OPNION: Enlighten the masses; Public street lighting as a crime prevention measure

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Dr. Patrick Webb

By Patrick Webb, Ph.D. 

Jackson Advocate Guest Writer

Imagine a newly elected city council member who represents a district experiencing high crime rates. Within the scope of her duties, she attends regular budget meetings and receives a vast amount of information about the city’s revenues and expenditures. 

Upon reviewing the proposed annual budget for her district, she realizes there are insufficient funds earmarked to meet the basic needs of her constituents, including but not limited to the installation of public lighting. Determined to address the glaring shortfall, the council member first decides to review previous city budgets and other city records. When so doing, it appears districts having adequate public lighting installed experience lower rates of serious crime.    

Public lighting as a crime prevention measure is not a new idea. It dates back to 500 BC. 

Currently, public lighting falls under the scope of what is referred to as a type of crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). This also is called “target hardening.”

Target hardening includes bigger locks, louder alarms, gated entrances, security personnel, and the design and construction of public spaces. Among the most effective and least expensive public space designs to prevent crime is public lighting. Adequate public lighting discourages some potential offenders and increases the likelihood that offenders are identified. 

Results of empirical research consistently show that public lighting is an effective crime prevention measure. For example, in New York City, the installation of nearly 400 public lights in residential neighborhoods resulted in a 35% reduction in serious crimes, including homicides and robberies. San Diego’s use of smart lights produced a 24% reduction in violent crimes and a 20% reduction in property crimes.

  In addition to crime prevention, some studies indicate that public lighting also provides several other important benefits, including enhancing residents’ confidence, social control, and collective efficacy within neighborhoods. 

City council members should carefully examine their city’s budgets and ensure that adequate funding for public lighting is provided, particularly in neighborhoods experiencing high crime rates. Empirical evidence supports this age old idea that being left in the dark increases the likelihood of criminal victimization.

Publisher’s Note: Dr. Patrick Webb holds a Ph.D. in Juvenile Justice and has more than 24 years of experience in higher education. He will serve as a faculty member in the Department of Criminal Justice at North Carolina A&T State University in the fall of 2023. He also is a member of the Black Criminologists Forum (BCF). BCF is a national association of nearly 70 Black scholars holding a doctorate degree in criminology, criminal justice, juvenile justice, or a related field of study.

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OPNION: Enlighten the masses; Public street lighting as a crime prevention measure

By Jackson Advocate News Service
July 24, 2023