Sadly the combined momentum of property development and of brutalist urban planning was unstoppable and, as Jane Jacobs had warned, many inner cities did indeed become concrete jungles full of barbarism and fear, ‘centres of delinquency, vandalism and general social hopelessness sealed against any buoyancy or vitality of city life’.
The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Random House, 1961.
In 1972 Oscar Newman’s book, Defensible Space: Crime Prevention through Urban Design, called for a complete rethink of town planning.
Oscar Newman, Defensible Space: Crime Prevention through Urban Design, Macmillan, New York, 1972 (published in the UK as, Defensible Space: People & Design in the Violent City, Architectural Press, London, 1973).
Over the years these apparent differences led to some arcane and ridiculously damaging squabbles. Should estates be open, where people would mingle and visibility was all? Or should they be fenced off, where strangers would be conspicuous and be challenged as intruders?
One of the most bizarre quarrels between the Jacobs/Newman followers was, literally, a dead end: is it safer to live in a cul-de-sac where has to get out through a single pinch-point or is it better to allow free movement? Scholars have flung conflicting burglary figures at each other and even the Prince of Wales intervened (calling for open access – though it is not clear that he lets members of the public take short cuts through the grounds of his own palaces). But the argument was often sterile. Some no-through roads offer no alternative way out whereas others back on to gardens, parks, alleyways or railway lines. In America things got so heated there were peace talks which led to a treaty called the Ahwahnee Principles after the Yosemite Park hotel where the two movements, known as the ‘New Urbanists’ and ‘neotraditionalists’ met and finally thrashed out a compromise. There remain competing views but the consensus among research academics is that properties should be designed with limited access, and estates should have few footpaths or through roads. Much of the evidence comes from Paul and Patricia Brantingham, two industrious (and married) investigators in Vancouver, but similar results have been accumulating from the US and especially the UK.
In part of Liverpool where burglary was rampant, a maze of alleyways running at the back of terraced housing was blocked with lockable gates so that only residents had access. The scheme (inevitably called ‘alley-gating’) immediately proved popular and sustainably cut break-ins by more than a third with a drop in crime radiating to surrounding areas.
Kate Bowers, Shane Johnson and Alex Hirschfield, Closing off opportunities for crime: an evaluation of alley-gating, European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, Vol. 10, No. 4, December 2004, ISSN 0928-1371.
Large glass areas from floor to ceiling gave views directly to the streetscape where cars could be left and children could play safely in full view of everyone above. When the residents moved back they loved it. ‘This is better,’ they told me. ‘No need for CCTV now, they’ve taken all that down. It’s open. Trees. No drug-taking. No houses getting broken into. No rubbish dumped. No crime.’
The Truth About Crime, Episode 2, ‘Antisocial behaviour’, BBC One, 2009.
Commendably, in 1989 police chiefs took the initiative and adopted a set of standards for house-builders called Secured by Design. A researcher, Rachel Armitage, soon demonstrated that SBD homes were almost a third less likely to suffer burglaries than otherwise comparable homes and that the effects persisted.
Rachel Armitage, An Evaluation of Secured by Design Housing within West Yorkshire – Briefing Note 7/00, London: Home Office, 2000. Rachel Armitage was then a senior researcher at the University of Huddersfield which took a leading role in design against crime.
Bad things are more likely to happen unseen. You can light up the darkness, which helps to some extent, but as Jane Jacobs put it: ‘Horrifying crimes can, and do, occur in well-lighted subway stations when no eyewitnesses are present. They virtually never happen in a darkened theatre when many people and eyes are present.’
Good illumination has long been shown to cut offending (Ken Pease, ed., GP07 Lighting and Crime, Institution of Lighting Engineers, 1999) but there are wide disparities in results. Older, mostly American, studies showed 7 per cent benefits, newer UK ones averaged 38 per cent. A systematic review of thirteen studies spanning four decades suggest an average crime reduction of 20 per cent (David Farrington and Brandon Welsh, Effects of Improved Street Lighting on Crime: A Systematic Review, Research Study 251, 2002, Home Office London).
To get more eyes on the street, Britain has seen the world’s biggest boom in CCTV. By 2011 there were perhaps 2 million cameras – though almost all are private and most are indoors not facing the street.
