Major study finds lighting cut crime by 39%

A MAJOR control study in New York City has demonstrated that lighting cut night-time crime by 39 per cent.

It’s long been thought that better street illumination can reduce offences, but there’s never been any rigorous evidence —until now.

Nearly 80 public housing developments in New York City participated in the six-month randomised controlled trial 

In partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the New York City Police Department and the New York City Housing Authority, the scientific research team Crime Lab designed a six-month randomised controlled trial involving nearly 80 public housing developments, all of which had elevated levels of crime. About half of the developments received new, temporary street lights, and half did not.

The study found that the developments that received the new lights experienced crime rates that were significantly lower than would have been the case without the new lights.

Among other findings, the study concluded that increased levels of lighting led to a 7 per cent overall reduction in so-called index crimes— a subset of serious offences that includes murder, robbery and aggravated assault, as well as certain property crimes.

Specifically, at night there was a 39 per cent reduction in index crimes. Previous reports into lighting and crime undertaken in the US and the UK over the last two decades show a mixed picture, with lighting reducing crime in about half the studies but, significantly, not at night. The New York study, by contrast, shows an expected and dramatically significant correlation with crime at night.

The results of the lights project has implications for both New York and cities around the world. Unlike many jurisdictions around the country, New York has shown that it is possible to reduce crime and, at the same time, lower its prison population.

The city’s success in this area is credited in large part to innovations in policing undertaken in recent years by the NYPD. The results demonstrate that not only can environmental design impact crime, but that investments in changes to the physical environment such as new street lights can augment efforts to promote public safety and help reduce citywide inequalities in crime reduction without having to resort to building new prisons or incarcerating more people.

The researchers say that there is ‘evidence that residents appreciate the new resources introduced into communities during the lights project’. The survey results suggest that fully two-thirds of housing authority residents felt favourably about the new lights.

While there have been a small number of prior studies of impact of lights on crime, this effort marks the first use of a rigorous, randomised controlled trial (RCT)—the gold-standard in scientific research—to measure the impact of street lighting on crime.

Previous reports into lighting and crime undertaken in the US and the UK show a mixed picture, with lighting reducing crime in about half the studies but, significantly, not at night. The New York study, by contrast, shows an expected and dramatically significant correlation with crime at night.

 

  • Download the full report here.
  • The issue of lighting and the reduction of crime and anti-social behaviour will be explored in a special session in the Safer Cities conference which takes place as part of the LuxLive 2018 exhibition and conference at ExCeL London on Wednesday 13 November and Thursday 15 November 2018. Other sessions in the conference include lighting for CCTV, IoT lighting and safety and the use of blue light in suicide prevention. Entry is free if you pre-register HERE.

 

Comments 2

Like anything else, activity will move to the areas where it is easiest and most productive. So getting rid of the deep shadows areas will certainly make some kinds of crime move elsewhere. So where will the bad guys go when everything is well lighted? Or is that not part of the plan? And if there were other things done also then how can the results be claimed to be from lighting alone?? I have also read that in some parts of the UK it was found that adding lighting increased the crime rate. Of course, it is likely that few criminals would be out and about in only starlight, because some visibility is needed to even just navigate.

So 'better' lighting was compared with 'poorer' lighting for reducing crime in a residential area. Surely a more useful study should investigate what the impact of no lighting would be, since criminals tend to thrive where there are shadows?

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