We need to approach crime prevention in smart, effective ways. Fear of crime grips Americans and many other cultures. Fear is anti-social and anti-neighborhood because it makes us distrustful of one another.
Whether it's surveillance cameras, neighborhood watch, better street lighting, private security, more police, or a show of police presence, there's a tendency to spend money on reacting rather than on crime prevention.
We want a nice tight focus on keeping the
bad guys and gals out of your neighborhood, and in fact helping them
find a better pathway for themselves. Crime doesn't really pay.
There are seven basic approaches to neighborhood-level crime prevention, all of which your community, and perhaps your local government on your behalf, should be using:
• "Eyes on the street," meaning both there is human activity on the street and humans are alertly watching the street. This is implemented in particular by instituting a neighborhood watch program. Also take to heart all the useful-community-development.org recommendations in general for building a vibrant community, because when people want to be out and about in your neighborhood, it’s tougher to get by with mischief.
• "Hardening the target," meaning making it harder to break into a door, basement window, or sliding glass door, for instance.
Your group might be able to partner with local businesses for installation of bars over windows or some other crime prevention feature.
• Making it harder to escape notice and surveillance. Street lighting and neighborhood video camera approaches are avenues that community associations often pursue. Such measures simply solidify the "eyes on the street" notion.
• Assertive community mental health, which refers to providing help for those who suffer from schizophrenia and bipolar disorders, paying attention to domestic violence that may spill over into the street, and caring and intervening when someone exhibits unbalance or long-standing malice against someone or something.
Neighborhood groups spend so much time on the physical realm, but building positive mental health, beginning with school kids, pays rich dividends.
• What I call community pro-social values. It's astounding to me that people could care more about making an anti-authority statement than they care about putting criminals behind bars by serving as witnesses.
I know, people think it's dangerous and are afraid of retaliation, but it just doesn't seem worthwhile to build a society that doesn't value human life. Evidence shows that community policing at least increases the likelihood that crimes will be reported, which is important in getting criminals off the streets.
Maybe your neighborhood leadership could work with local prosecutors on training residents to feel more comfortable with the court system, and therefore possibly more willing to testify if the occasion arises.
• Substance abuse programs, ideally emphasizing prevention and treatment. If you have a big problem in this area, you might need to imitate the federal Weed and Seed program, which is now winding down unfortunately for lack of funding.
You can still copy the approach, and for that reason we have left the page intact, modifying it slightly to fit the new circumstances.
Neighborhoods frequently must deal with the "drug house" problem or with dealers loitering on street corners. Mind-altering substances of every type, certainly including alcohol, have to be addressed in a meaningful crime prevention program.
Knowing and being known, and feeling part of the community, are drug prevention techniques that also benefit everything else you're trying to accomplish.
• Clean-up programs. Let's start with parks, because petty crime often occurs the public realm, particularly on streets and in parks. Safe parks is a subject unto itself, and making your local neighborhood scrap of green feel and be safe is key to its becoming a major amenity for you.
Depending on the situation the clean-up of private or public property may help, because of better "eyes on the street," fewer vacant properties where crime can occur, or because a clean-up rekindles neighborhood pride.
On this site we're giving you a place to send your photos and brief descriptions of successful clean-ups for others to see. Please share your success!
Training programs in crime prevention are offered by the National Crime Prevention Council--you know, the people with McGruff, the crime dog.
It's worth noting the evidence-based strategies, as opposed to some that look good but maybe don't help.
In some situations an easy disincentive for crime is lowering the speed limit. This is true only on your local streets, unfortunately, as traffic engineers seem to think that they made those major roads to handle a lot of traffic fast, and they are going to defend that idea fiercely.
Some neighborhoods have embraced what is now called traffic calming. Our opinion is that this is more relevant to the possibility of reducing burglaries by making the get-away tougher.
This term just means slowing the traffic, through measures such as speed bumps, narrowing streets, making it necessary to bob and weave to get through the street, and closing off through streets to make frequent stops necessary.
You either love it or you hate it, but some of you became involved in a community organization just because of traffic calming proposals.
While traffic controls and speed reduction have a minor influence only on crime in most situations, there are other benefits that make it worthwhile to try such measures.
Certainly the practice of making streets more narrow contributes to neighborliness and pro-social behavior. So there are many good reasons for complete streets, "road diets," "skinny streets," or "green streets."
Note when you call it a road diet, the women who haven't heard of it will giggle!
We've transitioned flood prevention over to the Environmental Sustainability section, where it's obviously very appropriate.
But there's a tie-in to crime prevention, you know. Flood-prone areas create just enough disorder that only chaotic people or the desperately poor usually want to live there.
And when the flooding has come and gone, looting begins. Sometimes the looters are simply desperate people seizing an opportunity, but shortly people of less than pro-social motivation come in and help themselves to whatever they find.
To the victims, though, it adds insult to injury, don't you think?
The same thing applies to areas beset by wildfires. We will write something on that subject soon elsewhere on the site. But it's worth pointing out that looting can become quite a problem in the wake of flooding or evacuations due to approaching wildfires and even hurricanes.