You’ve heard the basic crime-prevention advice and probably follow it – standard advice such as lock your doors, close your windows, don’t leave anything in your car. But crime prevention goes beyond that. There are other steps you can take to make your property less attractive to criminals, and there’s an entire school of thought/advice called Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED). Southwest Precinct Community Police Team Officer Jonathan Kiehn is trained in it, and this week, for the third time in 13 months, he gave a CPTED presentation to the West Seattle Blockwatch Captains Network. Seems like advice you just can’t hear TOO often, so we covered the meeting and his presentation, in case you couldn’t be there.
Officer Kiehn’s two previous presentations included a “field trip” last May to a local home that was in the process of changing occupants (so the factors he identified are no longer necessarily applicable – they did volunteer for the demo, by the way) – we recorded it on video:
This past Tuesday night, though – as was the case in March of last year – it was lecture format, slide deck and all.
“The recommendations cannot positively ensure a crime-free environment,” is the caveat he offered – but CPTED’s strategies are intended to “influence offender decisions that precede criminal acts based on social training.”
The four big factors, in his view, are:
*Keeping people under observation or implied observation (they’re less likely to commit crimes if they can be seen). Some of the ways to accomplish this:
–trim your hedges, use decorative see-through fences rather than solid ones, put a picnic table in your front yard
–leave blinds open in upper rooms for “the illusion of occupancy” if you don’t mind whether those rooms can be seen into
–semi-transparent curtains, which Officer Kiehn says he is “finding extremely effective” (he shared the story of a resident who had been burglarized three times – and had windows covered by completely opaque fabric, one thing he advised the victim change)
–apply this design principle to an entire property
NATURAL TERRITORIAL REINFORCEMENT
*Marking territorial control of a space – so that if a stranger is in that space, they will look obviously out of place.
–“Sometimes it’s as simple as lining the edge of your driveway with a different color of brick from the rest of the driveway.”
–Accentuating building entrances to guide visitors “and announce the transition from public space to private space.” He showed a photo of a walkway through a lawn. “Even people who are up to no good don’t want to LOOK like they’re up to no good,” he said, and this would discourage such people from peeking into visible windows for example.
–Stoops, rockeries, flower beds can help with this. If arranged properly, it’s obvious what’s public – and what’s private – even on the lot of a house close to the street.
–Promoting social control through increased definition of space and improved proprietory concern. “It feels uncomfortable to see somebody in my neighbor’s yard – like they’re violating my space,” is the feeling it’s meant to evoke, said Officer Kiehn.
NATURAL ACCESS CONTROL
*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.”
*Locks, bars, alarms are part of this – “target hardening.”
*Decorative fencing in your back yard would protect kids from wandering off but also would allow neighbors to keep an eye out for them, as opposed to a solid fence, on the offhand chance somebody came into the yard – they would be seen. Big fallacy, he said, is “if my kids can’t be seen, nobody knows they’re back there” – he pointed out, “how often are they quiet? Everyone KNOWS they’re there.”
*Thorny/spiky plants can also keep someone from getting up to a window – perhaps a low (2 1/2-foot or so) row of such bushes right beneath a window.
MAINTENANCE (a section Officer Kiehn adds to the universal three principles above)
*Make sure you take care of the landscaping, cleaning, repairing, “to encourage use of the space for the intended purpose and discouraging abnormal and criminal use.”
*Maintenance “sends a signal that someone cares about the space and is likely to defend it against intruders or vandals.” That doesn’t mean, he elaborated, that it sends a signal you’re going to physically challenge a criminal – but that you or your neighbors will call 911 when something/someone suspicious is seen, etc.
*Keeping a Block Watch sign is part of this.
*Keep litter and trash picked up.
*Landscaping: Shrubs shouldn’t be higher than 3 feet; trees should be cleared to at least 7 feet over walkways/sidewalks/etc. Make sure hiding places aren’t created/facilitated.
*Lighting – a topic he said he could discuss “for days.” For one, “it should provide clear paths for movement and highlight entryways without creating harsh effects or shadowy hiding places.” The focus: “Getting people from one place to the next.” Also – “putting light on an area to identify people,” such as motion-detector lights, which Officer Kiehn says he considers “great,” since they attract attention – an area that’s not usually lit is suddenly lit because someone has walked into it, and neighbors (among others) will notice.
Bottom line: Keep walls and hedges low, and fencing decorative – something you can see through.
Food for thought, he offered toward the end: Since many home break-ins are done through rear entrances being broken into, why are the “biggest and best locks” on the FRONT door?
There’s CPTED information on the SPD website – here’s the link provided by Officer Kiehn. He also suggested the CPTED Wikipedia page as a resource (as compared to places where you might find people “trying to sell you something”) – find that here.
In post-presentation discussion, some of those on hand shared stories, both cautionary tales and advice – the latter, for example, from Dick Hurley, who said that you can contact City Light regarding having a streetlight installed in your alley. (The program’s explained here.) WSBWCN’s Karen Berge mentioned “no soliciting” signs.
OVERALL ADVICE: Build more blockwatches, call 911, get the community involved, Officer Kiehn stressed in discussion afterward. Even if you try to round up your neighbors and only one or two show up the first time – “that is outstanding!” he declared. You have to start somewhere. WSBWCN, said Greer, will be working in the coming year to reach into some of the areas of the community where Block Watches haven’t formed as easily as in others. Officer Kiehn added that Block Watches aren’t just for crime prevention – that is not as sustainable as if they keep the neighborhood together and engaged on other topics of mutual interest such as emergency preparedness. “A Block Watch interested in community is the Block Watch that always is stronger,” he observed.
Speaking of community … it’s happening among the captains, themselves, too:
BLOCKWATCH CAPTAINS APPRECIATION PARTY: Friday night, June 22nd – food, music, dancing, more. “We want to get as big of a crowd there as we can,” said WSBWCN’s Deb Greer.