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Can Lighting Reduce Crime? News You Will Not Like

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#1 barbarosa

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Posted 07 February 2020 - 07:13 PM

What?  Tell me is isn't so! Sorry it is so says a group in New York, we have the study.

 

This is not the news I expected. It is not the news I wanted to hear.  However it is far more likely that this and similar studies will penetrate the collective understanding of even small town managers and planers. That is when you say more light bad, they will say more is better, because the conclusions of a New York study will become part of their collective understanding. It is news that utilities will want to hear, the merchants will cheer and the government will begin spending the future revenue. Our police chief will say, I told you so."

 

As you know even in the social sciences credible studies require math, statistical analysis, T tests degrees of freedom and the like. The math has to work even when the conclusions are questionable to reasonable people.  So we have a study, using randomness, T tests and more that says-

 

We estimate that the introduction of marginal lighting reduced outdoor nighttime index crimes by approximately 60 percent and, by at least 36 percent, once potential spatial spillovers are accounted for. These findings provide the first evidence that the physical environment of cities and communities is a key determinant of serious crime.

 

The study involved changing the lighting in a random selection of public housing with the objective of proving  testing the idea that a small inexpensive change in the environment will change behavior. It is an example of the increasingly influential school that believes that we can make better citizens inexpensively and avoid police, courts and an off the curve prison population. An updated version of "Don't help a good boy go bad." Instead of taking your car keys (remember those?) you should put in more lighting.

 

That sounds as I am seeking to disparage the study and I would very much like to do just that. However, to do that effectively I would have to a lot of research because the authors seem to have done their homework. It doesn't come across as a neutral study. It strikes me as careful work by people who want a a particular outcome. That sort of bias isn't new but it is a warning flag. Not one that many local governments will see is my bet. I expect that I do not need to spell out my bias.

 

The study report is preliminary and there is an implication that the final report might be delayed. But it won't matter no one will read any more than the executive study. If you read it you will see some important reasons why it should not be taken as gospel fit for general application.

 

Los Angeles did something similar with lighting parks and recreation areas. The lights went in, crime in the parks went down. The papers had pictures of young people playing basketball under the lights. No one mentioned the police officer standing by the court or the fact that for the test there would be a cop on duty every night. There was no follow up.

 

If you think that all this will do is justify more night lighting in high crime areas you may be wrong. It is just the sort of thing that will illuminate position of many police chiefs who are quick to take credit if crime is down and to say the lights and cameras or an insufficiency of them are a key factor in whatever it was that happened. City councils will like it. Both sides of the isle will like it.

 

So there you have it. Using the very best science and statistical analysis  we now know that when the lights go on crime goes down. I think we need to be prepared to argue the opposite. Worse you neighbors might like it.


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#2 Astroman007

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Posted 07 February 2020 - 07:15 PM

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#3 wrnchhead

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Posted 07 February 2020 - 07:40 PM

In my city, I think the dumbest possible thing happens. The electric company controls the lighting, the taxpayers pay the bill via the city. 

 

It's the most plum deal any company could ask for!


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#4 Migwan

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Posted 07 February 2020 - 07:48 PM

The lowest crime rate is at my dark site.  Nary a light in sight.  A utter lack of that blight.  Onward into the night.

 

Studies can be led by the way a question is posited and by limiting the scope of study in the name of scientific method.  

 

The power company gets such contracts because they just happen to have the right equipment and ultimately have to hook them up anyway.   They don't happen to decide where to put them in any municipalities that I know of.  Just maintain them.

 

jd


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#5 TOMDEY

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Posted 07 February 2020 - 08:39 PM

I was a professional member of the IES (Illuminating Engineering Society) for years and designed outdoor fixtures for the big lighting corporations. All I can say is the usual counsel --- follow the money. It's a forgone conclusion that ~professional studies~ will conclude, must conclude that --- more lighting is needed. No different than studies funded by the American Tobacco Institute regrading cigarettes. Similarity: Walk into a car dealership... and ask the first guy flashing a grin and a vigorous handshake... "Do I need a new car?"    Tom

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#6 Baskevo

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Posted 07 February 2020 - 08:42 PM

In my suburban california town, I use the ring app which lets neighbors post their videos of criminal/suspicious activity. Often there are videos of people getting turned away by flood lights. I know this is anecdotal, but I would be very surprised if a study found that flood lights don't work.

 

This is not to say that I am advocating for more flood lights or any lighting, I appreciate a dark sky as much as the next guy, and there may be better ways to prevent someone from entering onto your property than massive bright lights. 



#7 bumm

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Posted 07 February 2020 - 10:57 PM

Like many such things, one can choose the studies he wants.  One of the things that gives us an uphill battle is that so many people just "know" lights prevent crime, and bright lighting makes them "feel safer."  Probably the best we can do is promote INTELLIGENT lighting.  

