Crime Prevention — 6 Ways to Lower Crime in Your Community
Can you prevent crime in your community? Or must you rely on the government to do so?
I was born and raised in Sweden and grew up thinking the police handled crime. I believe I was, for the most part, safe. I had faith that “the professionals” took care of criminals. When I moved to South Africa, this all changed. I realized that I wasn’t safe unless I ensured so myself. The police are there, but they can’t handle everything as it’s too much and sometimes they’re corrupt. For the first time it hit me what community involvement can do for reducing crime rates. More than that, it made me wonder if keeping a community safe should really be left entirely to the police? Over the years I’ve often pondered how cities would be different if people got involved.
Below I explain my experience in South Africa, as well as 10 methods used in urban settings to prevent crime.
An Eye-Opening Experience in Community Involvement
I spend a lot of my time in Cape Town, South Africa, where I volunteer for a not-for-profit in a township. Since I first I came to Cape Town, over six years ago, I have seen a level of involvement in society that I’ve never seen anywhere else.
In South Africa, things aren’t like they are in Los Angeles, Paris, London, or any other city I’ve lived in before. There’s much more poverty. The amount of drug misuse and violence is heartbreaking. The amount of inequality mind-boggling. And the amount of crime sometimes seems insurmountable.
In Cape Town, you don’t walk by yourself in nature, not without a big dog, pepper spray and a taser. In Cape Town you don’t walk anywhere that’s not crowded at night. In Cape Town, you have alarm systems and three meter high fences, or ten dogs. In Cape Town you have neighborhood watch and the security companies. And by neighborhood watch, I mean branded cars, sponsored by the community, driving around day and night. Oh and let’s not forget: social media. On there, anyone will report suspicious activity happening in the neighborhood.
In the suburb where I rent a place, we have two townships and over 200 non-government organizations (NGOs). People are out there day and night fighting the inequality, the poverty, the crime, the drugs, the violence…but people also hide away, protect themselves and are constantly angry about “life in South Africa.” Anger and resentment is as much part of life as beautiful stories about upliftment.
Working in one of the townships myself I’ve learnt to navigate the minefield of emotions you go through — from the hopelessness of fighting against the odds, to the euphoria of being able to help someone; from the rage when you see someone doing something stupid and harmful that the rest of the world has to suffer for to the acute sadness of seeing someone you love fall prey to the many problems in society.
When I go to Sweden, where I’m originally from, I always hear about how crime has gone up and how the government needs to do something about it. The Swedish people seem to have handed their power over to the government. It’s starting to change, but I don’t see most people taking to the streets to set up mentorship programs and neighborhood watch groups.
In South Africa, there are plenty of nice folks in the government and plenty of corrupt ones. While it’s gotten a bit better since the days when the health minister advised you cure HIV with garlic and lemon, amongst other things (the president at the time had doubts whether HIV caused AIDS at all), it’s still safe to say that most people don’t put their trust in the government. If you want something done, you have to go out there and do it. Possibly with the help of your neighboring politician, whom you know, as you call him/her about anything from broken water mains to the idea for a new community project.
Now, when things were working just fine in Sweden and people could trust the government to get things done, then that was great. But giving up your power to the government when it’s not working, just doesn’t add up. You can moan and swear while watching the evening news and complain to your friends as much as you like, but unless you actually do something? Do you really think something will change? Politicians don’t have power without the people, but the people have power, even without politicians. (And yes, that’s an original quote. And I’m sitting here quite proud of myself for just having come up with it…)
What Are the Initiatives That Foster Crime Prevention?
According to crimeprevention.gov:
“Community crime prevention programs or strategies target changes in community infrastructure, culture, or the physical environment in order to reduce crime. The diversity of approaches include neighborhood watch, community policing, urban or physical design, and comprehensive or multi-disciplinary efforts. These strategies may seek to engage residents, community and faith-based organizations, and local government agencies in addressing the factors that contribute to the community’s crime, delinquency, and disorder.”
So what are the things you can do to prevent crime in your neighborhood and beyond? Turns out there are quite a few!
An article from 2016 by City Lab discusses various projects related to urban greenery that shows that more greenery leads to a reduction in crime. Why? Most likely because of either community involvement in the projects (more people in the streets making it harder to commit crimes, or more people having other things to do than committing crimes), or government involvement as that means that it’s easier to be caught while committing a crime.
A more recent study, that reviewed various other studies, came to the conclusion that, while results are mixed, it seems urban greenery in general leads to a decrease in crime rates.
