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To What Extent Do Environmental Considerations to Design Out Criminality Assist in Reducing Criminal Activity?

By georgiospiper Apr 11, 2013 2170 Words
Crime has been an issue that has plagued societies since the very first were introduced and came to effect. During the years different policies and different considerations have been developed to understand, fight or reduce criminality. This essay will attempt to identify whether environmental considerations to design out criminality actually assist in reducing criminal activity or simply end up being a short-term solution to a bigger problem that never goes away. The model of Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) will be examined and its practical application in neighbourhoods through target hardening of buildings and neighbourhoods. Other prominent environmental crime prevention theories, such as Broken Windows theory (Wilson & Kelling, 1985) are discussed and its implications on social control and neighbourhood pride is another part of this model that will be visited and whether further application would result in better outcomes.

Developed in the 1980s was the Rational Choice Theory.
“The theory argues that would-be criminals make a rational choice assessment of the possible consequences of their actions and take the opportunity to commit a crime only if the economic advantages would outweigh the disadvantages” (Jones, 2009).

Elaborating on that it is then apparent that the more opportunity a criminal has with as less disadvantages the more likely it is that this person would commit crime. So how does society then take steps to reduce these opportunities that can be attractive to a criminal and at the same time increase the disadvantages that the commission of this crime would present to the criminal willing to take the risk? From the above, theories and designs were developed such as Crime Prevention through Environmental Design (CPTED) (Jeffery, 1971).

CPTED was developed to simply make it as difficult as possible for a criminal to commit crime thus reducing the opportunity, raise the possibility of that person getting caught thus increasing the disadvantages by employing a wealth of measures designing crime out of a neighbourhood. This includes more use of CCTV, increasing physical security measures in households (bars in windows, harder doors, alarm systems etc.). It also involves consultation in new buildings when they are designed to reduce the opportunities for crime by introducing better lighting, less spots where a criminal can hide and other measures that increase natural surveillance and awareness.

The specific measures around increasing a building’s physical security by adding alarms, bars on windows etc. is also known as Target Hardening. The idea behind implementing the CPTED theories is to reduce the opportunities available to a criminals by increasing physical barriers in their way towards their goal at the time in a building. This can be as simple as introducing gates in communities widely seen initially in the United States and later also seen implemented in the United Kingdom where neighbourhoods would simply in effect be cut off from general traffic and access by introducing a gate in the various points of access. This would result in reducing the flow of people with access to these communities to those that had a valid reason to be there either being residents or workers that had agreed access to these communities. This could be enforced by simply having those gates with code access points making them open. This could be further reinforced by introducing the human element in the form of guards on those gates controlling access. Going back from the overall neighbourhood element and looking at building specific target hardening this includes introducing alarm systems, gates in the actual homes, bars in windows, better doors and locks in those hardened doors.

In the 1980s-1990s in the United States of America saw the large increase of gated communities whereby thousands of middle and upper class families start living there being willing and able to afford the additional expenditure these houses represented due to their market values. It was believed at the time that the gates reduce crime and the likelihood of it and thus houses within developments like that were more sought after and that led to higher market values. Many organisations that offer CPTED solutions have argued that measures such as this have reduced instances of burglaries and robberies in those neighbourhoods and studies done have shown that neighbourhoods where the roads were closed showed a reduction in crime (Blakely and Snyder, 1997). The same authors have also shown though that in other areas, crime was only temporarily reduced or there was no change at all. Kassab (2205) re-inforces the opinion that gates may not always offer better security. For their research the Sentinel examined Sheriff’s reports for 1400 homes in Orange County, USA. “Reports for a random sampling of homes in isx pairs of subdivisions were reviewed from June 2001 to June 2005. Each pair of subdivisions was composed of one gated and one ungated neighbourhood with similar characteristics, such as home price and location.” After examining the reports they discovered that “residential burglaries and stolen cars were reported at nearly the same rate in gated and ungated neighbourhoods – five burglaries per 100 homes and one stolen car per 100 homes. Car burglaries and case of criminal mischief, such as broken windows or vandalism, were reported at lower rates in gated neighbourhoods.” So from this we can glean that whereas low level crime such as vandalism were lower in gated neighbourhoods, more serious crime like burglaries and theft of motor vehicles were about the same. This then creates question on whether a commited criminal will commit crime despite the obstacles before him if the opportunity is there and the reward is high enough. One of the problems identified by Kassab (2005) though was that an unintended and unwelcome side effect of the implementation of gated communities and other CPTED approaches, was that they often created ‘false’ feelings of security among residents. This ‘false sense’ of security often led to a more lack approach to security which had the potential to nullify, or otherwise render less effective, the previously applied security measure.

