GUEST BLOG: Tim Hegarty is a Division Commander with the Riley County Police in Kansas, adjunct instructor at Kansas State University and expert in police innovation. He is also a Certified Level II Instructor in problem-based learning. Here he reviews the Criminology of Place.
“Neighbors next door are more important than family far away.”
How important? This Chinese proverb opens The Criminology of Place by Weisburd, Groff, and Yang in which the authors present compelling evidence regarding the connection between crime and place based upon 16 years of crime data in Seattle.
Some numbers may be familiar from Weisburd’s earlier work, particularly the finding that roughly 5 percent of the street segments accounted for 50 percent of the crime. Other numbers not so much.
Overall they show both how strongly crime is connected to place and how stable crime remains at most places over long periods of time. So strong and stable that during the study’s 16-year period the concentration of crime stayed almost the same throughout the entire city.
Surprisingly, Seattle’s 24 percent drop in reported crime during that time was the result of significant decreases at only 12 percent of its street segments!
Their research reinforces the importance of place in addressing crime and I highly recommend it to everyone with an interest preventing crime. One conclusion should strike a chord with the regular readers of this blog:
“[Crime] prevention through deterrence is not enough… Police officers must be given the support and training to allow a problem-solving orientation to develop. Our results indicate the importance of the social and the physical environment in understanding why some street segments and not their neighbors suffer from high crime rates. These findings provide evidence that police should take a more holistic approach to addressing crime problems... ”
To police agencies that haven’t yet spent huge amounts of taxpayer funds on predictive policing software...this advice: Save the money!
Absent some fundamental change in the physical or social environment, the best predictor of the location of future crime problems is the location of past crime problems. Working with the neighbors next door, as we see reported in Greg’s blog, is one of the best ways to do this.
The latest tactical urbanism in San Francisco is called the Market Street Prototyping Festival. It symbolizes the 21st Century form of public engagement. Public engagement is a linchpin for success when it comes to placemaking, SafeGrowth and all sorts of good things urban. Safety and crime prevention too depend on it, at least if you believe in life beyond target hardening.
Tactical urbanism is the key.
Tactical urbanism, coined from the book with the same name, is what Portland has been doing for ages during the Intersection Repair projects. It is a low-cost and learn-by-doing strategy reminiscent of so many social action strategies of the 60s except this time the result is physical changes within neighborhoods that avoid long planning processes.
San Francisco is the latest to try tactical urbanism by welcoming artists, urban designers and others to set up their innovations along Market Street. A few selections occupying the upper register of my cool-o-meter: Data Lanterns that glow brighter to announce arriving trains, metal walls that turn into a musical instrument on touch, and street seats made from compacted mushrooms for composting afterwards.
The recent story of LAPD Sergeant Deon Joseph triggered a flashback this week. For 17 years Sergeant Joseph has worked in the skid row of Los Angeles, a cluster of streets with over 3,500 homeless in a city of over 50,000 homeless. The YouTube "Stories from skid row" says it all.
My flashback was to a conference years ago in Vancouver. I was in the audience listening to a well known journalist describe stories about policing. It was one of those ah-ha moments, at least for the audience.
First he told stories about his personal experiences about officers he knew or came across on the street. They were positive stories about how those officers were conscientious and diligent. People needed help and the police showed up to help. It was all very glowing.
Then he told stories about rotten apples and police misconduct. They were stories from headlines in other parts of the city or from other cities. He had read those stories in the press and recounted them to us. His conclusion? There are two different sides of police work.
THE REAL STORY?
I pointed out to him that every positive story he told came from his life experience but every negative story came from the press. He knew his personal stories were true. So wasn’t he concerned that the press stories might be incomplete or biased? Nope! He seemed oblivious, probably because my point was more about the quality of journalism than the quality of policing.
There are plenty of negative stories about police. The federal investigation this week concluded racism is a part of the Ferguson police story. Also this week there was a tragic police shootings of a homeless man in Los Angeles. There are plenty of bad stories.
Yet occasionally the opposite shows up like the YouTube above or the NPR radio show that shines light on the complexities in Skid Row. No doubt those positive stories are forgotten in the bad press of the day. But the remarkable account of Sergeant Joseph and all his partners' exceptional work on Skid Row is important. That too is part of the real story.