There is Concern about Crime and Walking at Night

If crime is a problem in your neighborhood, then people may be afraid to walk in your neighborhood, day or night. Fortunately, there are a number of ways that you can address this fear and make your neighborhood a pleasant and safe environment in which to live and walk. Two studies, one by the National Institute of Justice and one by the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), point to several specific ways that neighborhoods can decrease crime and take back their streets. Though each neighborhood has its own unique set of issues relating to crime, you can read through the list below to see what measures would be best for your neighborhood to take.

Work with your neighbors to create a sense of community

Get to know your neighbors and ask for their help in making your neighborhood a safer place to live and walk. If there's a family facing problems in your neighborhood, reach out in friendship and support. Sometimes people just need to know that they can talk to someone who's concerned. Offer to take on routine chores, to baby-sit, to provide transportation, or just to listen. Identify or notify church or community agencies that can help the family.

With your neighbors, join or create a neighborhood advocacy group. Neighborhood organizations, through their activities, can help neighborhoods rebuild social control and increase citizen accountability for the actions of residents and their children. Take advantage of "safety in numbers" to hold rallies, marches, and other group activities to show you are determined to drive out crime and drugs. Start, join, or reactivate a Neighborhood Watch or Citizen Patrol group. Groups often get started through neighborhood meetings, rallies, and school or community events. For more information, visit the NCPC's web site on Neighborhood Watch programs.

Work with public agencies and other organizations on solving common problems in a constructive manner. Don't be shy about letting your city or town officials, business groups, or other civic organizations know what your neighborhood needs. Churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples as well as private businesses and schools can be recruited to help combat crime and recruit volunteers for neighborhood-based programs. Many communities have information and referral services that keep extensive records of the government and non-government groups that can help address neighborhood issues. United Way and similar groups often operate referral services. Local taxpayer and civic associations can often provide information, too.

You need to determine the most important issues facing your neighborhood. Door-to-door surveys can serve to both gather information and build neighborhood outreach efforts. For organizing a group in a multicultural neighborhood, the NCPC suggests having translators and material printed in a variety of languages on hand at meetings and get-togethers. It is important to include all the members of your neighborhood, or representatives of these members, to make progress.

Influence city or town officials

A well-organized neighborhood wields powerful influence when addressing the needs and problems of local residents, especially in local political decisions. This needs to be accomplished in a positive and constructive manner. A group of organized citizens are more likely to get a response from city or town agencies than individual citizens or police officers. Neighborhood organizations can request meetings with mayors, police commissioners, city or town managers, or city or town council members to support effective community policing practices and to get criminals out of their building or neighborhood by enforcing anti-noise laws, housing codes, health and fire codes, anti-nuisance laws, and drug-free clauses in rental leases. A group representing the entire neighborhood will have the stability, credibility and political clout necessary to be an effective force in improving their neighborhood. Most city or town officials would welcome this form of neighborhood support and neighborhood involvement if done in a constructive manner.

Develop prevention and treatment programs

Community groups can draw on private and public resources as well as their own "people power" to establish youth centers; mentoring, tutoring, or parenting projects; and Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, or other substance abuse prevention or treatment programs for neighborhood residents. Develop and share a phone list of local organizations that can provide counseling, job training, guidance, and other services that neighbors might need.

Deny criminals access to public spaces

No matter how dedicated community policing officers are, they cannot be everywhere all the time. Work with other residents to establish safe conditions in your neighborhood — a physical environment that doesn't invite crime or offer opportunities for violence to brew. With a group of neighbors to form a block watch to scan streets, yards, alleys, playgrounds, ball fields, parks, and other areas. Conduct anti-drug patrols and get-togethers in your neighborhood, in apartment buildings, and along school routes. Work with schools to establish drug-free, gun-free zones; work with recreation officials to do the same for parks.

Work with the police and the legal system

Build a partnership with police, focused on solving problems instead of reacting to crises. Input from the community provides important opportunities to learn of criminal activity, which increases the likelihood of an arrest. There is also little doubt that community policing has a sizable impact on suppressing some crimes by developing community ties to identify problems before they become crimes and obtaining critical intelligence information on potential or actual crimes. An informed, organized, and involved community can work with police to identify and implement solutions to community problems.

Citizens not only have unique knowledge of their own community but also may have skills and contacts that facilitate problem solving. Check to see if your city or town, like other cities or towns around the country, has a program that provides radios to neighborhood residents to contact the police or cell phones to automatically dial 911.

