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Closing Streets and Alleys to Reduce Crime: Should You Go Down This Road?

Response Guide No. 2 (2005)

by Ronald V. Clarke

Introduction

Police sometimes advocate closing streets and alleys to keep offenders out of an area. This guide will help you decide whether this is an appropriate response to a problem you are confronting in a particular neighborhood or community. It assumes that you have already conducted a detailed problem analysis and are now exploring alternative responses, including closing streets or alleys. It explains why you might expect street closures to reduce crime or disorder, it summarizes the literature on their effectiveness, and it discusses the arguments for and against their use. It also lists the questions you should ask, and steps you should follow, in implementing closures. Finally, it suggests measures you might use to assess the effectiveness of your actions.

Police have often successfully been involved in using street and alley closings to reduce local crime problems—including street prostitution, gang activity, robbery, burglary, and drug dealing. But closings do not always work, and they often arouse strong opposition in the affected neighborhood, in nearby neighborhoods, and, more widely, in local newspapers and on TV. You must therefore expect to spend considerable time and effort working with the residents and businesses affected to gain support for proposed closures. You will need to agree on which streets and alleys to close, how to close them, how to monitor results, when or whether to remove the barriers, and many other specifics of the plan.

You may be considering some other ways of responding to your problem—for example, establishing a block-watch scheme or undertaking a crackdown. In fact, police have usually combined street closings with other crime prevention measures; in problem-oriented projects, it is often better to combine responses than to rely on a single one. Remember also that no response works equally well in all situations, and in every case, you must carefully tailor your responses to the problem. This guide will help you do so by summarizing the lessons from the available research and from other problem-solving projects. However, as explained below, the information from these sources is incomplete in numerous respects, and the guide cannot answer every question you might have. You must combine the information it provides with your own assessment of situational needs.

Focus of the Guide

This guide deals only with closing public streets and alleys to control crime in residential areas. In most cases, the streets and alleys police close are in poor, troubled neighborhoods, though sometimes they close streets in wealthy neighborhoods that abut poorer ones. The closures are intended to be permanent, even if the streets are reopened later.

† The implications of closing streets are generally much wider than those of closing alleys, which may affect only a small number of residents. In fact, there has been little research on closing alleys, and most of the information reviewed in this guide concerns street closures.

The guide does not cover

† This is less true of some other countries, such as Brazil and South Africa, where residents in existing affluent neighborhoods are making increasing use of street closures in an effort to protect themselves from crime (Landman, 2003).

What Does Research Reveal About Street Access and Crime?

Researchers have argued that closing neighborhood streets and alleys can prevent crime because there is a relationship between street access and crime rates. The details of the argument are as follows:

  1. Offenders find targets in familiar territory. They gain knowledge about vulnerable areas and potential opportunities through their contacts with other offenders and through their daily routines, such as hanging out with friends, traveling to work, and going to the movies. This means that frequently traveled streets are more vulnerable to crime.
  2. Offenders are quick to recognize a closely knit neighborhood and the presence of people who might notice them. From litter and other signs of neglect, they can judge whether they are likely to be challenged if they deal drugs or solicit for prostitution.
  3. Burglars avoid cul-de-sacs and prefer corner sites where neighbors are less likely to see them. Offenders look for heavily traveled streets and locations near major highways, where there are many potential victims and where they can easily escape.
  4. Reducing through-traffic by closing streets or alleys means that
    • criminal outsiders are less likely to become familiar with the area;
    • residents learn who does not belong in the neighborhood, which helps them to more effectively keep watch on the streets near their homes;
    • residents committing crime in their own neighborhood cannot so easily blame outsiders and thus deflect suspicion from themselves;
    • burglars cannot so easily gain access to properties, especially from alleys behind houses;
    • escape routes for robbers are blocked off ; and
    • drive-by shootings are prevented because cars cannot easily enter a street, or because they have to backtrack to escape, exposing them to retaliation from those shot at.

Research findings are generally consistent with this theory:

Ornate gated entrances to private streets

Ornate gated entrances to private streets

Ornate gated entrances to private streets, such as these in St. Louis, can effectively control crime problems, but are not feasible for most crime prevention initiatives.

What About Displacement?

