Why Didn’t Somebody Call The Police

By. Neil Williamson, President

Albemarle County just released its latest draft of their comprehensive plan.  A large portion of the plan regards land use.  Interior to the land use portion is the concept of the “neighborhood model”.  The Neighborhood Model is a form of New Urbanism that promotes pedestrian orientation, building mass, interconnected streets, multi modal transportation options and even public art.

But what about crime?  There is an increasing volume of research indicating some elements of new urbanism promote criminal activity. 

So we were most interested when Albemarlecrime scene tape County announced in July 2011 that a new Crime Prevention Officer position (click here for the media release).  Ten year Albemarle Police veteran Steve Watson, a CEPTED (Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design) Certified Police Officer was selected for this position.  According to the County media release:

Officer Watson’s duties and responsibilities will include managing community related events, and coordinating the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program and the Neighborhood Watch Program.  Officer Watson will be the liaison between the community and the police department as it relates to crime prevention.

In a telephone interview with the Free Enterprise Forum, Officer Watson indicated he has had no interaction with the Planning Department regarding Crime Prevention and the Neighborhood Model but he would welcome such a conversation.  Frankly, Officer Watson seemed almost evangelical about his passion for CPTED.

Considering this newly acquired talent, why didn’t somebody call the Police? 

During the discussion of relegated parking (once merely a part of the Neighborhood Model, now written into County Code), the Free Enterprise Forum asked what the Albemarle County Police Department thought of this planning concept.  Based on our limited understanding of CPTED, hidden parking lots created a fertile environment for criminal activity.  Our calls for police involvement fell on deaf ears.

Basic CPTED theory focuses on examining the built environment and how CPTED principles apply to problem solving, community planning, and safety and security assessments. 

NCPClogo.gifThe National Crime Prevention Council (NCPC) offers certification in CPTED and indicates the basic coursework provides:

The Basic CPTED course covers the theory behind CPTED and give an overview of the history of crime and the physical environment; the basics of CPTED principles and how they work; applying successful applications and techniques of CPTED to specific crimes; how to consider CPTED principles in plans to secure key public places and facilities; and how to conduct a community safety assessment using CPTED principles.

  • CPTED applications to specific crimes and “hot spots” locations
  • Specific practical techniques including street and security lighting, landscaping, barriers, traffic calming, and target hardening
  • Role of maintenance, ordinances, and other local laws in strategies to prevent crime and improve quality of life
  • How to conduct a community safety assessment using tools based on CPTED principles
  • How to consider CPTED principles in plans to secure key public places and facilities
  • How to link neighborhood volunteers to local crime prevention, community building, and homeland security initiatives.

Naively perhaps, the Free Enterprise Forum believed that the Albemarle County Planning Department would know that the Albemarle County Police Department had this new position dedicated to Crime Prevention and would utilize this resource to evaluate the Comprehensive Plan review.  [Remember this Comprehensive Plan revision included a Million Dollar Grant to help Albemarle coordinate planning work with Charlottesville and the University].

There is mention of CPTED in the Current Comprehensive Plan under Parks and Open Space:

The design and location of open space determines how fully it will be used. For example, a public space framed by building fronts, surrounded by neighborhood thoroughfares, and accessible to nearby residents is inviting and safe. Such principles of Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED) can improve siting decisions, as can such criteria as locating parks near paths or major destinations like schools and other public facilities

But nowhere in this state mandated document is there significant consideration of crime prevention through better community design.

For a government dedicated to the health, safety and welfare of its citizens,  that is a crime.

Respectfully Submitted,

Neil Williamson

clip_image0024_thumb.pngNeil Williamson is the President of the Free Enterprise Forum, a local government public policy organization located in Charlottesville. The full Contradictory Consequences report can be found at www.freeenterpriseforum.org

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