As soon as you or hear of a crime being committed, contact the police. Be sure you know where and how to report potentially violent situations or conditions that could lead to violence. Ask your police department or your community policing officer for help in identifying what to report, when, to whom, and how. More aggressive or targeted police tactics can have a sizable effect on suppressing some crimes. Accordingly, more alert citizens and calls to the police when crimes occur will increase police presence in any given area. Make it possible for neighbors to report suspicious activity or crimes without fear of retaliation.

Community organizations can organize community meetings on how to safely provide police with useful information (license plate numbers, detailed descriptions, addresses where suspicious activities occur, brand names of street drugs, and code signals used to alert drug dealers of police presence). Radios or cell phones that automatically dial 911 can be distributed to community leaders. Invite the police to establish a sub-station in your neighborhood if conditions are particularly bad.

Record information about criminal or suspicious activities in your neighborhood

Citizens often help by gathering information or becoming the eyes and ears of the police. Community organizations can organize community meetings on how to safely provide police with useful information (license plate numbers, detailed descriptions, addresses where suspicious activities occur, brand names of street drugs, and code signals used to alert drug dealers of police presence). Standard forms for recording information can also be distributed.

Contact police as soon as you see or hear of a crime

Thefts, assaults, or drug-deals that are not reported to the police allow criminals to go free to commit their crimes again. Be sure you know where and how to report dangerous or violent situations in your neighborhood, or conditions that could lead to violence. Ask your police department or your community policing officer for help in identifying what to report, when, to whom, and how. Some communities treat observation of active graffiti vandalism (which leads to a degradation of the neighborhood) worthy of a 911 call.

When contacted, more aggressive or targeted police tactics can have a sizable effect on suppressing some crimes. Accordingly, more alert citizens and calls to the police when crimes occur will increase police presence in any given area. Make it possible for neighbors to report suspicious activity or crimes without fear of retaliation by making sure the criminals are fairly punished. This can be accomplished by using a system of anonymous tips to the police and by making sure the criminals are fairly punished.

Be involved with court proceedings

In addition to reporting a crime or something you suspect might be a crime, agree to testify if needed. Form a Court Watch to help support victims and witnesses and to see that criminals get fairly punished. After arrests in the neighborhood, community members can monitor and track the progress of cases and encourage prosecutors and judges to give appropriate sentences. Neighborhood organizations can also encourage prosecutors' offices to develop drug courts, community courts, and alternative sentencing programs.

Take legal action

Neighborhood groups or residents in conjunction with local elected officials can pressure landlords to evict drug dealers and maintain and improve building security by improving lighting, door locks, intercoms, and roof doors. Legal action can be taken, in cooperation with local officials, to close down bars, liquor stores, or other establishments that tolerate illegal activities. It is best for communities to force landlords or property owners to renovate or demolish unoccupied buildings that are being used by criminals. For instance, Phoenix's Neighborhood Preservation Division has the authority through a number of city or town ordinances to prosecute delinquent property owners who do not maintain their properties and fence off and demolish vacant and deteriorated properties if need be. Civil actions can be used in lieu of, or along with, criminal proceedings.

Approaches for specific problems

Address loitering and panhandling issues

People do not want to be harassed and will not walk in an area where they feel unsafe. Transients, vagrants, or other people who hang out in a public area such as a park or on a street corner for no apparent reason and hassle passer-bys, drink, smoke, or aggressively panhandle for spare change can discourage people from walking. Furthermore, neighborhoods that neglect these minor signs of disorder may be opening the door to more serious crimes and neighborhood disorder. Minor misconduct, such as public drinking and vagrancy, may, if left unchecked, signal potential miscreants that no one is watching or no one cares.

Ask city or town officials to draw panhandlers away from areas where a lot of pedestrians are present or areas where children walk to school by providing services to the homeless in areas outside of areas where pedestrians will not be intimidated. Anti-loitering ordinances exist in many cities and towns throughout the nation. Accordingly, when you see a group of people loitering or aggressively panhandling, contact the police to have them dispersed or arrested in compliance with local ordinances. Property owners can give police permission to enter private property, such as parking lots or external stairs, to investigate and possibly arrest loiterers.