In the only large-scale audit, taking two years to complete, Cheshire police interviewed owners of all premises in the county and counted 12,333 camera, of which 504 were run by local authorities. Extrapolating this to the UK produced an estimate of 1,850,000 (The Guardian, 2 March 2011). However, Freedom of Information data provided to BBC Newsnight in 2009 suggested use of monitored systems was lower than generally supposed and distribution is patchy and unpredictable: the London Borough of Wandsworth for example had sixteen times as many cameras as Hounslow while the Shetlands had the highest density per capita. [http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/8159141.stm]
One systematic review of well-run experiments shows British CCTV has had ‘a modest but significant desirable effect on crime’; another that it cuts crime by about a fifth. Other studies suggest it improves reporting rates, gives people a feeling of security, is an effective tool in prosecutions and, by directing resources to where violence is taking place, it significantly improves police responsiveness.
Brandon Welsh and David Farrington, ‘Effects of Closed Circuit Television Surveillance on Crime’, Campbell Systematic Reviews, December 2008; and Brandon Welsh and David Farrington, ‘Evidence-based Crime Prevention: The Effectiveness of CCTV’, Crime Prevention and Community Safety: An International Journal, 2004, Vol. 6, pp. 21–33. [http://www.palgrave-journals.com/cpcs/journal/v6/n2/abs/8140184a.html] Most objections to CCTV come down to vague unease about lack of regulation. For example, Liberty says it ‘poses a threat to our way of life’ and that ‘the experience of widespread visual surveillance may well have a chilling effect on free speech and activity’ [www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/human-rights/privacy/cctv-and-anpr/index.php]. US opposition is less measured and often based on wild propaganda including reporting from the ACLU which is so biased and selective that it should shame any organisation concerned with truth and liberal values [www.aclu.org/technology-and-liberty/whats-wrong-public-video-surveillance, accessed February 2013].
Along came ARPANET, funded by the US military to create resilient communications, followed by a separate British academic network, a technical protocol so they could interact and finally, in 1991, Tim Berners-Lee connected everything together by creating the world wide web and inventing the browser.
Tim Berners-Lee had the idea of using the net not just for emails but for electronic publishing, functioning as a lateral web rather than a vertical hierarchy. He was steeped in computing and connectivity – as a student at Oxford he was banned from the university’s computer after being caught hacking – and in the 1980s was working at Europe’s big physics lab, CERN, where he created a software database with links which could be used to jump from one page to another related one. It later occurred to him to put this on the internet. He built the server, created the first web pages and invented the first software to let users leaf through different pages. He thought of calling it the ‘Mine of Information’ but settled on ‘world wide web’.
If we choose we can make illegal downloads, hack other people’s secrets, send anonymous hate mail, surf violent pornography, steal identities or con people around the world from the comfort of our homes. Phishing, smishing and then vishing.1 The internet has proved how easy it is to recruit a whole new army of lawbreakers, most of whom (as the Motion Picture Association’s antipiracy campaign points out) would never have burgled a home or stolen a car.2
1 David Wall, Cybercrimes: The transformation of crime in the information age, Cambridge: Polity, 2007. I am indebted to Dave Wall for acting as my cyberdictionary. Phishing is sending spoof emails to trick people into revealing sensitive information (variations include spear-phishing which targets specific individuals); pharming is an automated version which diverts your web search to their sites; smishing affects PDAs; and vishing uses VoIP (a protocol for transmitting voice over the internet) to spam recorded messages to people’s phones. To perpetrate these you need distributed botnets and zombies – and so it goes on, the ingenuity of the vocabulary matched only by the cunning of the crooks.
And in the virtual world, like the real one, criminal often start young, causing mayhem for fun rather than more obvious rewards. The four British hackers behind LulzSec, one of the most insidious internet conspiracies, set out as vandals, hacking into governments, police and global companies rather as an earlier generation might have smashed bus shelters. (See We Are Anonymous, by Parmy Olson, William Heinemann, 2013.)
