Thursday, May 17, 2018

The beginnings of crime prevention in Canada – Professor Irvin Waller

by Tarah Hodgkinson

The story of crime prevention and victim’s rights advocacy in Canada can be traced back as early as the 1800s, but many authors claim that the beginning of the crime prevention era in Canada began in the mid-1960s. A large part of that story begins with our friend and past SafeGrowth blogger, Professor Irvin Waller.

This week Irvin reached out to let me know he was retiring. He probably could have retired years ago, but he remained dedicated to making places safer and defending the rights of victims of crime.

And good thing he did. If Irvin retired when he should have I may never have gotten involved in crime prevention and, in turn, SafeGrowth. Irvin was the first criminologist I met who showed me that I could take everything I had learned about crime and cities and people and translate that into making real change. I write this blog in celebration of his amazing career and consistent support of other changemakers.


Irvin Waller is not what many would call a traditional academic. He didn’t spend his career focused on writing papers or attending conferences. Instead, he moved around, working in government and founding international organizations like the International Center for the Prevention of Crime.

He also spearheaded the magna carta for victims of crime at the UN, which resulted in the declaration on basic principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power. He went on to develop the Safer Cities Program with UN Habitat and worked directly with the World Health Organization on guidelines to reduce violence.

Irvin Waller - photo CMNCP

He was involved in creating the Institute for the Prevention of Crime at University of Ottawa and has advised on crime prevention policy in Canada and internationally throughout his career. Irvin also has continued to write several books on crime prevention and rights for victims of crime.

Irvin's most recent book, Smarter Crime Control: A Guide to a Safer Future for Citizens, Communities and Politicians, speaks directly to community leaders and politicians about how to reduce crime and make communities safer. And guess what, SafeGrowth is in there too!

Interestingly, Irvin has consistently demanded that federal governments need to invest in upstream solutions and prevention at the same time that SafeGrowth continued to demonstrate the need for neighbourhood governance and local solutions. However, in his 2006 book, Less Law, More Order he expanded his vision and emphasized the role of local changemakers.

Since then, Irvin created the Canadian Municipal Network of Crime Prevention, further anchoring his station as a leader in Canadian crime prevention and an ally of the SafeGrowth philosophy.

Congratulations Irvin on an amazing career and on inspiring the next generation.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

New York returns the cop to the beat

With towers as a backdrop, New York is a city of neighborhoods
by Mateja Mihinjac

Once considered a breeding ground for crime and violence, today New York City is one of the safest large cities in the USA. While this cannot be attributed to any single strategy, there is no doubt establishing close and positive relationships between public and police promises effective problem-solving and quality of life in the long run.

It was not always so! In the past, the NYPD employed a number of strategies to improve public safety. Some of the best-known and controversial tactics include broken windows policing and stop-and-frisk. Between 2005 and 2013, the NYPD relied extensively on stop-and-frisk. Unfortunately, in 2013 the way they applied the tactic was ruled unconstitutional.

In addition, research found no correlation between this tactic and crime rates and, given increasing tensions between the public and police, NYPD rethought their approach.


In 2015 NYPD introduced a neighborhood policing model. The focus of the approach is permanently locating an officer - an NCO - within a neighborhood and building personal relations with residents on a daily basis. While this echoes earlier, often criticized, forms of community policing, the New York NCO  program attempts to take advantage of the intense personal knowledge of local areas.

It also provides officers with "sector integrity," allowing them time within their beat away from calls for service and assigning them to that neighborhood long enough to develop personal relationships.

NCOs focus not only on developing leads to tackle serious crime, but they also partner with residents for long-term problem-solving. As the NYPD website says: “sector officers play the role of a generalist cop who knows and feels responsible for the sector, and who provides the full range of policing services there.”

Before radio was used, beat policing and
call boxes were the norm in neighborhoods

In effect, this is a resurgence of the local beat cop of pre-radio days, except with a problem-solving focus and without the old style police call box. The NCO program also resonates with our methods in SafeGrowth where we teach residents how to partner with police, create planning teams, and target unsafe activities to create neighborhood safety plans.


The cornerstone of NYPD neighborhood policing are the NCOs - Neighborhood Coordination Officers whose daily presence within the assigned neighborhood and respectful demeanor help build relationships.

New York NCOs and residents team up to solve problems

I witnessed the positive effect of this approach on several occasions while in New York: residents would greet their NCOs with hugs while NCOs would share their personal phone number with the residents should they need assistance with crime-related issues. The goal is for officers to be part of the community and be seen as an ally as opposed to an enemy.  

According to the New York City Police Foundation, in neighborhoods implementing neighborhood policing since 2015, shootings have declined 58% faster and the number of arrests declined 10% faster compared to the rest of the city. In the past two years, NCOs on foot patrol have met thousands of residents in hundreds of meetings, thereby building deeper local relationships in neighborhoods throughout the city. 