The rationale for closing streets and alleys in a particular neighborhood is that outsiders commit much of the crime there, either going there specifically to do so or doing so when passing through. But research shows that criminals typically offend quite close to home, so before closing streets, you should check arrest records to make sure that most of the active criminals in the neighborhood are not residents. Otherwise, you cannot justify the closings. If you find that a high proportion of those arrested are indeed outsiders, you then have another worry to deal with: What if the closures do not stop these criminals, but simply displace them elsewhere in your jurisdiction? What have you gained?

In fact, displacement can be advantageous if it stops the neighborhood from reaching a “tipping point,”6 when minor crimes build up to produce a much more serious problem (the familiar “broken windows” process). If you prevent the neighborhood from reaching this tipping point, then the savings to the city as a whole will be much greater than the costs of displacement to other neighborhoods. But try telling that to the residents of those other neighborhoods! Fortunately, you won’t need to, because research generally shows that displacement is by no means inevitable. Most research shows that if it occurs at all, the crimes displaced are far fewer in number than those prevented.7 This is because some neighborhoods are so attractive to criminals and so full of criminal opportunities that they actually foster crime. It is wrong to think that criminals commit only a certain restricted number of crimes in a specific time period, and stop once they reach those limits. On the contrary, criminals will commit as many crimes as they have the time and energy for, if the crimes are easy to commit, low risk, and profitable. When these conditions change and the rewards of crime decline, or the risks and effort necessary increase, criminals will lower their expectations—as we all must do when opportunities for gain are reduced. This means that street closures do not inevitably result in displacement, and that they can reduce the overall volume of crime.8

How Effective Are Street and Alley Closures?

You may have read newspaper reports about successful street closures in particular neighborhoods, or heard about them from police officers involved. Crime may indeed have been reduced, but you should always be wary of anecdotal evidence of this kind. People like to think their projects were successful, and newspapers like to publish “feel-good” stories about communities pulling together to defeat crime. While you can learn much from these accounts—for example, how to overcome the difficulties associated with street closures—research studies generally provide more reliable evidence on effectiveness.

Unfortunately, only a relatively small number of projects involving street closures have been evaluated (f or example, no published evaluations exist of substantial street-closure schemes in Dallas; Houston; Chicago; Bridgeport, Conn.; and Oakland, Calif.)9 and the studies that have been published tend to focus on successful projects, simply because studies of unsuccessful projects are less likely to be published. Furthermore, not all research studies on street closures are well designed. Properly designed studies compare the neighborhood’s crime rates before streets were closed with crime rates after they were closed. They should also compare the neighborhood’s crime rates with those of nearby “control” areas where streets were not closed. This helps to rule out alternative explanations for drops in crime, such as seasonal changes, intensified police enforcement, or reduced gang activity. The studies sometimes collect other data that help in evaluating street closings, including information regarding the number of service calls, the volume of traffic, the residents’ perceptions of security, and the costs of installing gates or barriers. In some cases, evaluations also examine whether crimes prevented by the closures have been displaced to nearby locations.

This section summarizes the information available from 11 studies that evaluated street or alley closings. There is considerable variety among the projects reviewed. Several were undertaken in deprived inner-city neighborhoods, plagued by a variety of crimes. Three other projects were citywide efforts, one undertaken in an affluent Florida city. Three overseas projects focused on street prostitution. Only one (British) project specifically focused on closing alleys, though in other projects, both alleys and streets were closed. City governments and residents’ associations implemented most of the projects, though often with considerable police involvement.

Despite the variety of areas and crimes covered, for some crimes and for some settings, there are no directly relevant studies to draw upon. This means the studies may not tell you whether closing streets or alleys will work in your particular situation. This is not unusual, because there are important gaps in knowledge about effectiveness for nearly every aspect of policing, from patrol through criminal investigation. In fact, research almost never tells you exactly what to do in a given situation—it can only help you select responses that have a better chance of working for you. It is down to you to judge the fit between the available research and your own situation.