Reliable figures of phone thefts are hard to come by because people report what is insured rather than what is stolen1, but when the industry finally did get its act together crime surveys showed thefts levelled out at 2 per cent around 2006 and was almost wholly a crime by and against the young.2
1Reported crime rates are dogged by the insurance issue. Even when recorded crime was plunging to its lowest level since 1980 mobile phone theft appeared to be on the rise (see Police Recorded Crime figures, April 2013 [https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/police-recorded-crime-open-data-tables]). This was partly caused by Apple, whose iPhones accounted for two-thirds of the problem and whose policy was to exchange handsets without requiring proof of ownership. It was also almost certainly an artifice of a quite different crime, insurance fraud. As the mobile phone jostled with new handsets which rapidly became more fashionable and technologically sophisticated, and as insurance penetration rose, there was a powerful incentive to ‘lose’ one’s mobile phone and presume that it was stolen.
2Philip Hall, ‘Mobile phone ownership and theft’, in John Flatley, ed., ‘Home security, mobile phone theft and stolen goods: Supplementary Volume 3 to Crime in England and Wales 2007/08’, Home Office, London, May 2009, pp. 31–49.[webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/20110218135832/rds.homeoffice.gov.uk/rds/pdfs09/hosb1009.pdf]
In 2012 Sussex police launched Operation Mobli and planted handsets in pubs and bars to catch out thieves. Each device was protectively marked and fitted with a tracker. None was stolen. In fact every single phone was handed in.
The Times, 19 July 2012.
An analysis of West Midlands Police data between 1998 and 2004 found a big increase in burglaries in which the main purpose was to steal car keys.
Susan Donkin and Melanie Wellsmith, Cars Stolen in Burglaries: The Sandwell Experience, Security Journal, 2006, 19, pp. 22–32.
Throughout the 1990s there were almost 50,000 cases every year, after which the crime subsided.
A study by Jacobs, Topalli and Wright in 2003 suggests a 40 per cent rise in carjacking took place between 1987 and 1992. Later statistics are available from official sources: Patsy A. Klaus, ‘Carjackings in the United States, 1992–96’, Bureau of Justice Statistics, March 1999. [http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/cus96.pdf]; and a follow-up ‘Carjacking, 1993–2002’, July 2004. [http://bjs.ojp.usdoj.gov/content/pub/pdf/c02.pdf]. The UK does not record carjacking as a separate offence, though anecdotal evidence suggests the crime was extremely rare. On the other hand, British car theft was cut by over a quarter of a million cases a year.
Overall crime rates make the point, of course, showing massive net gains, with Britain experiencing the biggest crime falls in all of the EU.1 Several detailed studies have proved the point by drilling down into what happens locally.2
1Cynthia Tavares and Geoffrey Thomas, ‘Crime and Criminal Justice’, Statistics in Focus 58/2010, Eurostat, 2010.
2 e.g. Patricia Allatt, Residential security: Containment and displacement of burglary, Howard Journal of Criminal Justice, 23, 1984, pp. 99–116. Pat Allatt specifically looked for displacement effects and found some, but they were extremely weak compared to the huge gains from improving security in the target homes.
In the mid-1980s a comprehensive anti-burglary approach was put in place in Kirkholt in Rochdale, Lancashire, including better home security. At a time when crime was rising in the UK, recorded burglaries in Kirkholt fell by almost half within a year and by three-quarters over three years. More significantly there was no sign of the intruders moving elsewhere or escalating to more serious offences.
David Forrester, Mike Chatterton and Ken Pease, The Kirkholt Burglary Prevention Project, Rochdale, Crime Prevention Unit: Paper 13, Home Office, London, 1988, ISBN 0 86252 333 8. The Kirkholt project did show a slight increase in vandalism, probably due to higher reporting rates, but all other crimes declined, with a slight drop too in the adjoining Ashfield Valley district; meanwhile most of the rest of Rochdale saw a small upturn in domestic burglary line with national trends. (Year 3 figures come from David Forrester, Samantha Frenz, Martin O’Connell and Ken Pease, The Kirkholt Burglary Prevention Project: Phase II, Crime Prevention Unit: Paper 23, Home Office, London, 1990, ISBN 0 86252.)
A decade later the same thing was tried in the Royds area of Bradford, which went from being the most prolifically burgled housing estate in Britain to one which was essentially burglary-free. Here too burglary also fell in surrounding areas.