                                                 Marty


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#8 Delta608

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Posted 08 February 2020 - 07:51 AM

Like many such things, one can choose the studies he wants.  One of the things that gives us an uphill battle is that so many people just "know" lights prevent crime, and bright lighting makes them "feel safer."  Probably the best we can do is promote INTELLIGENT lighting.  

                                                 Marty

  Marty that is the most coherent thing I  have read regarding this issue as perception IS everything...Intelligent lighting IS the answer not another ill fated ban...Bravo Sir


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#9 Astroman007

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Posted 08 February 2020 - 10:20 AM

In my suburban california town, I use the ring app which lets neighbors post their videos of criminal/suspicious activity. Often there are videos of people getting turned away by flood lights. I know this is anecdotal, but I would be very surprised if a study found that flood lights don't work.

 

This is not to say that I am advocating for more flood lights or any lighting, I appreciate a dark sky as much as the next guy, and there may be better ways to prevent someone from entering onto your property than massive bright lights. 

Then again, how thoughtful! Conveniently supplied light (by the home or property owner) with which to work. Wouldn't do to trip over the cat and face-plant on the drive on the way to force the garage door.


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#10 George N

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Posted 08 February 2020 - 10:46 AM

I'm not surprised that adding lighting to an urban crime-ridden area (in one of the world's largest cities) resulted in "up to a third reduction in crime". However, the authors themselves express some doubts -- including the need for the very bright lighting they installed (temporary generator 'industrial' lights) versus 'more subdued lighting'. They also noted that just the unusual nature of these lighting units - versus the 'normal urban lighting environment', may have caused some of the effect.

 

Is there really anyone who thinks streets, including 'side streets', in large urban residential areas **shouldn't** have lights? To me -- the real question is - how bright does it have to be -- and it should be properly shielded lighting that does not produce glare.

 

I don't see how the results of this study applies to suburban areas, and rural areas, closed retail parking lots and businesses, etc - where the nature of 'crime' is far different. There are plenty of 'studies' that show that vandalism and 'drug party' activity around isolated facilities like schools decline if the 'security lighting' is turned off.

 

This study did not cover the impact of making lights brighter - or dimmer. For that I refer you all to the experiences in State College PA - and Penn State U -- where some rapes on an off-campus street (already lit - the street was the walkway from campus to the downtown bars) resulted in the installation of much brighter lighting. After a few years the residents actually asked for the brighter lights to be removed. The final decision by the city government was - the lights had no impact on crime (including rape) -- but it made the students feel better - so the lights were kept. Also - in my area - two "concerned citizens" groups lobbied for more lighting to combat crime. It turned out they were both groups of small business owners. In one case the police traced the increased gang activity and drug crime to the very same business owners opening up the upper rooms of their buildings for 'after hours parties'. It the other case -- the 'crime' resulted from when several bars cleared out their establishments at 2 AM by forcing patrons (after hours of drinking) out their back doors into a vacant lot with little lighting - and only one 'path' to the streets. Of course fights erupted there - and even the police said more lights would be of no value.

 

One place where I have to say "I'm not sure" is the pressure to light abandoned buildings in the depopulated areas in many Upstate NY mid-size cites. Many now have blocks of 2 & 3 story 19th century era housing that are abandoned - or filled with squatters and drug gangs. The local politicians claim these areas will come back. In the mean time they claim that the people who remain will be less induced to criminal activity if they 'feel good' about their neighborhoods -- and this will happen if the cities install lighting in the abandoned buildings. Who knows.....


Edited by George N, 08 February 2020 - 10:51 AM.

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#11 George N

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Posted 08 February 2020 - 11:06 AM

In my suburban california town, I use the ring app which lets neighbors post their videos of criminal/suspicious activity. Often there are videos of people getting turned away by flood lights. I know this is anecdotal, but I would be very surprised if a study found that flood lights don't work....

 

Of course the flood lights work -- to make it bright enough for the video cameras to work!  You don't see vid's from dim areas! wink.gif

 

But motion detector controlled lights would work far better I bet.

 

What 'porch thieves' and break-in property thieves want is -- nobody around to bother them, and lights (sounds?) coming on scare them away. Break-ins to commit violence are mostly by people who know each other.

 

In rural NY -- and I bet most of rural America -- most violent crime is drug-related - often of the meth-lab verity, or drug dealers and their customers squabbling over payments - or 'domestic violence'.


Edited by George N, 08 February 2020 - 11:07 AM.

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#12 Defenderslideguitar

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Posted 08 February 2020 - 02:40 PM

Depends are where you are   i think

 In some heavy populated areas   or target rich areas   lighting might help some

  Other situations     no......