Put a stop to graffiti and vandalism

Graffiti on the sides of buildings, vehicles, and other structures and vandalism, such as the breaking and scratching of windows or cars, can look unsightly and intimidate people, thereby discouraging them from walking in your neighborhood. According to the National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC), most vandals are young people — from grade-schoolers to teens to young adults — who damage property because they may be bored, angry, vengeful, defiant, or trying to prove or display their alliance to a gang. Graffiti is often the first sign that gangs are taking over a neighborhood. Gangs use graffiti as their street "telegraph," sending messages about turf and advertising their exploits. Graffiti identifies territorial boundaries, lists members, and communicates with rival gangs. Graffiti is viewed by many as a symbol of urban decay or the presence of gangs or "tagger" crews. It generates fear of crime and neighborhood instability. Paint and marker ink become harder to remove over time. Therefore quick removal of any new graffiti will make removal easier. Here's a list of ways to put a stop to graffiti and vandalism in your neighborhood:

Report and clean up vandalism as soon as you see it

Clean up vandalism as soon as it happens — replace signs, repair playground equipment, and paint over graffiti. If you see anyone committing vandalism or graffiti, treat it as a 911 call situation and report it to the police. Make your local police aware of patterns of graffiti or vandalism in your neighborhood, especially the spots where the vandalism is the worst, to help them apprehend vandals.

If you notice graffiti on traffic signs or traffic signal control boxes, report it to your traffic or public works department. Traffic signs that are made of a reflective material may be destroyed by some graffiti removal products and paint will block the reflective quality of the sign. Painting over graffiti on traffic signal controller boxes may cause the locks to be clogged with paint.

Organize a graffiti clean-up day

According to the National Crime Prevention Counci (NCPC)l, a neighborhood's first step in taking back its streets from gangs is getting rid of graffiti. This power struggle can't be won overnight, but persistent neighborhoods working in partnership with law enforcement almost always emerge as victors. Controlling or eliminating graffiti demonstrates that you and your neighbors are concerned about the quality of life, and crime, in your neighborhood. It may also provide you with an opportunity to address related illegal activity before it escalates into more serious crimes, such as theft or drug abuse.

Before you remove graffiti, notify the police department so they can document it with photographs. This helps build cases against these vandals. Clean-up often has to be done again and again, but patience and persistence pay off. If an area you have cleaned up becomes covered in graffiti again, remove it as quickly as possible. The goal is to deny the vandal the chance to display their "work". When painting over graffiti, consider new graffiti-resistant products on the market that have a chemical makeup that makes it difficult for paint and ink to adhere to them. Also, consider the use of paint containing polyurethane. This paint is more expensive, but it makes removal of any new graffiti relatively easy. Hold a neighborhood block party after the clean-up and ask businesses to contribute gifts, such a local movie theater donating free passes, to the clean-up volunteers.

Contact your neighborhood organization and other civic groups to provide volunteers. Check with state or county agencies which may have special requirements regarding the color of paint used if the clean-up is on state or county buildings, walls, or property. Local businesses can donate the paint removal and painting supplies and local merchants can provide gifts to reward volunteers. Some local governments provide free paint to neighborhood block watch and other advocacy groups to clean-up graffiti. Involve the youth of your neighborhood: teens that help clean up graffiti will be less likely to become involved in acts of vandalism. The police can provide discrete protection while your group is removing or painting over graffiti. Notify your local precinct of graffiti removal activities so that they cruise by occasionally to ensure your safety.

Prevent future vandalism

In areas where graffiti or other forms of vandalism continually occur, use landscape designs (such as prickly shrubs or closely planted hedges), building materials (such as hard-to-mark surfaces), lighting, artwork, or fences to discourage vandalism. A good way to prevent future vandalism is to adopt a street or park, perhaps in cooperation with a church or business to instill pride in the area and discourage future vandalism from happening.

Educate the public

Educate the public, especially young people, about the costs of vandalism. Have a neighborhood meeting on vandalism to discuss its victims, costs, and solutions. Vandalism is an expensive crime. Schools pay out millions of dollars each year to clean up graffiti, repair buildings, or replace vandalized equipment. That means less money for new books, computers, sports equipment, and student activities. Local governments (and their taxpayers) pay the bills for broken street lights, stolen signs, and vandalized parks. Businesses pass the costs of vandalism on to customers through higher prices. Vandalism is also hurtful. People feel angry, sad, and frightened when something of theirs—a mailbox, a garden, a car antenna—is destroyed for no reason. Vandalism indirectly claims other victims: a child is injured because a stop sign was stolen or a person can't call 911 because the public phone is broken.

Install dawn to dusk lights and report street light outages to city and town officials

Dawn to dusk lights can be purchased through the power companies to supplement the local street lighting and improve security during nighttime conditions around your home or business for a nominal fee. Local agencies and the companies that repair and maintain the street light appreciate and rely on citizen calls of streetlight outages to alert them when and where they exist. When reporting an outage, provide the street address or pole number to help pinpoint the problem light(s).

