by Tarah Hodgkinson
A few years ago, a scorned lover walked onto a public housing project and shot his ex-girlfriend. She lived but has suffered terribly with her injuries ever since. The man did not live there, so how was he able to get onto the property and shoot his ex? Was this a fluke, spur-of-the-moment occurrence that might have been prevented?
In a journal article coming out this year, myself and some colleagues describe how we used crime mapping and analysis to examine questions about such crimes in public housing. We compared the police calls for service over a 7 year period at four nearby public housing facilities of similar size and occupancy. The housing where the shooting (and many other crimes) occurred went through a massive reconstruction during this time. This construction was intended to upgrade the living facilities and improve the overall livability and security of the location.
CPTED DONE WRONG
However, after the construction, we found not only did calls for police service start going back up, but they did so dramatically. In fact, the trend was increasing at a rate that surpassed previous levels of calls for service. This seems counter-intuitive. Why would a place that had made improvements to the image and maintenance of the property, as well as security, see an increase in calls for service when the other public housing developments didn’t?
We conducted field research that provided some context. While interviews with property managers demonstrated knowledge of security measures, particularly CPTED principles, some of these principles were not properly implemented in the redesign.
For example, they constructed a large fence around the perimeter but failed to replace access control gates and security at key points. The redesign had major openings with no gates or doors to restrict outsiders from entering or exiting. While the entire site was fenced, there was no real access control in or out of the property. Unlike other locations we examined, not only did this facility not have security at the entranceways, it lacked a strong community presence. Thus, there were very little natural surveillance opportunities or proper access controls at the entry points where it mattered most.
Clearly, the lack of proper security measures in public housing, like access control and surveillance, can increase the risk of victimization. In this case, it is unsurprising that an outsider was able to walk right through the front entrance, unchallenged, and shoot his ex-girlfriend.
The implications of poorly implemented CPTED are clear, particularly for responsibility and accountability: accountability for competently implementing CPTED principles in a high-risk location, and responsibility for adequate security in public housing facilities to protect vulnerable residents.