 

   Intelligent lighting  yes  absolutely yes

    intelligent considerate people  yes 


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#13 ftur62

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Posted 08 February 2020 - 06:40 PM

It's true that the lighting industry and others may jump on this study to sell more lights, but this is just one study.  While there are a few other studies that show a relationship between increased lighting and reduced crime,  the literature does not establish anything close to a consensus. There are several good studies that show little or no relationship.  Here are a few that I have at my fingertips.  There are several others that I'd need to search for.

Instead of just looking at the amount of light, researchers, city planners, and elected officials need to look at the quality of the light. For example, lighting that is uniform and even will be more effective at reducing crime than lighting that is uneven, creating areas of harsh glare and deep shadows.  Ineffective lighting can even increase crime by creating shadows where criminals can't be seen and making property and potential victims more visible to criminals.  In the Chicago study, total crimes increased by 21% after additional lighting was installed in alleyways.  The authors don't provide an explanation, but note that the increase may have been due to higher reporting rates since crimes would possibly be easier to see, but other reasons are equally plausible.  Plus the results were pretty robust.  There were increases in all categories of crimes in all the locations where lighting was installed and no increase in areas that were used as experimental controls (with no changes to lighting).

 

Overall there is a strong argument that more lighting does not necessarily reduce crime.  Instead of adding more, crime can be reduced by making existing lighting better.  If the quality of the lighting is improved, lower light levels can often be used to achieve desired results.  If other strategies such as full cut-off fixtures, warmer colors, and controls are used, you can reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and increase safety while improving (or at least minimizing impacts to) human health, the environment, and the night sky. 


Edited by ftur62, 08 February 2020 - 09:19 PM.

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#14 Delta608

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Posted 08 February 2020 - 08:11 PM

Overall there is a strong argument that more lighting does not necessarily reduce crime.  Instead of adding more, crime can be reduced by making existing lighting better.  If the quality of the lighting is improved, lower light levels can often be used to achieve desired results.  If other strategies such as full cut-off fixtures, warmer colors, and controls are used.  You can reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and increase safety while improving (or at least minimizing impacts to) human health, the environment, and the night sky. 

 Here we go.....

 

popcorn.gif


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#15 Migwan

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Posted 09 February 2020 - 06:21 PM

It's true that the lighting industry and others may jump on this study to sell more lights, but this is just one study.  While there are a few other studies that show a relationship between increased lighting and reduced crime,  the literature does not establish anything close to a consensus. There are several good studies that show little or no relationship.  Here are a few that I have at my fingertips.  There are several others that I'd need to search for.

Instead of just looking at the amount of light, researchers, city planners, and elected officials need to look at the quality of the light. For example, lighting that is uniform and even will be more effective at reducing crime than lighting that is uneven, creating areas of harsh glare and deep shadows.  Ineffective lighting can even increase crime by creating shadows where criminals can't be seen and making property and potential victims more visible to criminals.  In the Chicago study, total crimes increased by 21% after additional lighting was installed in alleyways.  The authors don't provide an explanation, but note that the increase may have been due to higher reporting rates since crimes would possibly be easier to see, but other reasons are equally plausible.  Plus the results were pretty robust.  There were increases in all categories of crimes in all the locations where lighting was installed and no increase in areas that were used as experimental controls (with no changes to lighting).

 

Overall there is a strong argument that more lighting does not necessarily reduce crime.  Instead of adding more, crime can be reduced by making existing lighting better.  If the quality of the lighting is improved, lower light levels can often be used to achieve desired results.  If other strategies such as full cut-off fixtures, warmer colors, and controls are used, you can reduce energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions and increase safety while improving (or at least minimizing impacts to) human health, the environment, and the night sky. 

First and third links not working.  Any chance you can fix?



#16 PXR-5

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Posted 09 February 2020 - 07:04 PM

I don't know about residential, but in an urban areas more lights worked at our office.

We had homeless folks, druggies, folks sleeping in cars and a guy with a battery saw cutting catalytic converters off our fleet.

Installed flood lights and presto, they all scurried away.

Then they went into the woods that power company owned. They cut down the trees and installed bright lamps, they scurried.

Don't flame the messagener :(

Edited by PXR-5, 09 February 2020 - 07:05 PM.


#17 lsfinn

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Posted 09 February 2020 - 08:26 PM

Criminals seek to avoid being seen. Lighting areas where no one is around to see crime being committed increases crime by making it easier commit. Studies bear this out. As an (anecdotal) example, check-out freeway underpasses in commercial areas that are lit at night, when no one is around, and compare them to those that are not. You'll find that tagging is greater in the areas that are lit. 

