Here’s How Our Neighborhoods Can Be Designed To Make Us Feel Safer
And the role human psychology plays in it.
Why are urban crimes so persistent in our inner-city neighbourhoods? Does it have to do something with the role of the police working more diligently in high crime areas and less so in marginal areas at risk? These are the questions that are addressed by James Q. Wilson and George L. Killing.
Safe Neighbourhood Programs:
The start of the ‘Safe and Clean Neighbourhoods Program’ in the state of New Jersey was met with a lot of criticism.
The conceptualisation of the ‘Safe and Clean Neighbourhood Program’ in the West, was met with a lot of criticism and skeptical views. Bills were passed that now allocated budget to police officers patrolling cities on foot rather than in their vehicles.
The public was of the opinion that this was just a bad allocation of funds whereas analysts felt that this would not decrease the crime rates that were on a steady rise in the 1920s. The policemen themselves were of the opinion that this bill would decrease their mobility, thus limiting their influence on the neighbourhood.
And the predictions were right. Nothing really changed, crime rates were still on the up. Despite this, the citizens at Newark felt safer. Why would that be?
We often associate crime as being a violent attack on us by a stranger. We tend to overlook the more pertinent source of fear in our neighbourhoods — being bothered by panhandlers, loiterers, drunks, or even addicts. Foot-patrol officers ensure that such misdeeds are kept in check, thus the public consensus.
However, it is not always the case. Some neighbourhoods are so demoralised and crime-ridden that officers patrolling on foot are rendered useless. Some neighbourhoods are so stable and serene that officers are not required.
Thus, identifying and allotting neighbourhoods to the patrol regime is such a challenge. You do not want to waste your resources nor do you want to over assign personnel to a neighbourhood. Striking a balance is key to the success of a place.
Instead of assigning personnel based on the prevalent crime rates, a more justified allocation would be to gather evidence first-hand experience of people living in the area and addressing their problems and grievances.
My Neighbourhood, My Rules
Part of the reason why the scheme worked in some neighbourhoods was due to the laying out of some ground rules by patrolling officers. Things like begging for money from people waiting at bus-stops was a big no but some leeway was given to the regulars — drunks could sit on the stoops, but not lie down.
This ensures a sense of liberality amongst the people of the neighbourhood. When granted such freedom, people feel that they matter and are part of the neighbourhood- that’s the key ingredient to a thriving neighbourhood.
How Your Neighbour Thinks
Based on the data gathered by this observing numerous neighbourhoods, social psychologists have deduced certain behavioural traits.
Consider this, let’s say that accidentally a windowpane breaks and is left un-repaired. What do you think will happen next?
Following suit to this ‘broken window’ analogy, all the windows of the neighbourhood will follow suit. The notion is that there are no consequences of committing such petty crimes.
Consider the neighbourhoods of the Bronx versus that of Palo Alto, both have stark differences in the way they are set up ideologically. In one, stealing and damaging cars is common- being accepted as a part of the norm whereas in the other such actions are dealt with by severe consequences.
In such neighbourhoods, the growing atomisation gradually consumes the spirit of the neighbourhood as people will start to ‘mind their own business’ and will stay away from here the streets altogether, discouraging local attachments.
The neighbourhood is not my ‘home’ but a place where I live.
To extend the analogy of the ‘broken window’, the unchecked panhandler is in effect the first window. If left unchecked, the people of the neighbourhood feel intimidated, resulting in a breeding place for criminal activities.
In Boston public housing projects, the greatest fear was expressed by persons living in the buildings where disorderliness and incivility was the greatest, not crime.
Young men are more frequently attacked than older women, not because they are more lucrative targets, but because they are on the streets more. A survey put together by Susan Estrich shows that 3/4th of the adults interviewed cross to the other side of the street to avoid interactions with a gang of teenagers.
The urban decay is such that people avoid one another and lose faith in the police due to their inability to do anything about petty crimes.
Some argue that motorised patrolling is just as effective as a patrol on foot, however, that’s not always the case. Behind the door and window of their car, the police officer cannot be part of the street setting, that 6th sense of something wrong is happening is missing.
People are more hesitant in approaching a police officer when they are in their vehicles rather than when they’re on the street. It’s because of the attention they may possible generate towards themselves if they walk up to a police car. That sense of anonymity is taken away.
These are little things that make matter significantly when it comes to the overall safety of a neighbourhood and it’s well-being.
By diluting the boundaries of the functionality of the police, we have now become susceptible to the tyranny of the police. The ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement in the West emphasises this.
By what parochial standards do the police make decisions on who is undesirable or unruly? On what grounds do drunk people minding their own business be charged for a criminal offence?
For example, arresting a single drunk person who has harmed no identifiable person seems unjust. And that’s usually what goes down. Would the police act in a similar manner and arrest the entire neighbourhood if they were involved in drinking? Probably not.
How do we ensure that the police do not become the agents of neighbourhood bigotry? That’s a parting thought I leave you with.
Vigilantes Are Worse
Back in the 1970s, more than 350 vigilante groups were known to have existed, taking matters into their own hands — by acting as a judge, jury, and often executioner and policemen.
This however did not go down well with the people of the neighbourhood. Why? These groups did not feel the same sense of responsibility that wearing a badge confers. Many studies have tried to understand why onlookers fail to act when they see someone else in distress — apathy or selfishness not being the case. It’s probably due to the fact that people don’t feel like it’s their responsibility to help out.
The role of an authoritative figure like that of the police ensures that more people feel responsible for upholding the security of the neighbourhood.
As a parting thought, I hope that the police ought to recognise the importance of maintaining, intact, communities without broken windows. The power and trust that has been vested upon them should be judiciously used and not abused, like what we’re seeing today.