Report scary dogs

Stray or unleashed dogs can discourage people from walking in your neighborhood. While some unleashed dogs are friendly and aren't concerned with people, others can be scary and intimidating. For people who have a fear of dogs as either a condition (cynophobia) or from past unpleasant encounters, any unleashed dog may cause them to be fearful. Accordingly, a number of steps can be taken to keep dogs in your neighborhood under control.

Help establish or report violations of leash laws

Many communities have leash laws that require that dogs be on a leash except when on the owner's or caretaker's property. Other cities also require that dogs on the owner's property be restrained by a fence or leashing. Some cities further state that dogs must not be able to reach the public sidewalk if tied out in their yard. However, experts have found that tethering or chaining a dog in their yard may not be healthy for the dog and may cause the dog to become anxious and aggressive. Accordingly, a fenced yard or dog run may be the best solution.

If a leash law already exists, you should call the local police or animal control agency to report the problem. If your community does not have an adequate leash law, or no leash law at all, and unleashed dogs are a problem in your neighborhood, work with community officials in crafting a more effective leash law or a dangerous dog law.

Report stray or roaming dogs

If you see stray or roaming dogs in your neighborhood, you should call the local police or animal control agency. Try to get an estimate of how long it may take someone to respond and if possible, stay on the scene to keep an eye on the dog until help arrives to be sure the dog doesn't leave the area, cross traffic, or bother people passing by.

Other approaches

Debunk the fear

According to a study by the National Institute of Justice, a problem closely related to crime is the fear of crime. Anything that can be done to reduce that fear contributes to an improvement in the quality of life in a community, even if there is no impact on the crime rate. A fear of crime is usually caused by dramatic incidents, repetition of highly visual stories about crime on TV news programs, or reports of incidents involving someone you know. Accordingly, the fear of crime may rise while the occurrence of crimes actually drops. Indeed, even though there seems to be a growing fear of violence in the United States as a whole, the homicide rate in the United States has been flat for the past 20 years and has been decreasing since it peaked in 1991.

Check the crime statistics for your neighborhood. Contact the police department and ask the person in charge of your community's crime statistics if crime has increased or decreased in your neighborhood over the past several years. If in fact crime has recently dropped in your neighborhood, spread the word. Tell your neighbors and community leaders the truth so that people will no longer live in fear of something that isn't as serious as originally thought.

Be street smart

The National Crime Prevention Council has several recommendations for being street smart. Trust your instincts; if something or someone makes you uneasy, avoid the person or leave. Know the neighborhoods where you live and work; try to walk with others; know the locations of police and fire stations, public or emergency telephones, hospitals, and restaurants, or stores that are open late. Stick to well-traveled streets; avoid shortcuts through wooded areas, parking lots, or alleys. Whenever possible, walk with a group of people. There's safety in numbers.

Don't flash large amounts of cash or other tempting targets like expensive jewelry or clothing. Carry a purse close to your body, not dangling by the straps. Put a wallet in an inside coat or front pants pocket, not a back pocket. Try to use automated teller machines in the daytime; have your card in hand and don't approach the machine if you're uneasy about people nearby.

Send the message that you're calm, confident, and know where you're going. Don't wear shoes or clothing that restrict your movement. Have your car or house key in hand before you reach the door. If you think someone is following you, switch direction or cross the street. Walk toward an open store, restaurant, or lighted house. If you're scared, yell for help. If you have to work late, make sure there are others in the building, and ask someone - a colleague or security guard - to walk you to your car or transit stop.

Educate the media

Neighborhood groups should provide information to the media about crime and other problems and the effectiveness of problem-solving and community policing approaches. When the media reports that conditions in your neighborhood are looking up, residents in your neighborhood will feel safer and will be more likely to get out and walk. The media can also help get the word out about events that your neighborhood organization is sponsoring. To get the attention of the media, call the news desk community calendar or write letters to the editor, appear on local radio or TV shows, and organize press conferences.

Prevent crime through better neighborhood design

If areas and buildings in your neighborhood are being redeveloped, contact your city or town's planning or zoning departments and make sure that the new development will conform with the principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED).

According to the International CPTED Association, CPTED has as its basic premise that the proper design and effective use of the physical environment can lead to a reduction in the incidence and fear of crime, thereby improving the quality of life. Creating territoriality, natural surveillance and eyes on the street, and controlling access into, and out of, buildings and neighborhoods are some of the traditional tactics of CPTED. This discipline is based on where and when criminal behavior occurs in the environment.

