• By Kevin Mount
  • Posted on Friday 31st October, 2008

All lit up - and feeling good

The idea is as old as torchlight: illuminate the streets at night and there will be less crime, because there’s more chance of felons and miscreants getting caught in the act. As far back as the 1960s (before the spread of CCTV) criminologists and crime prevention experts have been testing out the theory in practice. Now two professors of criminology have summed up the evidence. True enough: residents of well-lit areas can sleep easier in the knowledge that their streets are safer – but perhaps not for the reasons they thought.It turns out not to be a matter simply of visibility or surveillance. Any reductions in crime are as likely to be the result of the community response to investments to improve their neighborhoods, say David Farrington and Brandon Welsh. They found that night-time crime did not decrease more than daytime crime. So they say the effects are less to do with light and dark and more more to do with community spirit and pride. When people feel good about where they live, levels of informal social control improve. As the norms become more positive, so criminal behavior becomes less sociably acceptable. The Farrington and Welsh review was prepared for the Campbell Collaboration, which routinely publishes systematic reviews on the effects of social interventions. The Collaboration has strict procedures for reviewing evidence and is widely regarded as a model for all systematic and meta reviews. In this case, Welsh and Farrington looked back over 40 years of street lighting intervention studies and their criteria for inclusion ensured that only well designed experimental studies made it into the final analysis. Thirteen British and American studies were included.The effect size analyzed from the British studies was greater – a 38% reduction across all the studies as opposed to 7% among their American counterparts.The reviewers also note that the effect depends to some extent on context. Improved lighting does not work in every circumstance and the reasons for the variation are unclear. Many factors relating to the nature of crime problems need also to be taken into consideration. Welsh and Farrington conclude, nevertheless, that street lighting can be a practical and relatively cheap method of reducing crime and should be considered by the designers of any crime prevention strategy. • : Welsh B C, Farrington D P (2008) Effects of Improved Street Lighting on Crime, The Campbell Collaboration.

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