Designing out crime

Royal Cayman Islands Police Inspector Anthony White – a PhD in
criminal justice – doesn’t profess to have a “magic bullet” solution to
preventing crime from occurring at your home or business.

But there are many simple steps
Cayman Islands residents
can take, White says, to make their properties less desirable to those looking
to break in, steal and rob.

“Before
any criminal commits an act, they think,” White says. “There will always be an
exception to the rule, but most people think before they act.”

The
theory White has been presenting to Caymanian businesses and homeowners for the
last two years is called “CEPTED” or Crime Prevention Through Environmental
Design. And there’s plenty of proof that it works.

But,
be warned, you might tick off the neighbours.

“It’s
deterring criminal behaviour,” White says. “You’re not going to be able to stop
criminal behaviour. If you implement some of this, your neighbour might feel
what you’ve done.”

In
other words, the would-be burglar could skip your house and go next door.

The
first step, White says, is not to let the fear or perception of crime take
over.

“Our
perception of crime is our reality of it,” he says. “But a knee-jerk reaction
sometimes has a more detrimental effect than if we thought it through.”

There
are some surprising statistics with regard to fear of crimes happening and what
crimes actually occur.

For
instance, White says international studies have shown that women and elderly
people are often the two demographic groups that have the greatest fear of
crime. But aside from the commission of two offences – sexual assault and
credit card theft – White says statistics show criminals don’t tend to
gravitate to those two groups.

“Women
and mature persons – they are the group that is least offended against, yet
they have the highest fear of crime.”

Designing
out crime is all about perceptions, White says. But it seeks to turn the tables
and focus on what the criminal’s perception is of the property they are seeking
to get into.

Criminologists
don’t agree in all cases about why crime occurs, or why certain individuals
decide to become criminals.

“We
cannot definitely say that this one single factor causes crime,” White says.
“Crime is far more complicated than that.”

But
White says there are generally three factors most suspects consider before
deciding to commit an offence like burglary or robbery; severity of punishment,
certainty of getting caught and celerity – or the swiftness of punishment to be
meted out.

The most
important, says White, is the certainty aspect.

“Believe
it or not, severity of punishment doesn’t hold much weight with offenders.
Offenders are not too much caring about ‘how much time am I going to get in
prison?’” White says. “If an offender…has a heightened fear of being caught
right then and there, that serves more as a deterrent than the severity of the
punishment or the swiftness of the punishment.”

 

Designing out crime

Crime
Prevention Through Environmental Design operates on an opportunity-based theory
of crime, and implementing those theories into the design of the home, condo or
business.

Inspector
White says many cities around the globe have long-since adopted such designs,
but in Cayman – at least in earlier days – little thought was given to designing
to weed out crime.

“How
can they build it with the idea that it would deter a criminal from making an
attempt to victimise the property or someone?” is the general idea, White says.

Designing
out crime doesn’t necessarily mean putting up large metal fences, making gated
communities everywhere and installing surveillance cameras on every street
corner. 

Often
its simple, even obvious things property owners can do to make their areas less
attractive to burglars without ruining the overall design or aesthetic of their
place.

One of
the keys is allowing for what White calls ‘natural surveillance’.

“This
is when the offender comes on your property and it goes through their mind that
‘I’m going to be seen if I do this’,” he says. “You don’t pay for this, it’s
just a perception that goes through their mind.”

“It’s
simple; if someone enters a property and its just dark and the next property is
light, which one is he going to go into?”

Placing
windows where they overlook sidewalks, leaving window shades open and
installing user-friendly landscaping designs are all part of the design plan.

Generally,
high hedges surrounding a home or business are not a good idea, White says.
These can give offenders something to hide behind while attempting to break in
or a place to conceal themselves before committing a robbery.

“You’re actually facilitating crime
for an offender,” he says. “That’s a primary spot where offenders can lay in
wait.”

In the case of two houses next door
to one another, White says the burglar is more likely to choose the home with
the taller hedges.

If you’ve grown attached to the
shrubbery, White says you don’t necessarily have to cut it down to design out
crime. But he says other measures need to be taken to counteract it, such as
better lighting and installing surveillance cameras or ensuring that burglars
or robbers don’t have ground floor access to rooms.

One example of a local business
that really improved its crime design was the former Next Level night club –
now called Jet.

Following a string of violent
incidents at and outside the club, the previous management decided to cut down
the bushes which blocked the view of its property from the neighbouring lot on
West Bay Road. The club also installed better lighting around its entrance and
in the parking lot at the back of the property.

“They re-did everything and their
incidents of assaults and victimisations just dropped by two-thirds,” White
says. “Crime there has just really dropped.”

What typically has not been given
much thought, at least at some local properties, is the issue of access
control, White says.

This means using signs, landscaping
or even low fences to differentiate between what is public and what is private
space. The idea is to make individuals who shouldn’t normally be on a property
stand out more.

“If you have spaces defined for
people to be in, you can see an offender faster,” White says. “Use structures
to divert people to reception areas. Use low, thorny bushes. Eliminate design
features that provide access to rooms or upper storeys.”

Also, don’t overdo it on the signs
– whether they are for warning or advertising purposes. 

“We’ve had front doors where the
glass is just plastered with signs,” White says. “If you’re being robbed, who can see in?”

 

Ignore crime myths

One way not to prevent property
crime, White says, is by adhering to what he calls ‘crime myths’.

“Everyone (will say) ‘Let’s arm
ourselves…you know, these bad guys have these guns. If we have a gun, we can
beat them to the door…’ ” White says.

“Research shows that if the
criminal knows that you most likely have a firearm in your home, they’re going
to go equipped,” he says. “Research also shows us…in societies where officers
do carry guns, the criminal is also more likely to arm themselves.”

Police Commissioner David Baines
has long maintained that the RCIPS should not be a completely armed
paramilitary force, and does not support the right of individuals to arm
themselves unless they had some reason to do so, such as hunting or sporting interests.

“Where more firearms exist, more
people end up getting shot and killed,” Baines says.

White says other knee jerk
reactions to increased crime could also harm Cayman’s community.

Another harmful ‘myth’, according
to White, is that of the “super predator”.

“We have a youth problem…all
these kids are doing all these bad, horrendous acts,” he says. “Let’s take
mandatory sentencing. I have a gun, and I come to your house and I rob you.
That’s a minimum 15 years in prison; no exceptions. But what about the kid who
just turned 17 and he’s with three other guys and they have an imitation
firearm and they walk into Domino’s? Do we give him 15 years as well?”

“Our knee-jerk reaction can hurt,”
White says. “Community outreach services probably would have served just as
well.”

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