Table 1 summarizes the main features of the studies, including the type of area covered, the crimes targeted, and the results achieved (the Appendix provides fuller descriptions of the studies). Few of the studies are recent. Only one project—that undertaken in Charlotte, N.C.— was specifically designed as a police-led problem-oriented project, though police were active partners in the other projects. In the past 10 years, projects submitted for the Herman Goldstein Award for Excellence in Problem-Oriented Policing have frequently included closures, but deal only with problems in shopping plazas and other commercial facilities,10 and problems relating to festivals and other events.11

Even though few of the studies in Table 1 are problem-oriented projects, you can still learn from them—particularly about the effectiveness of the closures. To help you decide how much weight to place on each study, Table 1 includes ratings of the research designs’ quality: weak, adequate, or strong. You will see that several of the studies are rated as weak, and you should be aware that even those rated as adequate or strong have their limitations. Few of them can separate the effects of street or alley closings from those of other measures taken at the same time, and few examine the effects on crime or disorder for more than a year. This means that little is known about street closure’s long-term effects.

† Judged by the strictest criteria, none of the studies would be considered strong because none of them included randomly selected streets to be closed. However, this would very rarely be possible, and the studies must be judged against more realistic criteria. In these assessments, an informal (probably generous) judgment was made, taking account of the number of streets closed, the crime measures used, the level of crime before intervention, the time period studied, whether control areas were studied, whether displacement/diffusion was measured, and whether costs were calculated. No criticism of the researchers is implied by these ratings, since they were generally doing the best they could, given the practical constraints and the time and funds available.

Table 1 : Evaluated Projects Using Street and Alley Closures

  City Type of Area Year(s) Targeted Offenses No. of Streets Closed Other Actions How Effective? Research Design* Studies
1 Hartford , Conn. Declining inner-city neighborhood (Asylum Hill) 1973 Burglary, mugging, purse-snatching Four Residents’ associations established; neighborhood policing scheme Closures reduced crime, but effect only temporary. Fear of crime reduced. Adequate Fowler, McCalla, and Mangione (1979)[Full text ]; Fowler and Mangione (1982) [Full text ]
2 Dayton , Ohio Transitional neighborhood (Five Oaks) 1992 Drug houses, gunshots, prostitution, gangs, burglary, speeding 35 streets, 26 alleys Supportive residents’ association; high level of media attention Crime reduced by 25 percent within one year; violent crime reduced by 40 percent. No evidence of displacement. Concern about crime decreased. Traffic declined by 36 percent. Strong Dayton Office of Management and Budget (1994); Donnelly and Kimble (1997)
3 Los Angeles Crime-ridden, inner-city neighborhood ( Newtown) 1990 Gangs, drug dealing, assault, homicide, drive-by shootings 14 Increased police patrols; community policing Serious crimes immediately reduced, including homicides and drive-by shootings. Crimes increased when streets reopened. Strong Vernon and Lasley (1992); [Full text ] Lasley (1998) [Full text ]
4 Hartford , Conn. Public- housing project About 1997 Drug dealing, assault, drive-by shootings One None Violent crime reduced, with no displacement. Drug dealing unaffected. Weak Zavoski et al. (1999)
5 Charlotte , N.C. Inner-city, drug-dealing neighborhood ( Belmont) 2000 Drug dealing, violence Two None Substantial reduction in violence in the area immediately affected by the closures. Violence was not displaced, but drug activity may have been. Adequate Markoe (2000 )
6 Finsbury Park, London Run-down, inner-city neighborhood with long- established street prostitution 1985 Street prostitution and cruising johns Seven Police crackdown on prostitutes, pimps, and johns; hotels and landlords prosecuted Large reduction in street prostitution and cruising. Lower rates of auto theft, assault, and burglary. Resident satisfaction increased. Surprisingly little displacement. Strong Matthews (1997)
7 Streatham, London Middle-class, residential area with a recent problem of street prostitution 1989 Street prostitution and cruising johns Several streets closed and “no entry” signs Police crackdown on prostitutes and cruising johns; police antiburglary initiative Large reduction in street prostitution, cruising, burglary, and other crimes. Increased resident satisfaction. Prostitutes displaced from residential area. Strong Matthews (1993) [Full text ]
8 Vancouver , British Columbia Downtown prostitution strolls 1981 Street prostitution and cruising johns “Series”of diverters installed Series of other initiatives taken at different times in the same areas The “hardened,” drug-addicted prostitutes adapted by displacing to nearby areas. The barriers also reportedly helped prostitutes to solicit cruising johns, who were forced to slow down. Weak Lowman (1992)
9 St. Louis Racially integrated, 60-block city neighborhood 1984 UCR offenses Multiple Target- hardening; lighted porches; neighborhoodwatch; community crime newspaper Lower rates of increases in burglary up to five years after closures. Limited impact on fear. Adequate Wagner (1997)
10 Liverpool , England Residential neighborhoods with row houses and rear alleys 2000 to 2003 Burglary 3,168 alley gates installed Research design focused only on alley gates Burglary reduced by 37 percent within one year. Little displacement, but diffusion of benefits. Gates were highly cost- effective. Strong Bowers, Johnson and Hirschfield (in press)
11 Miami Shores , Fla. Affluent suburban city 1988 to 1991 Robbery, burglary, larceny, aggravated assault, auto theft 67 in first phase; eight in second phase None Burglary, larceny, and auto theft reduced. Lower rates of increases in robbery and assault, compared with nearby jurisdictions. Weak Atlas and LeBlanc (1994)

