for, an overhead canopy filled with stars is awe-inspiring. The Dark Sky Society (and astronomers everywhere) agree. Me too!

Nowhere does this have more power than Tucson, Arizona where I've been this past week. The city has some of the strictest regulations to keep light pollution down. Like other communities with national astronomy observatories, it promotes those dim, orangish-hue low pressure sodium lights (LPS) for streets and parking lots.

I visited mall parking lots this week in and around Tucson. LPS are everywhere. They are awful!

Shopping plaza parking lot with pedestrians walking across - look carefully
The engineering lighting standard for mall parking lots is 3 footcandles (FC). An on-line survey of 9 communities reports an average 1 FC in most of those communities.

In one lot that I visited I doubt LPS produced 3 FC or even 1 FC! I love stargazing but I would not enjoy walking those lots at night.

Thankfully the economy is changing the story. Tucson is in the midst of the nation-wide LED transformation for more savings and it is switching LPS street lights over to Light Emitting Diode lighting. I hope mall owners in and around Tucson get the message. I would not want to be a victim walking to my car. Nor would I want to be a property owner sued by a victim of violent crime in those spooky, target-rich lots.

Tree tops benefitting from LPS lighting

Sunday, August 31, 2014

A few years after tomorrow

Why shouldn't we choose to live in a beautiful, safe futuristic city? 

There are these new urban regeneration schemes called malls-without-walls, one example being the Liverpool One development in the UK. They bring to mind Oath of Fealty, a science fiction by Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle. They raise a thought worth pondering.

The Liverpool One land development is owned by the British Duke of Westminster. It privatizes 35 downtown streets and spans 42 acres all controlled by a private security force and CCTV. Of course big shopping malls are not new but they are usually relegated to the suburbs far from the downtown core. Not this one.


The Liverpool One land development project turns a new corner. Costing up to $2 Billion it is a central city shopping mall on steroids - hotels, plazas, shops, golf course, apartment towers, open air designs all policed by private security.

Decades ago Oath of Fealty prophesized a massive high-tech, city-in-a-city called Todos Santos, constructed following race riots and walled away from the chaos of Los Angeles surrounding it.

A thousand feet tall, single-structured super city, Todos Santos residents lived with constant surveillance in return for safety away from the grime, crime and bedlam that was a future Los Angeles. (Imagine the opening sequence of the film Bladerunner). Residents gladly offer up their Oath of Fealty for the benevolent Todos Santos security blanket.

In 1981 Oath of Fealty prophisized a new kind of city
Liverpool One is nowhere near that. It is a mega mall on steroids, not as sophisticated as the futuristic arcology, Todos Santos. It looks like a well-designed, upscale mall. Its private streets are subject to regular city by-laws.

Thus far.

Yet it is more interconnected than most open air malls and has abundant private security and pervasive CCTV. And like all evolutionary trends it exists in a context.


Consider the fear triggered from watching the Ferguson mayhem this week, dozens of riots in cities around the world in recent years and, in spite of declining crime rates, millions who now live in gated communities.

In all these contexts there is one constant. Fear! Who wouldn't want to live in a beautiful, secure place of the future?

Liverpool One - beautiful, open mall design attracts shoppers - Photo by HESimm 
Consider the comments about Liverpool One by Roy Coleman, criminology faculty at Liverpool University: "The rules for the newly privatised city centre fabricate an ideal citizen - aspirational in consumption and thinking big with urban pride."

That sounds very Todos Santos. It leads me to ask some elephant-in-the-room questions: If we have the resources and desire to build safe mini-cities within cities where people can freely choose to live, is that a good thing? Or if it is such a bad thing, why are so many of them showing up?

Sunday, August 24, 2014

The latest crime trends - up or down?

Increasing crime rates. Are the good times gone? - Photo by David Smith

Just arrived: The January-June crime statistics for 2013 !

Each summer the FBI releases semi-annual results from year before crime statistics. To criminology geeks like me they are like candy. And guess what! For the 73 cities over 250,000 population crime is the same it has been for decades. Down!

But not everywhere!


Murder, the most reliably reported crime, is still declining. In Philadelphia murders are down -36%, New York -19%, New Orleans -20% and San Antonio -41%.

Why? In the Big Apple maybe broken windows or stop and frisk policing works? Yet both are controversial. Plus cops have been accused of cooking the books. In New Orleans I'd like to think Hollygrove's SafeGrowth program had at least some impact along with the new CeaseFire anti-gang program.

The truth is it's difficult to claim victory from programs in one place when crime falls in other places without those programs. Doing so is willful blindness.

Urban unrest and gangs - a growing problem in cities?

Speaking of willful blindness, there are criminologists who claim auto crime is down due to the spread of more sophisticated security technology. They ignore that crime declined across many categories (in many countries), when security technology was absent (as in domestic violence). When crime categories plummet together, how logical is it that security technology explains auto theft declines but nothing else? 


There are much more important things than crime theory-squabbles. Alarmingly, murders are climbing  in a number of cities. In Las Vegas murder was up 56% (from 32 to 50), in Indianapolis 41%, (46-65), Cincinnati 45% (22-32), Baltimore 9% (105 - 115), Memphis 7% (56-60), and Dallas 17% (62-73). Are these statistically significant or normal variations?

Either way it is troubling. In a few of those cities new police programs are already in place. Memphis uses the predictive policing program called Blue Crush. Apparently, at least with murder, it isn't working.

Are the good times over?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Discovering the city at night

Uplighting sidewalk tree canopies with green tint - all photos from Ian Dryden

A few months ago I met award-winning industrial designer Ian Dryden from the city of Melbourne, Australia. He taught me about Melbourne's street lighting program. Given the links between fear and street (in)activity, this is a very big deal.

