It was 3AM and the short walk from the train station to her front door was lit by a few streetlights. There may have been music from radios escaping partly opened apartment windows. Some neighbors were still awake. She'd walked home from work on this route before and it probably seemed familiar and safe. It wasn't.
Suddenly a stranger walking down the street chased and accosted her. Over the next half hour, newspapers later wrote, 38 people saw or heard her cry out as the murderer repeatedly stabbed, raped and then killed 28-year-old Kitty Genovese.
This happened in 1964 only 3 years after, and 12 miles east, of where Jane Jacobs wrote about street safety in Death and Life of Great American Cities.
This month two books commemorate the 50th anniversary of the tragedy: Kitty Genovese: A True Account of a Public Murder and Its Private Consequences and Kitty Genovese: The Murder, the Bystanders, and the Crime That Changed America.
Few cases have spawned so many theories and books. I've blogged on this, particularly in relation to the CPTED concept, natural surveillance. Environmental psychology now calls it the bystander effect or the Genovese Syndrome.
In short, if people can surveil an area but do nothing about crime, eyes on the street mean nothing. True, some offenders may still desist if they think they are being watched. But even this surveillance deterrence has limits. It won't apply to psychopaths, drug addicts, or the inebriated, a big list in the possible offender category.
The latest research by Timothy Hart and Ternace Miethe examined the National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS) and discovered a bystander was present in 65 percent of the violent victimizations reported in the survey.
Environmental psychology research produces replicable results showing the by-stander effect. The fact is this: If most people do nothing, natural surveillance means nothing.
Politicians look for the simple answer. Good Samaritan laws - forcing by-standers to act under penalty of law! Legal thinking often boggles the mind! In emergencies people don't think of penalty for inaction. They think of escape.
Fortunately, there are better solutions. Since the 1980s we've known social cohesiveness increases the power of people-caring. Social cohesiveness, research confirms, increases the power of natural surveillance. Eyes that care take action. When people know each other, know their area, have a sense of connectedness and can clearly watch their neighborhood, natural surveillance works.
In recent SafeGrowth classes we saw firsthand why pairing social cohesion strategies with natural surveillance is crucial. Students tell me that some 1st Generation CPTED instructors still fail to properly teach 2nd Generation CPTED.
There is no excuse for ignoring these essential lessons. Read about the Kitty Genovese tragedy. Let’s not repeat history!