Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

How Should You Meet the Concerns of Those Who Oppose Closures?

As you have seen from the previous section, street and alley closures can reduce crime, but the available research cannot tell you whether closures will work in your situation. You must make that judgment yourself by interpreting the research findings in the light of your problem analysis.

Even if you think they will work, effectiveness is not the only thing you must consider. Street closings are often very controversial and may be strongly opposed (this is generally less true of closing alleys). While some communities have petitioned the authorities to close streets, it is more likely that, in your case, you will be trying to convince a divided community and skeptical city authorities of the likely benefits. There are several groups you will need to persuade: residents, neighboring communities, essential service providers, local politicians and officials, and the media and public at large. Do not underestimate the importance of gaining the support of all these groups, or the time and effort this might take. Table 2 summarizes the arguments they might raise both for and against closures.

Before meeting with any of the groups, you should brief yourself on any legal requirements that must be met to bring closures into effect. Will a new local ordinance be needed? What are the steps required to bring this into effect? You should also have a clear idea of which streets should be closed and what types of barriers should be used. There are many different types, such as concrete “ Jersey barriers,” steel highway guardrails, railroad ties, planters, posts and chains, removable bollards anchored in sleeves in the road, and other purpose-built barriers. Besides varying in aesthetic appearance (which may change over time), they have different installation and maintenance costs. They can be used in combination with other traffic management measures, such as diagonal diverters, one-way streets, “no entrance” or “no turning” signs, and parking restrictions. Your proposals should include any of these that seem appropriate, especially where they can reduce the number of streets closed and the inconvenience to residents.

Residents

Residents generally express three main concerns. First, they fear that the closures will be inconvenient and will hinder everyday tasks like shopping or getting to work. Second, they think the barriers will be ugly and will stigmatize the neighborhood—they may even believe that the closures will turn the neighborhood into a ghetto. Third, they may think that closures are merely an excuse to scale back police patrols.

Even if these worries seem exaggerated, you must take them seriously and address them directly. A residents’ association can help you do this, but expect the process to be very time-consuming. You may need to meet many times with the association leaders, and you should hold open meetings for all residents to attend. Without a residents’ association, obtaining general agreement can be even more difficult, since there is no obvious person with whom to discuss the plans. Beware of self-appointed community leaders who may simply be pursuing their own agendas. You may find that local elected politicians can be very helpful in the process of reaching consensus.

It is essential to be well prepared for meetings. You should be able to present crime data showing the proportions of crime committed by nonresidents, and you will need to discuss the limitations of alternative ways—such as increased patrols—of dealing with these outsiders. You will need large maps showing where the barriers will be placed and how residents will be able to access their homes. You will need to show that the closures will not adversely affect the provision of police and other emergency services.

You should bring along illustrations of the types of barriers you are planning to install. If your plan includes provision for a trial period with temporary barriers, bring pictures of those barriers, as well as pictures of the permanent barriers to be installed if the trial is successful. If lockable gates are to be used, you must reach agreement with the community about who will be provided with keys—whether every householder, the police, or resident association nominees.

Each meeting should have a written agenda and should conclude with a review of the agreed actions to be taken, and by whom. If possible, you should set the time and place for the next meeting while everyone is still present. It is important to communicate a sense of urgency to all the participants, and to keep up the momentum.

In addition, you must be very open and clear in your approach. At all costs, avoid giving the impression that all the important decisions have already been made, and that consultation is merely a formality. Be open to alternative ideas such as closing streets during the evening hours only, redirecting traffic flows, changing parking regulations, using more one-way streets, and so forth. Make strenuous efforts to engage stakeholders who are reluctant to participate in the discussions, and try to consider the needs of resident groups such as children and teenagers, who might not be adequately represented at the meetings. Finally, it is very important that you persuade your superiors to let you remain in post until negotiations are concluded and agreement has been reached. The success of such a process depends on the trust developed between you and the other stakeholders, and nothing is more fatal to a problem-oriented project than a change of police leadership at a crucial point.

† For information on how some of these measures were used in an attempt to reduce access to a drug market, see Zanin, Shane and Clarke (2004).

Nearby Neighborhoods

Adjacent neighborhoods may fear that the closures will bring them more crime and more traffic. They may also resent what they see as preferred treatment of the neighborhood where streets are to be closed. Again, you should seek meetings with the residents’ associations of these neighborhoods and/or the local elected representative(s) to find ways to allay these concerns.

City Officials and Essential Service Providers

City planning officers will need to be satisfied that your proposals to close streets or alleys do not conflict with wider plans for the city. You will also need to clear your proposals with your superiors, with city traffic engineers, and with fire and ambulance services. They will all need to be sure that the closures will not pose a risk to life. Where lockable gates are used, as in alleys, police, fire, and ambulance services will need immediate access to keys.

You will also need to discuss closures with local providers of garbage pickup, snow removal, and mail delivery—and be prepared, if necessary, to adjust your plans to meet their needs. You should also be prepared to accommodate any special needs of public transport or school bus providers serving the neighborhood. Finally, you should consider whether the closures will cause difficulty for drivers making deliveries to the area, whether parcels or furniture and appliances.