The incomplete coverage of the research, the limitations of the methodology, and some inconsistencies in the results have been discussed above. Even so, one can draw some broad conclusions about the street and alley closures, summarized as follows:

In conclusion, research has shown that street and alley closures can reduce crime in a variety of different settings. However, research is absent or sparse for some crimes and settings. In addition, the studies do not separate the benefits of closures from those of other measures taken at the same time. Follow-up is typically short, and little is known about the long-term benefits of street and alley closures. Finally, the studies provide little information about whether the savings in crime outweigh the costs of the closures.

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

Getting Support

Implementing the Closures

Assessing Effectiveness

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

Appendix: Narrative Description of Studies Summarized in Table 1

1. A Declining Inner-City Neighborhood in Hartford, Conn.

One of the first reported projects to use street closures in the United States was undertaken in Asylum Hill, a declining inner-city neighborhood in Hartford, Conn.13 In an attempt to deal with burglary, mugging, and purse-snatching, four streets were closed using large planters, some streets were made one-way, and entrances to several streets were narrowed. At the same time, neighborhood policing was introduced, as well as a scheme to encourage the development of community groups and residents’ organizations. Subsequent evaluations compared crime in the area with that in an adjacent control area. Victim surveys showed that crime dropped immediately following the street closures, but this result did not last for long. There was little evidence that the other changes had any effect on crime, though they did reduce fear of crime and improve community cohesion.14

Research design: Adequate. This is a small but careful case study using sound crime measures.

2. A Transitional Neighborhood in Dayton, Ohio

Another widely reported project involved a 10-square-block Dayton, Ohio, neighborhood known as Five Oaks. During the late 1980s and early 1990s, this once stable, middle-income neighborhood rapidly changed into a working-class area with increasing poverty and neighborhood decay. This was accompanied by an increase in crime problems, including drug houses, gunshots, prostitution, and speeding traffic. To regain control, a neighborhood stabilization project was implemented. A major component of the project was a traffic management scheme in which 11 streets from the surrounding areas were closed to traffic, as well as 24 streets within the grid. Twenty-six alleys were also closed so that the gates could not be circumvented, creating several sub-neighborhoods. Brick columns with metal gates served as barriers, and the remaining entrances to the area were identified with brick columns bearing a logo and the name Five Oaks.

One year after these changes were implemented, overall crime had dropped by 25 percent, with an even larger decline of 40 percent in violent crime. Resident surveys showed a reduction in the perceived seriousness of crime, including drug-related offenses, prostitution, gang problems, burglary, and violence.15

An active residents’ association was extensively involved in planning the project, and took responsibility for it. A high level of media attention may have promoted images of a cohesive neighborhood and deterred potential offenders.

Research design: Strong. This is a large study, using sound crime measures, with street closings as a major component.