Most cities get poor grades for night lighting. Melbourne gets an A.

Melbourne has an incredibly active downtown night life. It wasn't always. One long-term resident told me it was once a waste-land with few people daring to walk dark downtown streets. When the city changed direction and chose to attract an evening crowd to socialize in a safe, positive way, designers and planners stepped up.

Decorative lighting above and below bridges
Ian and his colleagues were among them. Melbourne's public lighting program is sophisticated. It creates both a luminous and carbon neutral city, no small feat with current energy costs.

They light parks, tram stops, news stands, benches, and sidewalks. They string interesting blue (and energy efficient) LEDs above intersections. Where most cities inadvertently obstruct street lights with tree canopies, Melbourne embellishes them with tinted uplighting.

New induction lighting for Swanson Street tram stops
This week the 2014 Australian Smart Lighting Summit is in Melbourne and they get to celebrate among lighting peers. They should. Congratulations!

Melbourne park lighting
Blue LEDs over intersection - a canopy of stars

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Police reform? Better start swimmin'

The virtual hacker group Anonymous responding to recent police shooting in Missouri

It's impossible to write about small wins cutting crime and ignore police controversies that go viral. This weekend teenager Michael Brown was shot and killed in Ferguson, Missouri in a struggle with a police officer.

Aside from mainstream media we know little about how events happened. We do know Michael Brown's death is triggering protests, riots, and national attention. It has gone viral. Now the online vigilante group Anonymous is threatening to post the personal information of Ferguson police department members unless politicians create a Mike Brown's Law with strict national standards for police misconduct across the USA.

Some steps have already been taken along these lines. In 1994 the government passed a crime bill that expanded a form of civil enforcement called the Consent Decree. It is allows the federal government to install legal oversight over police when civil rights have been abused.

Since then 20 police departments have been subject to Consent Decrees including Detroit, New Orleans, Los Angeles and the latest in Seattle. In Seattle some officers are pushing back with a counter suit to roll back the proposed use-of-force controls.


Next year author Joe Domanick will publish Blue: The Ruin and Redemption of the LAPD about the Consent Decree in LA and what happened. In his blog Domanick describes police resistance to such changes:

...while police officers and their thinking is far more diverse than 20 years-ago, old, bad habits are nevertheless still being passed down from one cop generation to another.  They die hard. And police of a certain generation don’t like change, particularly liberal reform that they perceive only makes their jobs harder and more complex...

It all makes me think of Dylan's lyrics:

Gather 'round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown

Then you better start swimmin'
Or you'll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin'

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The wall and the window - Mystery in space

Doune Castle as Camelot in Monty Python and the Holy Grail
- photo Danny Linville 

Reading studies on crime and place I was recently struck by a mystery among environmental criminology researchers who study CPTED, particularly territoriality (the wall) and natural surveillance (the window).

It brought to mind other concept errors in crime and place research, specifically crime generators, permeability, cul de sacs, and the Achilles Heel within routine activity theory. This time the mystery cycles around guardianship.

Here’s the storyline…

Researchers regale the power of natural surveillance to enhance guardianship. Guardianship presumes to increase the risk that offenders will be seen and caught. Natural surveillance has appeal because you can observe whether a space has lighting, sightlines and nearby windows. Because surveillance presumably will produce more preventive action by residents (or reluctance by offenders to show up), you can then measure what happens.


Natural surveillance assumes that people who see something out of place will act, thereby providing guardianship. Thus it is “real”. It's an assumption borne out nicely in low-crime, upper income areas but not so much in lower-income, high crime areas where residents are afraid to step outdoors and when they do their presence doesn’t deter anything.

Fences, windows and flowers creating territorial control on a San Diego public walkway 
On the other hand researchers question the power of territoriality to enhance guardianship, mainly because they say territoriality lacks "definitional rigor" and it isn’t “real”. Floral decorations or landscaping…is that it? Maybe it’s access control, walls and gates? Even worse, territoriality varies from place to place. Horrors!

They suggest natural surveillance is preferable to territoriality because it seems more measurable. That’s how they solve the mystery of territoriality. They ignore or downplay it, label it with   definitional problems and claim it isn't "real".


Historian Howard Zinn warns us about such storylines: “Realism is seductive because once you have accepted the reasonable notion that you should base your actions on reality, you are too often led to accept without much questioning someone else’s version of what that reality is.”

Consider this: If territoriality isn’t real, then how is guardianship any better? And why shouldn’t territoriality vary from place to place?“The real world,” says Zinn, “is infinitely complex and constantly changing.”

Perhaps social science research methods are too simplistic to tell us anything complex? Perhaps it is guardianship that has a definitional problem, especially given territoriality’s much longer provenance.

What provenance? Consider Jane Jacobs’ Death and Life of Great American Cities, Robert Ardry’s The Territorial Imperative, Edward Hall’s The Hidden Dimension, Oscar Newman's Defensible Space, and Alice Coleman's Utopia on Trial. And all that territorial work still continues today such as Kevin Leydon’s study on walkability and social capital.

Windows overlooking infamous Kitty Genovese Murder scene in New York

CPTED practitioners seldom complain about such things because context always comes first.

For example in SafeGrowth practitioners and residents use a Risk Assessment Matrix for surveys, safety audits, site visits, and asset maps. Together they create a profile of the neighborhood and what residents feel about it. Only then do they determine to what extent designs enhance territoriality.

Overcoming "definitional rigor"?

Simple: Ask the residents and work with them to discover what they feel enhances their territorial control, a method known as action research and action learning. Mystery solved.