Monday, July 26, 2010

Knowledge Management for Crime Prevention

Professor Paul Ekblom (University of the Arts London) talked at the Australian Institute of Criminology in Canberra this morning on "Securing the knowledge: the 5I’s framework for improving performance in crime prevention, security and community safety".

He looked at why crime prevention schemes which work well as small pilot projects fail when applied on a larger scale. He argues that there was a failure to handle the complexity and "messiness" of such schemes in practice. Also projects have to consider the community reaction, otherwise sound schemes will not survive criticism from media commentators.

Professor Ekblom discussed knowledge requirements. He suggested structure, content, terminology. Existing frameworks, such as SARA (Scanning, Analysis, Response and
assessment) and Crime Triangle were criticised for being lacking in structure (like a wardrobe with no shelves).

Professor Ekblom argued for clear definitions, a five step process model: Intelligence, Intervention, Implementation, Involvement, Impact. He then described "Operation Moonshine" in the UK. This was to deter under-age drinking in a shopping centre, which upset the shoppers and attracted drug dealers. Interventions included: modification of carrier bags, high visibility police patrols, behaviours contracts, and removing flower beds. The last was done as bricks from the flower bed were used as missiles and used for congregating. To prevent ram raids bollards were installed, but shaped so they could not be sat on. A "youth shelter" was built away from the shopping centre. To cover offensive graffiti, the local police took the initiative to carry their own spray cans

One aspect which seemed to be lacking from Professor Ekblom's analysis was an acknowledgement for the need to train personnel involved in implementing a strategy and the requirement to allocate sufficient resources. Otherwise any new initiative will be rightly seen by the front line personnel as just a publicity exercise.

Curiously climate change issues came up in the presentation: high brightness street lights are one option for deterring street crime but increase energy use and therefore carbon emissions. Professor Ekblom might like to look at some of the newer LED lighting systems and intelligent controls (such smart infrastructure is discussed in my Green IT course) . These can be used to precisely position light where it is needed, thus reducing energy use. It can also create contrasts between lit and unlit areas, making the light appear brighter and safer. Intelligent light controls can also be used to adjust the light level dynamically. This might be used, for example, to brighten an area subtly if the system detects suspicious behaviour.

It would be unfortunate if Professor Ekblom's analysis was only applied to dealing with young people hanging around shopping centres. Also it would be unfortunate if social problems are to be criminalised and left to be dealt with by the police. Most law and order issues are dealt with by the community, with only a small number coming to the attention of the Police.The Police only have a minor role in crime prevention and to focus strategies on Police action may make the problem worse, rather than better.

Statistics show that crime is not increasing in Australia, despite public perception. The priority therefore should not be to decrease the level of crime, but to make people feel safer. Some "Crime Prevention" techniques can be used to help this, whereas others may make the situation worse, by making the public feel less safe.

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