Spotting Environmental Design Flaws: Do Your Public Parks Facilitate Crime?

Well designed public spaces in your park can attract hikers, joggers, sports enthusiasts, and nature lovers. But the risk of vandals or predatory offenders lurking in darkness, in hidden spaces within the park poses significant problems. It can threaten the safety or sense of safety that park users enjoy.

By taking a proactive approach and auditing your park using CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) principles, you determine the factors that increase the likelihood of nuisance crime, vandalism, and disorder. An audit is a good way to identify what features of the park need to be changed and what needs protecting.

Consider the following environmental keys for safety:

  • Maintain adequate lighting in areas of parks where nighttime activity is intended
  • Provide no lighting where activity is not intended or appropriate
  • Make sure lighting is free from interference by landscaping detail, overgrowth or lack of maintenance
  • Lighting should be clear and bright enough for someone to get a good look at another person 12 or 15 feet away
  • Nighttime activities appropriate to the park’s facilities should be clustered together and properly lit
  • Use shallow or high branching vegetation to skirt along paths, rather than full-bodied bushes or trees that can conceal an offender
  • Allow the play area to be visible from street view
  • Provide options for entry and exit at different spots throughout the park, including fenced play areas
  • Post the hours and closing time of the park, so it is clearly visible at the entries

By taking specific action toward vandalism deterrence and crime prevention, you remove the ease of operation for theft, graffiti and vandalism to take place. This also decreases the probability of other crimes of opportunity.


Public Perceptions of Safety Influence Quality of Community Life

In every neighborhood the quality of life is directly linked to how safe the residents feel. Where fear of crime exists, quality of life drops and residents tend to stay isolated in their homes while knowledge and trust between neighbors withers. But when residents feel safe with their kids in their backyard, walking to the store or jogging in the park, the neighborhood becomes more vibrant with stronger social connections. This advantage is clear, particularly for crime prevention teams who then are working with a more aware, observant and involved public.

But when it comes to fear and perception of safety, it matters little whether major crime is actually a threat or not. Residents may see small indicators of a declining neighborhood, such as litter, illegal trash dumping, burglary, or first signs of tagging, graffiti vandalism or other nuisance crimes. As this occurs, it erodes the sense of safety.

Police departments are designated not only to make people safe, but also to make people feel safe. If people don’t feel safe, the unfavorable implications take root and grow politically, economically and socially. Law enforcement skilled in apprehending criminals may be tempted to depend on the statistical drop in the crime rates to boost the community’s feelings of safety and security. However, as U.S. Department of Justice findings show, addressing actual crime alone does not of itself change the public perceptions of safety or fear of crime.

Over many years, police have learned the value of crime-mapping, of gathering and analyzing data to target areas of crime. But what about utilizing fear-of-crime mapping? Do you use localized surveys, neighborhood meetings and key discussions with individuals, to yield valuable data? This kind of fear-of-crime data and analysis is very beneficial in focusing attention of your department and targeting the problem with precision —the same thing done in crime targeting. While it requires effort, you are equipped to precisely address and alleviate residents’ feelings of fear, while educating them on the accomplishments of crime prevention by the department.

School Book and Apple

Keep Schools Safe from Vandalism, Graffiti, Theft

School vandalism is a serious problem. With violence and youth vandalism on the rise, school facilities managers must maintain extra vigilance. Keeping a step ahead can be a daily challenge, particularly during the summer months when statistically graffiti, theft and other vandalism increases.

There are several considerations when it comes to crime prevention strategies. Policing sources recommend a comprehensive approach to crime prevention, dealing with various possibilities of criminal behavior within the school grounds. Engaging at this level of preemptive forethought and preparation is increasingly important.

A comprehensive strategy may include measures toward management of the school/students, such as discipline and punitive measures. A second area would address environment modification by applying CPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) strategies and reduce or eliminate hidden areas to increase natural surveillance or include proactive measures such as integrating crime-deterrent systems. A third area is in education, instruction and curriculum designed toward resolving conflict, preventing drug and gang involvement, etc.

Combining different programs into your comprehensive crime prevention strategy will help strengthen the overall prevention efforts and help keep your schools safe from nuisance crimes.


Stop Vandalism to Protect Property Values & City Revenues

Once summer arrives and school is out, municipalities brace for the uptick in vandalism and theft that strike neighborhoods, parks, and other public spaces. Summer time is prime time for sizzling crime rates. According to FBI’s most recent statistics from 2013, the FBI estimates over 8 MILLION property crime offenses in the nation.

Vandalism mars the community’s image and affects the public’s feeling of safety. Vandalism is reported to decrease real estate values by 15%. When property values begin to diminish, it directly affects the revenue to the city. Even more, the social demise that follows the economic impact on a neighborhood is hard to quantify or put on a price tag.

Ironically, cities neglect proactive crime deterrence often for the same reason as the increasing frequency of nuisance crimes: economic adversity. At the very time crime fighting methods are needed most, municipal budgets tighten and require prioritizing in order to allocate resources that fight nuisance crime before it occurs—issues like theft, graffiti, vandalism and illegal trash dumping.

Educating the public and involving residents to help care for their own neighborhoods and parks will help to cut down on the frequency of nuisance crime. Work with schools and recruit youth to organize a graffiti initiative or clean-up project. By prioritizing crime prevention and deterrence, this approach can save a significant slice of park and city budgets in cleanup costs and labor and patrol salaries. It also preserves the community’s property values, sense of safety, comfort, and community pride.