The moral of the story? Setting up urban gardens, both those that have the government and the community involved, is a potential aide in lowering crime. (1)(2)
After Care Programs for School Children and Youth
It is believed, in many communities, that there is a “hot spot” when crime committed by adolescents occurs — the time in between leaving school and arriving home to their parents (who likely won’t be home until after 5pm). This is the time when kids are thought to get up to mischief and, no doubt, that time could be spent smoking pot, breaking and entering and doing a plethora of other things that aren’t in the least productive in bringing them closer to a great future, but it’s not necessarily proven to be true that crime increases. What can’t be denied is that children and youth who have something to do — who get the education and encouragement they need — are a lot more likely to grow up to do something they enjoy and therefore both staying out of jail and paying their taxes.
“Afterschool programs are cost-effective, saving at least $3 for every $1 invested by increasing children’s future earning potential, improving their performance at school, and reducing crime and welfare costs.” (3)
“Investing in after-school programs is smarter and cheaper than building more prisons and jails. It just makes sense to keep kids on track for productive, crime-free lives.” - Sheriff Stanley Sniff Riverside County (4)
One also has to note that studies that show how successful after school programs are, are often flawed, which one study that reviewed all such studies proved. (5)(6)(7)
A while back I had the privilege of working with architectural and design firm Urban-Think Tank on a proposed project for Cape Town. While doing so I was reading up about their previous projects and found out that after they build a community center (in this case a gym) in a barrio in Venezuela, crime dropped by about 30%. To say that I was shocked is an understatement. Now, I can’t say that this is a direct result of the community center, but it’s an impressive number nonetheless. (8)
The idea? Community centers keep people off the streets by giving them something to do. It may also give them hope that they have a future doing something other than hanging in the streets. In a sense, it’s no different from the aftercare programs mentioned above, apart form the fact that it’s a bit less structured.
Drug Abuse Treatment and Mental Health Treatment
Countries like Portugal who legalized drugs, but provided help and intervention for addicts have made the news. Mainly because it had a positive effect.
In Oregon a program called Juvenile Break the Circle was implemented, where law enforcement oversaw juveniles associated with crime and drug abuse. They implemented a program using punishment, rewards, mental health services and drug abuse services. There was a significant reduction in crime in the group that was being studied. (9)
It’s no secret that people with mental health problems often end up misusing drugs and/or end up on the streets if they do not receive adequate care. Drugs and homelessness, in turn, are likely to lead to increased crime rates.
Community Meetings About Home Security
The Portland Burglary Prevention Program, which started in 1973, had great success in lowering crime by arranging community meetings where they informed house owners about burglary prevention methods. Crime went down significantly in neighborhoods where these methods were implemented and the overall crime rate in the city went down as well. (10)
The above mentioned community meetings, as well as door-to-door approach raising awareness about what can be done to reduce crime, is often part of neighborhood watch programs, in addition to, participants actively being on the lookout and reporting any suspicious activity to the police. In addition to that, many neighborhood watch programs (and what I associate with neighborhood watch programs) have participants patrol the streets.
Neighborhood watch programs have proven successful in reducing crime/preventing crime from increasing compared to other areas. (11)
Having someone to support you and guide you through life is important for all of us. For those who have difficulties at home and don’t have the kind of positive influence they need within the household, it may be essential to have another role model, as well as someone to turn to for help and guidance.
As mentorship programs greatly vary in what they do and how they work, it’s hard to determine the outcome. Overall, there seems to be benefits both when it comes to decreased crime rates, as well as better educational outcomes, improved mental health and less substance misuse. (12)
Of course, it’s debatable how much one person is able to influence someone through a weekly, or even monthly, meeting. The programs may be more successful if the person being mentored sees their mentor more often and has access to things like after school programs and community centers.
There are other crime prevention programs that have been extremely successful that involve the police, but the above are some of the more common ones that involve the community. Most crime prevention programs are either about raising awareness about crime prevention and implementing such techniques (such as labeling goods, setting up surveillance, starting neighborhood patrols, etc.), or helping at risk youth and adults. However, initiatives that keep people out on the streets working on community projects, such as green spaces, have also proven efficient.
Personally, I cannot help but wonder how communities would look if people were more involved and willing to partake in community projects that brought people together and helped prevent crime. Wouldn’t we all feel better if we knew there was a community around us that would help us? Sure, it would require we all gave something in return to the community, but the idea that you can actually rely on the people in your neighborhood to have your back, whether you need help after an injury, or you need someone to babysit your kids, is a foreign concept in many places today.