3. A Crime-Ridden, Inner-City Neighborhood in Los Angeles

In 1990, the city of Los Angeles and the police department decided to implement “ Operation Cul-de-Sac,” a community-based policing program to restore order to crime-ridden, inner-city neighborhoods. Because of the problems resulting from the Rodney King beating, the program never progressed beyond its trial in Newton, an area in south central Los Angeles. Newton covers approximately one square mile, with 5,000 residents in some 500 dwellings. In 1990, over half the households were below the poverty line. In 1988, the community was 95 percent African American, and by 1990, 60 percent of its residents were Hispanics—most of them illegal immigrants. Newton had one of the highest recorded levels of serious crime in the city and was plagued by drug activity, gang activity, and drive-by shootings.16

Fourteen iron gates were placed on streets to mark Newton’s outer boundary. Barriers were installed to impede drive-by shootings and drive-up drug purchase. Patrols (foot, bicycle, and horseback) were stepped up to suppress these crimes and to improve police-community relations. Officers also joined in cleanup efforts with community groups and the high school. A survey of 350 residents taken in both the first and the last month of the program found that their ratings of police officers’ politeness and helpfulness improved by over 33 percent.

The barriers brought about an immediate reduction in serious crimes, including drive-by shootings and homicides. For example, in 1989, the year before Operation Cul-de-Sac, seven homicides were committed in the area. In the two years after the barriers were installed, only one homicide was recorded. There was no evidence that homicides had been displaced to another neighborhood. When the barriers were removed (in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating), homicides returned to their previous level.17

† The traffic barriers prevented cars from entering the street, or required those that did enter to leave the same way. The latter increased the risks for shooters, because those whom they shot at would have their weapons ready when the car returned.

Research design: Strong. This is a large study, with street closings as a major component of the intervention. Displacement/diffusion was assessed. The study’s major strength is its assessment of the effect of reopening the streets.

4. A Public-Housing Project in Hartford, Conn.

In response to a drive-by shooting that wounded four adolescents in a large public- housing project in Hartford, the housing authority erected a barrier across the street at the site of the shooting. Violent crimes on the street decreased by 33 percent (from nine to six) during the 15 months after it was barricaded, compared with the 15-month period before. On adjoining streets and blocks, violent crime also decreased in similar proportion, indicating that no displacement occurred. The barrier had no effect on drug-related crimes on the street.18

† The authors’ claim that increased drug activity on nearby streets was due to displacement therefore seems unlikely.

Research design: Weak. A carefully designed study, but only one barrier was installed, and the reduction in the number of violent crimes (from nine to six) could have been due to chance.

5. An Inner-City, Drug-Dealing Neighborhood in Charlotte, N.C.

Belmont is a deprived inner-city neighborhood in Charlotte, well known locally for being an easy place to buy drugs on the street. The streets are laid out in a grid, and the neighborhood is easily reached from several nearby highways. Five drug-related homicides and more than 100 aggravated assaults in a nine-month period in 1998 to 1999 led to the establishment of a problem-oriented policing project in the northeastern part of the neighborhood. Analysis revealed that 60 percent of those arrested for buying or selling drugs in the area were not Belmont residents. It also revealed that distinct travel routes for drug trafficking fed vehicles from nearby highways into the area. The police decided to block two of the busiest routes by installing concrete barriers at the end of two streets.

Beautified street barriers in Charlotte, N.C., helped control neighborhood violent crime and drug problems.

A 12-month before-and-after comparison of reported crime data showed that after the barriers were installed, violent offenses decreased by 54 percent (from 59 to 27) in the northeastern part of Belmont, and arrests fell by 42 percent. The largest drops were on the two barricaded streets. There was no evidence that violence had been displaced elsewhere in Belmont (in fact, violent offenses for Belmont as a whole dropped by 12 percent, from 236 to 206), though there was some evidence that drug activity had been displaced.

Encouraged by these results, the police sought to install more barriers in Belmont, but the community opposed this on the grounds that the barriers were ugly and were not a substitute for proper policing. Even after “beautification” of the two existing concrete barriers (which were replaced by posts and chains in a mulched garden), community objections to installing more barriers persisted, and the police withdrew the plan.

† Matt White, crime analyst for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department, evaluated this project, with advice from Herman Goldstein and the author of this guide. The report has not been published, though the Charlotte-Observer has published an article about the initiative (Markoe 2001).

 Research design: Adequate. A careful analysis was done, but only two barriers were installed.

6. A Run-Down, Inner-City Neighborhood With Long-Established Street Prostitution, in London

Finsbury Park, a run-down North London neighborhood, was known for years as an area to solicit prostitutes. Residents, disheartened by police failure to control the problem, petitioned the local authority to reduce vehicle access to the area, in hopes of deterring men from cruising for prostitutes. As a result, seven streets were closed in 1985. This was preceded by an intensive police crackdown that involved a range of interventions directed toward prostitutes and their clients, pimps, and local landlords who rented short-term accommodation.