 

Separately, the appropriate question is almost never between "Lighting!" and "No Lighting!". The appropriate question seeks to identify appropriate lighting for a specific purpose. It is never the case that lighting that is unshielded or undirected is appropriate, for any legitimate purpose. It is never the case that lighting that creates glare or strong shadows is appropriate, for any legitimate purpose. Light that travels to space is wasted light: it doesn't reduce crime, it doesn't reduce accidents, it doesn't make anyone safer. Likewise, light that creates glare or strong shadows creates places to hide and blind spots, reducing safety. 


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#18 ftur62

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Posted 10 February 2020 - 12:54 PM

First and third links not working.  Any chance you can fix?

Hopefully these links should work. 

 

The effect of reduced street lighting on road casualties and crime in England and Wales: controlled interrupted time series analysis

https://jech.bmj.com...tent/69/11/1118

 

 

The Chicago Alley Lighting Project: Final Evaluation Report

https://www.darksky....ing-Project.pdf



#19 ftur62

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Posted 10 February 2020 - 12:54 PM

First and third links not working.  Any chance you can fix?

Hopefully these links should work. 

 

The effect of reduced street lighting on road casualties and crime in England and Wales: controlled interrupted time series analysis

https://jech.bmj.com...tent/69/11/1118

 

 

The Chicago Alley Lighting Project: Final Evaluation Report

https://www.darksky....ing-Project.pdf


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#20 Kendahl

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Posted 11 February 2020 - 05:48 PM

I don't know about residential, but in an urban areas more lights worked at our office.

We had homeless folks, druggies, folks sleeping in cars and a guy with a battery saw cutting catalytic converters off our fleet.

Installed flood lights and presto, they all scurried away.

Then they went into the woods that power company owned. They cut down the trees and installed bright lamps, they scurried.

Don't flame the messagener frown.gif

What kind of lights? The cheap and easy way is to stick something on the side of a building so it shines outward with half of the light going up into the sky. The proper way is to install lights that are well shielded so they illuminate only your property. That's expensive since you need poles and underground power lines. Ditto for the power company. If, from a distance, you can see the lights themselves, rather than what they illuminate, it's a bad installation.


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#21 PXR-5

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Posted 11 February 2020 - 06:16 PM

They were just cheap flood lights, about a dozen of 'em
I'm happy that the cheap company didn't take it out of my paycheck LOL

I really hate to admit it, but it worked :(

I think residential might be different, seems out in the boonies crooks are afraid of the dark.

Edited by PXR-5, 11 February 2020 - 06:16 PM.


#22 Asbytec

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Posted 12 February 2020 - 06:03 PM

Whether lighting deters crime or not, my hypothesis is light shining into space only attracts aliens. Criminals I know are not deterred by light not shining on them. Yea, can't we use intelligent, effective, and efficient lighting rather than decorative globes. I'd like to suppose more people who are interested in looking up might be less interested in looking in...our windows. But, I digress. 



#23 Dave Mitsky

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Posted 13 February 2020 - 02:54 AM

Burglars are most likely to enter homes on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 11 a.m. or from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., according to the U.S. Department of Justice.

 

https://www.rd.com/a...for-burglaries/

You’d imagine burglars would crave the cover of darkness, but in a 2016 burglary victimization survey, the most common time burglaries occurred was between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m.

 

https://www.safewise...ary-statistics/


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#24 Delta608

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Posted 13 February 2020 - 06:41 AM

    Are you suggesting there are no night time burglaries, or not as likely to have a night time burglary..?  Small comfort to those who has  had them...A night time burglary to a closed business IS the burglars daytime....It is absurd to think lights do not deter crime...These tactics to keep the skies dark will not never work..Intelligent night lighting is the way to go...Builders of modern homes and neighborhoods are the key, and others will follow suit.


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#25 thomasr

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Posted 13 February 2020 - 08:19 AM



Intelligent night lighting is the way to go.

Intelligent is the keyword here, and the problem is that common sense is an uncommonly rare commodity.

Case in point: my next-door neighbour installed two big, bright motion-sensing LED fixtures on the front of his house. They are pointed horizontally, shining into the windows of the houses across the street, as well as straight down another street (he's at the end of a T-intersection) blinding anybody walking or driving there. Better still, the motion sensors are also pointed horizontally, so literally every time a car drives past, the lights are triggered.

The glare is so bright they make it impossible to see activity anywhere near the lights - someone could stand (or walk, or dance) against his garage wall and be undetectable. My first instinct (not as an astronomer, but simply as a human being with functioning pain receptors) is to immediately look away until the lights shut off, and these lights are triggered so often (fifty or a hundred times per night) that nobody is even paying attention anymore.

The deterrent effect is utterly lost; he actually installed something that actively works at cross-purposes to his intended goal (of security). There are millions of people making this same mistake every night. I see banks of crisp white new LEDs installed (horizontally, or course) across the backs of industrial units all the time.


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