Having covered in some extent the gated communities in the USA, another good example of target hardening and its more extensive if not one-sided use brings us to South Africa. As in the States, so in South Africa, crime and the fear of it have led many families mostly white to buy and settle down in gated communities. South Africa also suffers from very violent forms of crime. Examples like hijacking cars with their occupants inside, violent burglaries and robberies that unfortunately in South Africa more so that in other countries lead to loss of life by either the victim or the suspect due to wide availability of guns as well as the brutality that the suspects use in the commission of their crime. Due to this we have seen gated communities become the choice or necessity favorite with white or other wealthy families that look to escape the fear of crime in their houses. During a conference in Pretoria, South Africa Kriger & Landman (2003) looked into CPTED designed neighborhoods, target hardening and its implications in South Africa. From this study it was shown that on top of the simple concept of gated communities where access was controlled by a password or remote control gate other measures included building high walls to protect occupants from side traffic pedestrians and make access to their properties very difficult. Other measures included mobile patrols of security personnel as well as manned gates. The interesting side of this report is that it looks into the effects of these gated communities in the overall society they are situated in. It was argued that one of the effects of these gated communities was the displacement of crime into neighboring communities who then in turn proceeded to apply to become gated communities themselves. So instead of solving a problem we see that crime is moved around without actually dealing with the issues behind it and instead choosing just to focus on preventing it. One of the issues seen is that residents proceed to target harden their house even more by installing alarms, re-inforcing doors, installing bars in their windows in the search for the feeling of safety. Daley (1995) describes this: “Every house is a fortress, with burglar bars on the windows and a steel "rape gate" separating the bedrooms from the rest of the house for extra protection at night. Garden walls are topped by ever-evolving forms of razor wire, "cactus" spikes or electric wires that deliver a jolt as they set off an alarm. And, carrying a gun is ever more commonplace.”

The problem we see with that is that residents take selectively some of the ideas of CPTED and specifically target hardening and in their quest to feel safe, acquire what has been widely described in the industry as fortress mentality. The reality is that offenders will continue to find means by which to bypass target hardening measures, thus creating more fear of crime to residents, continuing and worsening a vicious circle resulting in an ever escalating increase in security measures. An interview with a resident in an American gated community shows the feeling some residents develop “The irony is that we are trapped behind our own gates, unable to exit. Instead of keeping people out, we have shut ourselves in” (Setha Low, 2003). A quote by Julius Caesar summarizes the risks of fortress mentality and its effect on residents and their quality of life “There is no fate worse than being continually under guard, for it means you are always afraid”. The New York Times article mentioned above stated that this has led to an exodus of mainly white families who having failed to feel safe resort to immigrating to other countries in their quest for a safer life from the occurrence of crime against them or the fear of this happening.

Having analysed the limitations of target hardening, its positives in creating a sense of security and its negatives in instances where fortress mentality steps in, using it in combination with another theory can perhaps provide a more holistic approach in addressing social issues that arise and lead potentially to better results. Wilson & Kelling (1982) published an article detailing their theory named “Broken Windows” theory. It was argued that when an area sees broken windows or other acts of vandalism not repaired this leads to further damage in the social control of an area and this has an effect in residents there losing interest or pride for their area and the resulting lack of sense of feeling safe this brings. Specifically an abandoned car was introduced with no number plates and its front engine cover up in two neighborhoods, one less affluent or less affected by crime than another. In summary they identified that although not as immediate in both occasions when a window was broken in the car and left unchecked shortly after more people caused more damage to the vehicle with the eventual destruction of the vehicle in both occasions. During their experiment they argued for more foot patrols for police officers who would keep behavior like that in check and with their interactions with residents they felt safer despite the level of crime in those neighborhoods not necessarily being lower than in other areas where foot patrols was not introduced. We have seen examples of this theory being put in practice most famously during Guliani’s mayoralty in New York, the flooding of areas with police officers and a zero tolerance approach to crime. The Broken Windows Theory is one of the main components in the CPTED model namely the Maintenance strand where low level damage like that is repaired. This gives the impression of a well-looked after area where residents take pride in residing and promotes this in the future use of the area. This way residents feel safer and community engagement is strengthened by the participation of all parties in looking after their area thus increasing social control in an area and its effect of reducing criminality by that natural awareness of residents of their surroundings and their neighborhoods.

In conclusion, environmental considerations through models like CPTED that have been developed can have an effect in reducing criminality if they are not taken out of context and specific parts of them are indulged or taken to extremes in the detriment of other parts. A concerted effort to create balanced neighborhoods where target hardening can work in conjunction with maintenance of an area and the clear distinction of areas to allow people to identify with their immediate environment and participate more fully in its societal eco-system within. Unfortunately environmental considerations by themselves might reduce criminality but they will not solve a problem that is there. A more structure overall social approach needs to be taken to identify the root causes of crime in a particular society and then take steps to remove them thus reducing the need for crime. Otherwise the fear is that all the considerations that are applied will only result in crime dislocation and eventually re-occurrence.

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