Twenty eight years ago a group assembled on the shores of Lake Couchiching, Ontario, 150 kilometers north of Toronto. They met to brainstorm new ways to prevent and analyze crime, deploy community police officers, and build safer cities.
The event was summarized in a book I authored, Crime Problems, Community Solutions - Environmental Criminology as a Developing Prevention Strategy. It was the beginning of SafeGrowth.
Next week a group of AARP representatives, community members, criminologists, planners, and others interested in crime, safety, and vital neighborhoods will gather in New Orleans to continue a journey started long ago. The New Orleans Summit and Search Conference is the first in the south/eastern U.S.
FIRST EVER SEARCH CONFERENCE
The Lake Couchiching event was the first-ever search conference in criminology, a method of community visioning and planning developed shortly after WW2. It set the stage for a different style of crime prevention based on the place and time of crime events - today called situational crime prevention.
The community and police representatives at the event thought cohesive neighborhoods also mattered a great deal. Thus was born the SafeGrowth philosophy of neighborhood planning.
Today SafeGrowth theory is a formal method of crime prevention. In the past few years we've had more Search Conference events, one in Canmore, Alberta and another in Sacramento, California, to expand the concept. The New Orleans conference is the latest.
Watch our SafeGrowth website for our latest ideas to more forward.
Oddly, the past few weeks I have received emails regarding press stories about trees and crime. Trees so seldom show up in stories on crime unless there are efforts to trim them up or down.
This time some local residents (well, one or two) complained that trees cause crime. Local reporters - perhaps hungry for news copy on a slow day - eagerly hyped the horror-in-the-park story because trees are, apparently, crime causing according to some residents.
True, untrimmed trees that obstruct overhead lights or block sight-lines into risky areas might be a problem, but so are parked cars, dumpsters, large hills and great big heaps of smelly, putrid trash (ok, my polemics got the best of me on that last one). And all that is a problem of maintenance, not trees.
In fact trees cause no more crime than anything else, except they are beautiful, they clean the air of pollutants, control stormwater, provide shade on sunny days, add a green and textured aesthetic to barren parks and they increase property values.
I have blogged before on trees-and-crime and the fact is the overall impact from trees is positive. And data support that contention.
Research by the Illinois Human-Environment Research Laboratory on the Robert Taylor Homes public housing project in Chicago shows treed areas had up to 58% fewer violent crimes. In 2011 the U.S. Forest Service did a similar study in Baltimore and discovered tree canopy’s over roadways corresponded with a 12% reduction in crime.
Yet another study in Portland, Oregon revealed similar tree crime-reducing effects.
It’s not uncommon that myths about crime show up in public debate, but it’s a tragedy when fears based on made-up theories shape public policy.
GUEST BLOG: Tarah Hodgkinson is a senior researcher in the Integrated Risk Assessment Instrument Research Group in Vancouver, Canada. She is a member of the International CPTED Association and a certified SafeGrowth instructor. She is completing her Ph.D in criminology at Simon Fraser University.
Last spring, I had the pleasure of teaching a fourth year university class on crime prevention at the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. The course had not been offered in several years.
I was nervous as this was my first upper year seminar course, but I wanted to provide the students with an experience rarely seen on university campuses today. I wanted them to have a chance to guide their own learning, engage with their own neighbourhoods and finally write a paper that they could use for something more than just a grade.
I set up the class to include the SafeGrowth method and created a problem-based learning (PBL) format to teach it. In PBL the students work together in teams and select a real-life, complex crime problem in a neighborhood. Their learning is based on research-in-action.
PBL IN CRIMINOLOGY
In PBL students conduct a SafeGrowth® assessment on that neighbourhood and work to address that problem. In addition to their field work, students each read a different book that had been key to informing the SafeGrowth philosophy or crime prevention. They then participate in seminars with short interactive presentations on that week’s material, presented by the students themselves.
During their field work they practiced real-life learning in the same way a professional consulting team might engage a neighborhood: they conducted site audits, contacted city officials, learned more about crime mapping and developed an evidence-based plan.
They learned about search conferences and safety audits, not by reading about them, but by actually doing them. Their final paper was a report they could give to a city counsellor or funding agency – hence, not just for a grade.
I had no idea how the students would respond since they were so used to lectures and tests. I was sure they would revolt. I feared the worst, but I got the best. When I trusted them to take chances, I saw them flourish. I saw them connect with each other, connect with their neighborhoods, and learn that they too had a voice.
A THIRST FOR REAL-LIFE LEARNING
I asked them to write a thirty second pitch about what they learned. Their responses were shocking. Very few spoke about the content. Rather, they told me that for the first time in university they felt that they had made real connections, real friends. In an era when many lament the loss of integration and connection, they integrated and connected.
They discussed the rewards of engaging with their neighbourhoods and realized that they could do something immediately to make changes. They said they felt listened to and that they had finally learned something. In a class where I did not do any traditional teaching, the students learned something. Imagine!
Not only did they learn that learning-by-doing and this intensive collaboration style - the action-based method - is the philosophical lynchpin of SafeGrowth and successful crime prevention. They also learned when I gave up lecturing and classroom control, when I trusted them to work together on real problems that is when real learning happened. It is then when we truly start to solve community crime problems.