As judged by official crime statistics, resident surveys, traffic counts, and interviews with prostitutes, this combined approach was successful. It increased residents’ sense of security, reduced the traffic volume, reduced serious crimes by about 50 percent, and improved the relationship between the police, the public, and the local authority. Finally, it did not displace the problems to adjacent communities. This seemed due to the prostitutes’ lack of deep commitment to their profession. Few were addicted or controlled by pimps. In fact, the most common reasons they gave for being prostitutes were that they could earn more money from that than from other types of work, they enjoyed the independence, and they enjoyed meeting a variety of men. Many of them came to Finsbury Park from outlying areas on cheap “away day” rail tickets. Together with other women, they rented rooms in one of the many local boarding houses or residential hotels, or they conducted business in clients’ cars. When not working as prostitutes, many of them worked as barmaids, go-go dancers, or shop assistants.

The prostitutes’ relatively light commitment to their work, and the availability of alternative ways to make money, might help explain why the researchers could find little evidence of their displacement to nearby areas in London. Of 253 women arrested for prostitution in 1984 (the year before the street closures), only 65 were still involved in prostitution in North London as of 1991. Another 50 had convictions in other parts of the country, but for the remaining 138 women, there was no record of their having been involved in prostitution after Finsbury Park was “closed down.”19

Research design: Strong. Multiple before-and-after measures were used. A careful attempt was made to measure displacement.

7. A Middle-Class, Residential Area With a Recent Problem of Street Prostitution, in London

A similar project in Streatham, an inner-city suburb in South London, also reduced street prostitution and related problems, but overall, it was not as successful as the Finsbury Park project. Again, the impetus for the project grew from local residents who sought to create a partnership with the police and the local authority to develop a traffic management scheme, introduced in December 1989.20 Several streets were closed, and “no entry” signs were installed.

The traffic management scheme achieved many of its goals. Traffic was reduced, especially late at night, and cruising for prostitutes declined by 60 percent. Furthermore, burglary, assault, and street robbery decreased. Residents’ fear of crime decreased, and there was also evidence of improved dialogue with the police and increased community cohesion. However, there was substantial “benign” displacement of the problem to the nearby park and main commercial street—“benign” because prostitution there was considered less offensive than in the residential area. The reason given for the greater amount of displacement in Streatham was that the prostitutes there were much more committed to prostitution than those in Finsbury Park.

Research design: Strong. Multiple before-and-after measures were used. Some attempt was made to measure displacement.

8. Downtown Prostitution Strolls in Vancouver, British Columbia

At one time or another between 1970 and 1989, downtown Vancouver had numerous prostitution strolls. Pressure from local residents and businesses generated numerous initiatives to “get tough” with the prostitutes. These included a series of police crackdowns, a “shame the johns” campaign, civil injunctions forbidding prostitutes from entering certain areas, and the installation of a series of “traffic diverters” to prevent cars from cruising in the strolls.

An evaluation of these initiatives concluded that, in every case, the prostitutes adapted to the changes. They moved to new strolls in the downtown area or changed their way of doing business.21 With regard to the traffic diverters, the evaluation reported that shortly after these were installed, a local newspaper published a photo of a woman sitting astride one of them, waiting for a customer. Other prostitutes were reported as saying that the diverters “were ‘good for business’ because they slowed traffic down nicely.” The evaluation proposed that the traffic diverters and other measures to prevent prostitution had failed in Vancouver (while appearing to have worked in London) because more of the Vancouver women might have been supporting heroin habits or had fewer opportunities to engage in off-street prostitution.

Research design: Weak. An interesting and persuasive case is made for adaptation and displacement as the result of street closings (and other measures), but very limited use is made of data.

9. A Citywide Program of Street Closures in St. Louis

In January 1984, the St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department initiated “ Operation Safestreet, a multifaceted program with five components: (1) “Project Porch Light,” in which people were asked to keep porch lights on from dusk until dawn; (2) “Project Home Security,” which target-hardened homes, (3) traditional “Neighborhood Watch” ; (4) “Operation Safestreet Newsletter,” which regularly informed residents of the current crime situation; and (5) “ Project Quiet Street,” a traffic management program using street closures and diversions.

