by Gregory Saville
Between May 1987 and June 1990, Toronto police investigated the case of the Scarborough Rapist - Paul Bernardo. Scarborough is a sprawling suburb of Toronto and at the time the fear of a serial rapist spread across the entire Toronto metro like wildfire, especially along public transit lines. This notorious and horrific case is well-known in Canada and eventually led to the arrest and conviction of Paul Bernardo, the rapist (by that time, tragically, a serial murderer).
I first learned of this case as a police patrol officer 25 miles west of Scarborough, but we knew very little about the facts at that point. Coincidentally, I was also in urban planning grad school at that time and one of my professors asked me to join a new group conducting field visits and safety reviews on the Toronto transit bus and subway system resulting from the Scarborough rapes. They created their audit form from research on CPTED and they were calling it a safety audit.
That is how the safety audit was born – out of tragedy and necessity.
Up to that point, fear of crime patterns was surmised from generic surveys, but specific geographical details were sketchy. We knew from interviews what residents said about fear, but little about the specific places that triggered those fears. The Safety Audit changed all that.
SAFETY AUDITS IN COLORADO
A few days ago I helped a local transit committee conduct their first Safety Audit on a bus stop near my home – the first audit of its kind in Colorado.
What we found was fascinating. We discovered an isolated and remote bus stop location with few nearby opportunities for natural surveillance. We learned that bus drivers reported disorderly incidents on this route and that this stop was the end of the line and was nowhere near restroom facilities. We also uncovered a nearby shopping mall with numerous crime incidents, including a recently burglarized restaurant when we discovered a jimmied front door (we called the police).
Thus, we were able to report a crime before the owner learned about it. I spoke to him when he arrived and, naturally, the poor fellow wasn’t happy! He was the latest victim of crime in this shopping mall next to our bus stop.
As this transport committee learns how to use the Safety Audit process, they will eventually have the capacity to conduct other safety reviews across other parts of the transportation system.
SIMILAR AROUND THE WORLD
Safety audits are not new to this blog. Seven years ago, Tarah blogged on how to teach high school students the art of the Safety Audit in Every time they want to count you out – use your voice.
Four years ago I blogged on safety audits in A Tool for the Archeology of Fear. I described the mistake CPTED practitioners make when they confuse safety audits with CPTED surveys or visual checklist inspections. Some conflate Safety Audits with Jane’s Walks or Night-Out-Against-Crime. They too are wrong.
Then, two years ago, Mateja blogged on how she digitized our Safety Audit process for measuring fear in downtown Saskatoon.
What struck me this week is not how much the committee members enjoyed the Safety Audit process. That is a comment SafeGrowth advocates hear commonly during our training. Rather, the most striking thing was how similar design and location problems arise over and over at bus stops here and elsewhere.
We have taught audits from Melbourne Australia, Christchurch New Zealand, San Diego California, and Calgary Alberta, to New York City, and Helsingborg Sweden. We usually uncover similar fear and crime opportunity risks in those cities just as they existed in Scarborough during the Paul Bernardo rapes 30 years ago.
Will we never learn?