Blockwatch Network: ‘Hostile vegetation,’ more anticrime strategy

The advice that Southwest Precinct Community Police Team Officer Jonathan Kiehn shared with the West Seattle Blockwatch Captains Network tonight just might prevent a few break-ins – or more than a few. He coached the captains in Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design – CPTED (“SEP-ted” as if you were saying “interCEPted”). In addition to concepts you might not have considered before – such as “hostile vegetation” – his presentation busted a few myths, too (is it better to have your blinds up or down? high hedge or not? etc.). More than 45 people crowded the meeting room by the time he began (from almost every neighborhood in West Seattle, according to the round of self-intros that opened the meeting – from Admiral to The Arroyos!). Read on for the highlights:

Officer Kiehn cautioned that this was by no means a thorough lesson in CPTED – hard to do that in less than an hour – but, with a few projected photos, he made these points about the key strategies you can consider applying where you live:

NATURAL SURVEILLANCE: Keeping people under observation (or implied observation) – people are less likely to commit crimes if they think people can see them. These strategies include making sure “legitimate users” of a space have good visibility; make sure that someone who’s committing a crime is more visible (trimming hedges, keep shrubs below window level so there’s nowhere to hide, slatted fence, open upper window blinds, semi-transparent curtains are some of the suggestions). He showed do’s and don’ts.

TERRITORIAL REINFORCEMENT: Officer Kiehn says he seldom sees this used effectively: Marking territorial control of a space, promoting social control through increased definition of space and improved proprietary concern – “saying how much of (your property someone) is allowed to be on.” Examples he showed included “accentuate(d) building entrances” that would outline the transition between public and private space – instead of a wide open lawn all the way to the street, a short hedge as you get closer to the home or apartment building; rockeries, flower beds, borders between lawn and sidewalk, “that physical visual boundary makes a big difference” between the sidewalk and the residence.

NATURAL ACCESS CONTROL: This tactic “employs elements like doors, shrubs, fences and gates to deny admission to a crime target and to create a perception among offenders that there is a risk in selecting the target.” Target hardening is included here – locks, bars, alarms “can supplement natural access-control measures” if you want to use them. When done well, this also guides people toward the actual entrances – if you look at a piece of property and can’t tell where the front door is and how to get there, “natural access control” is not being utilized. Pathways into and out of your property should be obvious – and that would make it all the more obvious if someone was somewhere they shouldn’t be. However, “don’t limit the access to the point where you are completely disconnected from the neighborhood,” warned Officer Kiehn – showing, as something of a joke, a barbed-wire/cinder-blocked compound.

MAINTENANCE: Make your property looks like someone lives there and would want to protect it. Keep things repaired, keep litter picked up. Trimming shrubs and trees comes into play again here too – “keep shrubs trimmed to 3 feet and prune lower branches of trees up to 7 feet,” he advised – the “three-seven rule.”

LANDSCAPING/DECORATIVE FENCING: This topic clearly is key – “should allow for an open line of sight between the area frequented by residents and potential crime targets, limiting hiding places where criminal activity can occur.” Making your whole yard visible is better than “hiding it away,” Officer Kiehn insisted – even if you have kids, for example, he says the value of having them visible to neighbors and other eyes is better than having “no visibility.” (Later, the concept of “hostile vegetation” came up – your short hedge might be one with thorns, for example.)

LIGHTING: The main advice here, “provide clear paths for movement and highlight entryways without creating harsh effects or shadowy hiding places.” This includes subtle touches, too, like an illuminated street address sign near your door “to show (people) where they should be.” Don’t use yellow lighting – “the whiter the lighting the better, and I don’t mean blue, I mean white. LEDs are great.”

During the presentation, a victim’s perspective was provided by a woman who had been burglarized a few times last year and had a CPTED consultation from Officer Kiehn. “I did what I knew how to do … then after the third one, I called Officer Kiehn .. and said, I need help. … I couldn’t figure out why my house was being picked on, none of my neighbors were being burgled, just me.” She revealed that the photo of an opaquely curtained home on the PowerPoint presentation was her window – she thought, previously, it was better to keep people from being able to see inside “to see what I have.” She says she’s done “very practical … and doable things” that “you can phase in over a period of time.”

Food for thought: If most of our burglaries happen through forced entry on a rear door, why is it we usually have our biggest and best docks on the front door? He also suggested hints at things that might make a criminal think twice – might not be a bad idea to have a dog dish even if you don’t have a dog. On the converse, it might not be so worthwhile to have cameras that no one knows about – then all you’re doing is setting yourself up to have information available when a crime has it, rather than actively seeking to deter it.

Another tidbit that emerged in Q&A: Burglaries happen more often during the day, car prowls at night, and most burglars do NOT know their victims. Plus: “Limit the presentation of your wealth from your front door.” If what you have is visible every time you open the door, that has its dangers too – and figuring out how to balance that with visibility is the trick.

Blockwatch Captains Network co-founder Karen Berge volunteered something she’d observed – gravel is noisy to walk on, so perhaps using it in vulnerable spots would be a good strategy. Officer Kiehn acknowledged what he presented tonight was an “incredibly condensed” version of CPTED principles; he suggested online resources for more information about CPTED (though did not have a specific link to recommend – we’re still rooting around to look for something comprehensive). He says there are only a few dozen people in city government who are trained in this – in the Southwest Precinct right now, it’s him and interim Crime Prevention Coordinator Mark Solomon.

Speaking of whom … Less than a week after Solomon was announced as taking over the reins of SW Precinct Crime Prevention from the now-retired longtime coordinator Benjamin Kinlow, he spoke briefly at the start of tonight’s meeting (from there, he was heading to another meeting outside West Seattle). He clarified that he is currently “interim” coordinator for West Seattle (while serving other precincts) – precinct Operations Lt. Pierre Davis was on hand and made it clear he’s hoping that switches to “permanent,” but Solomon said it might be a few weeks before there’s a final decision.

Berge and network co-founders Deb Greer and Deanie Schwarz had other updates, including a series of training events coming up; they talked about disaster-preparedness training as well as crime-prevention/Block Watch training, as the two seem to go hand-in-hand for involved neighborhood leaders. To keep up on all of it, we point you to their pages – on the web, and on Facebook. Meantime, the group now meets every 4th Tuesday at the precinct (Delridge/Webster), with mingling at 6, meeting at 6:30 – next meeting April 26.

3 Replies to "Blockwatch Network: 'Hostile vegetation,' more anticrime strategy"

  • Jasperblu March 23, 2011 (6:37 pm)

    This was VERY useful. Thank you!! I too always wonder if it’s better to have the blinds up, down or somewhere in between. We have up/down blinds in most of the house so I can have the tops down, and still have plenty of privacy (& light). Also good to know about using crunchy noise making gravel in areas where intruders might otherwise have been able to get into the house unnoticed. And I loved the dog bowl idea! We have a GIANT and VICIOUS pitbull btw. ;-)

  • Genessee neighbor March 23, 2011 (6:58 pm)

    Very good information. I wish the city of Seattle would install street lights on our street. It is so dark and it is a ‘split street’ so there is a lot of vegetation in addition to being very dark. Who do we contact to inquire about getting one or two street lights?

  • TheEngineer March 23, 2011 (8:23 pm)

    Contact Seattle City Light about street lights. I and my wife have paid for a street light in our alley for about 18 years. The cost has risen to $19.92 every two monthes. We had it installed after the third stolen car was discovered in a dark area not visible from either end of the alley. It is also an area not normally visible from any nearby homes including mine. It is a very good deterrent so far.

Sorry, comment time is over.