Successful CPTED programs bring together a wide range of community members-from residents and business professionals to government agencies. This multi-disciplinary approach includes collaborating to define problems, identify solutions, carry out the most feasible plan, and evaluate the results. Because each community is unique and each community has its own, unique set of problems, there is no generic formula for applying CPTED to communities. Instead, CPTED consultants can be contacted or various guidebooks can be consulted. Make sure that your city or town knows about these resources.

Neighborhood Lighting

People may be afraid to walk in your neighborhood at night due to a variety of reasons. Perhaps your neighborhood is poorly lit. A properly well-lit neighborhood for pedestrians means that sidewalks along both sides of a street are lit so that people can see where they are walking at night and no dark areas exist where criminals may lurk. In combination with good lighting, working towards a more crime-free neighborhood and redesigning your neighborhood to prevent crime may be necessary to make your neighborhood a safer place to walk at night.

What is appropriate lighting?

Lighting is the greatest single deterrent to crime at night. Well-lit neighborhoods are safe neighborhoods. Residents want the security of well-lit neighborhoods so they can enjoy leisurely walks and know their children are safe playing outside.

Neighborhood lighting should be abundant and bright, but not overly so. Lights should be shielded downward, not up into the sky or especially sideways into people's eyes. Globe lighting and flood lights should be avoided where possible since these types of lighting project light everywhere instead of concentrating it where it's needed most, on the street or sidewalk. Lighting should be on properly-tuned timers so that they are on when needed and off when they're not.

Some types of lighting result in considerable color distortion, such as low pressure sodium lights, and should not be used for lighting pedestrian areas. Color distortion helps make people feel uncomfortable about their surroundings.

It's believed that 30 percent of all lighting in the United States is wasted light, and wasted light is wasted energy. As an example of what can be done to lessen the effects of wasted lighting and light pollution, people concerned with this issue in Connecticut helped convince the state and county governments to replace more than 180,000 streetlights with glare-free light fixtures as the old lights wore out.

Light your own property and encourage neighbors to do the same

Vandals, burglars, and thieves like it dark and dark spots may exist along the sidewalk in front of your house. A light on your front porch, back yard, or in an alley behind your home will discourage them and will provide a continuously lit sidewalk on which people can safely walk at night. Use lights that project downwards instead of upwards or sideways. The light on the top in the diagram to the right wastes approximately 45 percent more light than the light on the bottom. A 75-watt light bulb will light your yard for less than $29 a year. The cost of a 20-watt florescent bulb for a year is approximately $8. You can also invest in a photo cell socket control for about $7 that will automatically turn your light on at dusk and turn it off at dawn. Local agencies and power companies can provide dawn to dusk lighting on private property for a reasonable monthly cost. Such lighting is often subsidized by the community for the elderly in high-crime neighborhoods.

Report broken streetlights

Streetlights that are out or flicker (a sign that they will soon go out) should be reported immediately. Lights that cycle on and off throughout the night should also be reported to your local agency or power company. When reporting streetlight problems, provide detailed information about the streetlight location, such as the property address where the light exists or the pole number (if one is present). Your local government website may have a place to report streetlights that are out, or direct you to the right department.

Increase existing lighting

The procedure for getting more lighting in your neighborhood will vary depending on the size of your city or town. Larger cities may have full-time staff dedicated to lighting whereas smaller cities and towns may assign this task to an individual in the public works or traffic department, or streetlights may be the utility company's responsibility. The first step in getting lighting, or additional lighting, should be a phone call to your city or town hall to find out who is responsible for street lights. You can also check your city or town's web site to see who and how to contact the proper person, department, or company.

Upon receiving a request, a field survey of the existing lighting in the area may need to be done. If the existing lighting is determined to be below standards, then you may need to circulate a petition to get signatures of the people who will be most affected by the new lighting in your neighborhood. The petition will be reviewed by your city or town and authorization will be sent to the utility company to begin the design process and install the new street lighting.

Other cities or towns may handle the request differently and may require you to submit a petition before a field assessment is conducted. Next, city or town staff will evaluate your request, assist in further completion, prepare a cost estimate, and present staff recommendations to your town, city, or county council. A public hearing and assessment may then be held to determine the significance and perhaps accept the proposal. Some agencies may require the adjacent property owners to pay for the streetlight installation and/or ongoing lighting costs. Even so, the increase in safety and security is often well work the cost.

In some cases, pedestrian level lighting—lighting installed specifically for pedestrians—may be needed to illuminate sidewalks and walkways separately from roadways. In addition, encourage your community leaders to use lights that provide the most natural types of lighting for walking and avoids the use of lights that distorts color and does not offer the same degree of comfort or security, such as low pressure sodium lights.