This Question calls for the discussion of the a phenomenon “Hong Kong MTR has a lower crime rate compare with many large western cities underground railways.”Hong Kong MTR is one of the busiest underground transit systems in the world with around 4 million person-time passenger per day. According to Hong Kong Yearbook 2010, “Hong Kong remains one of the world’s safest cities… The overall crime detection rate was 42.8 per cent.” In 2010, the total reported crime rate to police was 75,965, about 1080 cases per 100,000 population. (ISD, HKSARG, 2010) Only 1.1% of the above total crime rate happened in MTR. This is a very low crime rate compare with other countries. The crimes most likely happen in MTR including indecent assaults, pick-pocketing, shoplifting and indecent photo-taking(which will be categorized as Loitering). This can be refers to the design of the MTR environment. This phenomenon can be explained by environmental criminology theories as a result of the special design and function of the MTR. Environmental criminology focuses on criminal behavior within different environments and analyzes the impacts of these external variables on people's behavior. Environmental criminology theory was first develop in the 1960's, the first theory “Chicago school” which state that the design of city zones got problems. Then, there are Routine activity theory (RAT) and rational choice theory(RCT).
Jacobs and Newman's Chicago school theory, based on land use divided cities into 5 zones, in the center there is zone 1 the industrial area. Then, there are layers extend out of it, which are zone 2, 3, 4 and 5. each of these layers have a different transitional level and different people will live in it. With more instability and transitional, the zone will tend to be high in crime rate. This is the problems of city or environment design. Jacobs and Newman's brought up a term “defensible space” and believe there are four component to improve it: 1. Principle of territorial, 2 surveillance, 3.image of the place and 4. environment.
Felson's Routine activity theory focus on how routine activities of normal people transform into criminal offense. There are three ingredient of crime: a motivated offender, suitable target and absence of a capable guardian. With these three component there will be high risk of crime happened. ACT assume that there are always a motivated offender, the only changeable component is suitable target and capable guardians. Suitable target of crime can be people or objects, for example the victim of sexual offense and wallet of pickpocket cases. Capable guardians can also be objects like CCTV and people. This theory in Felson's perspective is not only to explain crime but more likely to prevent them from happening. It is because crime is a consequence of certain disorder situation. In such situation the risk is very high. For example, without proper contain and guards in the jewelery store, which is very easy to take and without constituents, many people will try to stole the valuables.
Rational choice theory have a same presumption of the RAT, more focus on situational crime which is not necessarily committee by lifetime criminals but most of the people. Most of the people are opportunists. This theory did not state the understanding of crime offender's motivation, but based on the presumption that all people's behavior are under rational calculation. If the risk for committing the crime is high, then under rational choice people will not commit it. This theory does not explain the crime done by professionals criminal and irrational offenders( with drugs addiction or mental illness).
We must understand the design and function of the MTR before discussion how the environment success in crime prevention. The environment of the MTR station is special, unlike normal city area. First of all MTR station lies on the transitional zone of the city which have a huge turnover rate of passengers. High density provides a lot of chances for crime, especially pickpocketing and indecent offense which take a very short period of time. Offenders think that other people can not easy to discover them. There are three major parts of the MTR, the lobby with gates, the platform area and in the MTR. The lobby with gate link to major streets, people may also use to cross the road. There are stores in the lobby. People which are not passengers will also enter the station. Secondly, platform area and the MTR carriage are open wide design, with many exits. It is design to contain hundreds of passengers at once. It is very convenient to transform from different lines to locations.
According to the Chicago school theory, the most transitional place will be the worse place of crime. The HK MTR station situation fit this theory. Yet the design plan is mostly effective to prevent crime. The environment in the MTR is complicated, thus there are corresponding measures. Yet, within the four component of “ defensible space” it can be improved. There can not be a territorial seance of people , because it's not a residential area, the environment around the station most of the time can not be changed, for example MK station the district is full of disorder. In the other hand the surveillance and image of the place can be improved.
To increase surveillance, area of the MTR station consistently maintain a high luminance, include all the corners. There are police patrol in the station and continuous staff appearance. there are CCTV all around the station also inside the carriage, which also link to the driver and controls. If there are any situation passengers can contact the staff immediately. CCTV and petrol, these methods of increasing the perceived risks under the rational choice theory seems to be working very effectively also one of the reason that there are low crime rate in the MTR station. According to the Routine activity theory there are 400 million passengers which can also be a motivated offender or opportunist. The only way is to take away suitable target and given capable guardians. The CCTV, open design allow passengers to see, the sufficient number of staff and police are the capable guardians. Because the passengers can also be a potential target,the layout directs passenger flows swiftly to their destinations, maintains a fast pace, and discourages loitering. There are also a 90 minutes limitation of staying inside the gate area. This limit the time of each passengers to stay inside the station. In addition, one of the best design, I believe limit the time of staying in the station is the lack of toilet. There are law specified for the MTR, forbidden some activity within the area of MTR station: eating, drinking, cursing, hawker, etc. These activity are summons offenses in the MTR, which also restricted the behavior of passengers. Also the image of the place is clean and protected from the environment around, which can be an independent facility.
However, the above discussion is based on the low “reported” cases of crime. The dark figure may also be huge, as respond to the low reported crime rate. Pick pocket cases may end up to be lost property, and the case will only reported to the MTR staff. The passengers most likely to be in hurry to go to the destination, they may not report the case, for example indecent assaults. Also, thoughts of the victim will be emphasize in the environment result in low report rate for example, the case is minor, undetectable, time cost to report the case is more than gain, etc. The low crime rate can be seen as there are only minor case happened and low in report rate.
HK Yearbook 2009, http://www.yearbook.gov.hk/2009/tc/index.html HK Yearbook 2010, http://www.yearbook.gov.hk/2010/tc/index.html