Stephen Town, Crime Displacement, The perception, problems, evidence and supporting theory, 2001, available at [www.crimereduction.gov.uk/displacement.doc]. Stephen Town wrote this as Architectural Liaison Officer of Bradford District Council, and though it is only published on the web it is better written and researched and more insightful than many texts by leading academics.
Similar analysis of bank and post office robberies shows that good security has good outcomes overall, and several studies have shown the reverse of displacement, with what has become known as ‘diffusion of benefits’ or what others describe as ‘free riding’, a ‘windfall’ or the ‘bonus’. I call it the ‘halo effect’.
Richard H. Schneider and Ted Kitchen, Planning for Crime Prevention, Routledge, London, 2002, p. 114.
The protective effect seemed to promote better behaviour. At any rate, crime surveys showed a fall of almost 50 per cent from peak in the mid-1990s and recorded offences plunged 3.5 million to below 2 million in 2012.
‘Vandalism and criminal damage’ in, Crime in England & Wales, year ending September 2012, Office for National Statistics, 24 January 2013.[www.ons.gov.uk/ons/rel/crime-stats/crime-statistics/period-ending-sept-2012/stb-crime-in-england-and-wales–year-ending-sept-2012.html#tab-Vandalism-and-criminal-damage]
Criminologists are an argumentative lot but when it comes to crime displacement the accumulating evidence is strong and the consensus is compelling.
Larry Sherman, Denise Gottfredson, Doris MacKenzie, John Eck, Peter Reuter, Shawn Bushway, Preventing Crime: What Works, What Doesn’t, What’s Promising, Report to US Congress, National institute of Justice, July 1998. [https://www.ncjrs.gov/pdffiles/171676.PDF]. According to this comprehensive review compiled for the US Congress, ‘The effects of displacement are limited, (and) concern about displacement is usually based more on pessimism than empirical fact.’ On the contrary there is often diffusion of benefit, which the report describes as, ‘the flip side of the coin of crime contagion’, pp. 7–48.
In 2006, in a prizewinning study, a leading experimental criminologist, David Weisburd, specifically set out to check whether hotspot policing simply pushed crime somewhere else. He reported, ‘The findings in this study reinforced a growing challenge to the displacement hypothesis. No evidence of immediate spatial displacement was found; however, strong evidence of spatial diffusion of crime control benefits was found. Places near targeted areas that did not receive special police intervention, actually improved.’ David L. Weisburd, ‘Place Based Policing: Research Recognized in the Stockholm Prize in Criminology 2010’, AEC Newsletter April 2010, Volume 5, Issue 1.
… the replacement of coal gas by much safer North Sea gas in the 1960s and ’70s removed the opportunity. Many desperate people found other ways to top themselves but the suicide rate came tumbling by 25 per cent
For the story about North Sea gas see Ron Clarke and Pat Mayhew, The British Gas Suicide Story and its Implications for Prevention., in Michael Tonry and Norval Morris (Eds), Crime and Justice: A Review of Research, Vol. 10, University of Chicago Press,1988. For results of the paracetamol controls see Denise Robinson, Alice Smith and Dennis Johnston, ‘Severity of overdose after restriction of paracetamol availability: retrospective study’, British Medical Journal, 321:926. The co-proxamol withdrawal was announced in ‘Painkiller scrapped over suicides’, BBC News, 31 January 2005. In summary, ‘if a lethal method is not immediately available a suicidal act can be prevented’ (National Suicide Prevention Strategy for England, Annual Report on Progress 2005, National Institute for Mental Health in England, Leeds, April 2006).
One of the other most common ways to kill oneself was with painkillers. In 1998 new rules limited paracetamol to smaller packs and in 2005 co-proxamol was withdrawn altogether. By 2006 England had the lowest suicide rates since records began in 1910.
A long-term review concluded that the paracetamol pack changes cut paracetamol suicides by 43 per cent. (Keith Hawton, Helen Bergen, Sue Simkin, Sue Dodd, Phil Pocock, William Bernal, David Gunnell and Navneet Kapur, ‘Long term effect of reduced pack sizes of paracetamol on poisoning deaths and liver transplant activity in England and Wales: interrupted time series analyses’, BMJ, 2013, Vol. 346, p. f403.)