The Public at Large, the Media, and Politicians

Proposals to close streets can give rise to strong emotions, even among those not directly affected. Closures can be attacked as being antidemocratic and as infringing on civil liberties. Some of this opposition is a by-product of the hostility that many social commentators feel for “gated communities.”12 Because these communities often cater to the rich, they are seen as having “exclusionary” and divisive consequences for society. Other social commentators cite street closings in their general condemnation of the trend toward a “fortress society,” where people live in fear behind locked doors, venturing out only when they have to, with little concern for their neighbors’ welfare.

So you can expect the local media to take an interest in your proposals. You could even find yourself at the center of civil action to prevent the closures, though court cases are more likely to result from the large-scale introduction of street closures affecting many different neighborhoods in the city. The media concerns may have little substance, and they might prove more of an irritation than a real impediment. Dealing with them will be easier if you can demonstrate the problem analyses you have undertaken, and if you carefully explain the limitations of alternative solutions.

You will be in much more trouble if you don’t have the local elected representative’s support, and you will need to carefully plan how to approach him or her and how best to argue your case.

Table 2 : The Arguments For and Against Street and Alley Closures

For

Against

Closures help to prevent crime and disorder by excluding offenders.

By slowing traffic, barriers facilitate drug dealing and prostitution.

Closures reduce crime in nearby communities because they discourage offenders from coming to the area as a whole.

Barriers displace crime to more vulnerable neighborhoods that cannot take similar defensive measures.

Barriers provide protection for bedroom communities with few residents at home during the day to keep an eye on things.

Barriers are an inadequate substitute for proper policing of a neighborhood.

Closures enable residents to regain control of their neighborhood and send a message to criminals to keep out.

Closures prohibit the free use of public streets. They are exclusionary and antidemocratic.

The process of closing streets brings neighbors together. Barriers can help to define and create a neighborhood.

Barriers stigmatize neighborhoods and create ghettos. They sometimes promote discord within a neighborhood between those in favor and those against.

Barriers reduce fear of crime, which can lead residents to become actively involved in their neighborhoods.

Closures weaken civic ties and create tension with neighboring communities.

Closure reduces speeding, pedestrian injuries, noise, and congestion.

Closures create havoc on nearby streets by displacing traffic. They can create dangerous, life-threatening situations if emergency vehicles are restricted.

Closures make it possible for neighborhood children to play on the streets.

As a result of closures, parents become complacent and fail to monitor their children’s whereabouts.

Street closures improve property values.

Barriers harm businesses.

Your Checklist of Tasks

Too little is known about street closures to provide you with a step-by-step guide on how to go about them, and in any case, every problem-oriented project is unique. You will therefore have to tailor general guidelines to your own situation to produce an action plan. Answering the following questions will help you determine how well you have done this.

Analyzing the Problem

  • Have you clearly defined the neighborhood’s boundaries?
  • Have you collected reliable data about the types of crime or disorder that are the focus of concern?
  • Do you know the proportion of crimes committed by outsiders?
  • Do you know how they reach the neighborhood (by car or on foot)?
  • Do you know whether they go to the neighborhood specifically to commit crimes, or whether they do so when passing through?
  • Have you estimated how much crime the barriers will prevent?
  • Have you explored alternatives to closures (e.g., CCTV, neighborhood watch, crackdowns, target-hardening)?
  • Can you explain why these alternatives could not adequately substitute for closures?

Getting Support

  • Do you have support from police district commanders, the chief, and other key city officials, such as the traffic engineer?
  • Do you have a clear mandate from residents and elected representatives to proceed?
  • Are residents content with the barriers’ appearance?
  • Have you allayed resident concerns about neighborhood stigmatization?
  • Have you agreed on who will have keys (if keys are needed)?
  • Have you dealt with the worries of nearby communities about displaced traffic and crime?
  • Have you satisfied the concerns of emergency service providers (fire, ambulance, and police)?
  • Is your plan acceptable to local providers of garbage pickup, snow removal, and mail delivery?
  • Does your plan accommodate any special needs of public transport or school bus providers serving the neighborhood?
  • Will your plan avoid untoward difficulty for delivery and cab drivers?
  • Have you briefed the local media about the need for closures?
  • Have you dealt satisfactorily with public opposition? 

Implementing the Closures

  • How many streets and/or alleys will be closed?
  • Can you produce a map showing where the closures will be made?
  • Can you clearly explain the effect on neighborhood access and traffic patterns?
  • What kind of barriers will be installed?
  • How much will the barriers cost?
  • How long will it take to install the barriers once agreement has been reached?
  • Who will install the barriers?
  • Does your plan include a trial period? If so, is it long enough to assess the closures’ effect on crime?
  • How will it be decided whether to make the closures permanent?
  • Have you made sure that any legal requirements for implementing closures can be met?

Assessing Effectiveness

† See Eck (2002) for help with assessing effectiveness. [Full text ]

  • Will you compare neighborhood crime or disorder before the closures with that after the closures?
  • Will the before-and-after time periods be directly comparable?
  • Will you be able to directly compare the proportions of crime committed by outsiders in the before-and-after periods?
  • Will you be able to compare before-and-after crime trends in your neighborhood with those in nearby neighborhoods?
  • Will you examine possible displacement/diffusion?
  • Will you be able to estimate the barriers’ cost-effectiveness?