As NCO policing continues to expand to precincts across all five New York City boroughs, the approach has been recently applied to transit. NCOs will patrol the same subway stations and train lines to provide safety and build relationships, in this case with frequent riders. The beat cop, so common in another era, has now returned to the neighborhood.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Village

New York's Greenwich Village

Fog's rollin' in off the East River bank
Like a shroud it covers Bleecker Street
Fills the alleys where men sleep
Hides the shepherd from the sheep
- Paul Simon, Bleecker Street

by Greg Saville

Walking through Greenwich Village in New York City, as I did last week, is like walking through American history. It reminded me of Simon and Garfunkle's 1960s song Bleecker Street, a nostalgic ode partly about a neighborhood New Yorkers call ‘The Village'. 

Greenwich Village is the place of America’s first integrated nightclub with Billy Holiday and where Edgar Allan Poe wrote poetry. It’s the neighborhood where Albert Einstein, Arthur Conan Doyle and Charlie Chaplin sat for sculptor Jo Davidson, and where Jack Kerouac and Allan Ginsberg started the Beat Movement. Bob Dylan started here. Jewish intellectuals fled Nazi Germany to the Greenwich Village campus of the New School for Social Research. 

Springtime stroll in Washington Square Park
Breathing life into the neighborhood is Washington Square Park, the nexus of public life in The Village. Fifty-seven years ago another Greenwich Village luminary, Jane Jacobs, published her landmark text, The Death and Life of Great American Cities in which she wrote about the attempted destruction of Washington Square Park. 


In 1961 Washington Square Park was to be cut in half by an expressway and a pedestrian overpass, diced into slices by Robert Moses, former NYC Parks Commissioner. Moses was a leader in the modernist movement of city planning and, more than others, he led an urban renewal revolution to build expressways and expand growth into suburbs. 

Enjoying an afternoon in the park
On one hand, Moses built hundreds of city parks and public swimming pools, but on the other he divided neighborhoods with an orgy of expressway building. In the late 1950s, Washington Square Park, the lifeblood of Greenwich Village, was next in line; that is until Jacobs and her fellow Greenwich neighbors mobilized public support against the plan.

It’s difficult to imagine the decimation of Greenwich Village, the heritage it entailed, and the history it enshrined if Moses had been able to plow a wide expressway through the beating heart of that park. In many ways, Jacobs and others launched a crusade against Moses and modernist planning theory.  Fortunately for us, she succeeded.

Street piano in the park
A half-century after those battles, a stroll through this iconic Greenwich Village park offers tangible proof how, at least in this case, local efforts and bottom-up thinking blew away the master planning fog of some top-down schemers.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Glass half full - Asset mapping

Community-based asset mapping in Hollygrove, New Orleans
- photo by Claire Vancauwemberge  

by Mateja Mihinjac

I recently read John McKnight’s 1995 book The Careless Society: The Community and its Counterfeits. It reminded me of the vital importance in what we term vision-based asset mapping in our SafeGrowth work.

McKnight shows how elevating community capacities, rather than focusing on community deficiencies, can mitigate the many threats to community life that stem from a forest of unfocused and inefficient social services.


The book’s core premise of “a glass half full” explains why systems of professionalized social services embedded within our daily lives fail to generate authentic citizen communities that care. As we teach in SafeGrowth, building cohesion in troubled communities is difficult when residents don’t care, or when they expect other organizations to solve local problems with no local involvement.

Public exercise area for nearby apartments - fitness assets for everyone

The issue McKnight sees with communities surrendering their power to the social service system is the assumption that communities are not able to identify their problems and solve them on their own, or with the assistance of others.

Thus starts the dependency-creating cycle that external service providers propagate. Then, as service professionals present themselves as experts with a suite of solutions to proposed problems, they often justify their own raison d’ĂȘtre while contributing little to positive change in the communities that have become dependent on them.

Asset mapping can reveal empty lots ideal for building community gardens

All this generates negative side effects and leads to a disabled citizenry and weakened community ties resulting in a loss in local capacity to self-organize. In effect, says McKnight, we become surrounded by community services but isolated from the community.

This does not mean that social services and others offer no value. However, communities need to themselves identify these services as useful and thus become active, rather than passive, actors in the life of their community.


McKnight offers asset mapping as a tool for empowering communities and building capacity.

In our SafeGrowth work we help residents tap into the neighborhood resources to realize whatever vision they create to resolve problems within their neighborhood. We use this neighborhood social analysis as an important part of visioning and problem identification.

Some SafeGrowth teams employ GPS mapping software

However, unlike McKnight’s broad scan, we tailor our approach into vision-based asset mapping - tailoring assets toward a specific vision for that problem. This step is repeated for different areas gradually building a repertoire of assets for the entire neighborhood. Neighbors themselves learn not only much more about local gifts for capacity-building right at their fingertips, but they learn how to use them for problem-solving.

The vision-based asset mapping approach empowers residents to become active in solving neighborhood problems. At the same time, they choose what social services to summon and reduce their dependency on external service providers.