This program was phased in for the entire city over four years. Project Quiet Streetgenerated considerable public debate, two lawsuits, and one unsuccessful recall election of an alderman. Negative public reaction grew from the failure to involve citizens at the planning stage—residents began to be involved only after the program began. Consequently, after four years, only two out of nine targeted neighborhoods had permanent barriers in place.

Results were studied in only one of those neighborhoods, but a comparison was made with a nearby “control” area that did not have street closures. It was found that crime rates fluctuated randomly, with no real decrease attributable to the street closures. However, a review of five years of data following introduction of the barriers showed lower rates of increases in burglary where streets were modified. 22

Evaluation design: Adequate. The study is distinguished by an unusually long follow-up, but only one neighborhood was studied.

10. A Citywide “Alley-Gating” Program in Liverpool, England

Liverpool is an older city in the United Kingdom. Much of the city’s housing consists of row houses, which can be accessed from lanes running behind them. These lanes have contributed to high burglary rates in many parts of the city, and for a number of years, the city has pursued an intensive program of “alley-gating.” This involves installing robust, lockable gates to block alleys and thus restrict burglars’ access to the rear of houses. Gate keys are available only to residents of the houses secured by the gates.23

Alley gates, installed extensively in Liverpool, England, have proven a cost-effective method of reducing residential burglaries.

A recent evaluation covered a total of 3,178 alley gates, protecting 106 blocks of housing.24 The gates protected distinct blocks of adjacent housing, typically containing around 360 houses. It was found that burglary decreased by approximately 37 percent in the gated areas, and that burglary declined in direct proportion to the number of gates installed over time. Moreover, there was a large reduction in burglaries where offenders gained access via the rear of the property. There was a small increase in the proportion of burglaries where offenders gained access through the front or side of the property, indicating possible displacement, but the changes observed were unrelated to the timing and intensity of implementation. Finally, burglaries declined in nearby areas not within the boundaries of the alley-gating scheme, suggesting there had been a diffusion of benefits to unprotected houses.

A simple cost-benefit analysis indicated that once the gates had been in place for a year or more, they became cost-beneficial, with a return of around $1.86 for every dollar spent.

Research design: Strong. In fact, the combination of the large number of alley gates covered in the evaluation, the effort made to examine displacement/diffusion, and the cost-benefit analysis undertaken make this by far the strongest study reviewed here.

11. An Affluent Suburban City in Florida

Miami Shores was once a quiet suburban community near Miami. Following major growth in Miami- Dade County, commuter traffic increased, and soon after, crime also increased substantially. In 1986, city officials decided to close 67 streets as part of a citywide strategy to curb traffic, speeding, and crime problems—primarily property crime. The referendum on the street closures passed with a 58 percent majority vote, despite much negative publicity generated by a small but vocal minority. Implementation started in July 1988 and ended in March 1991. In August 1992, a second phase of 28 street closures was proposed, but only eight were approved in the referendum.

A before-and-after examination of crime rates found that Miami Shores showed small declines for burglary, larceny, and auto theft. Rates were unchanged for robbery and aggravated assault. In contrast, Miami showed significant increases for all of the above crimes, and Miami- Dade County showed a general upward trend across crime categories. The evaluators attributed the generally favorable results in Miami Shores to the barriers.25

Research design: Weak. This was a large study, but the evaluation did not explore alternative explanations for the unchanged crime rates in Miami Shores compared with the rest of Miami- Dade County. Nor did it examine possible displacement.

Endnotes

[1] Bevis and Nutter (1978); Wagner (1997).

[2] Beavon, Brantingham, and Brantingham (1994).[Full text]

[3] White (1990).

[4] Greenberg and Rohe (1984).

[5] Crowe and Zahm (1994). [Full text]

[6] Gladwell (2000).

[7] Felson and Clarke (1998). [Full text]

[8] Felson and Clarke (1998). [Full text]

[9] Eggers and O’Leary (1995).

[10] Santa Ana Police Department (1993)[Full text]; Lauderhill Police Department (1996) [Full text]; Halton Regional Police Service (2002)[Full text]; Miami Police Department (2002). [Full text]

[11] La Crosse Police Department (1994)[Full text]; Savannah Police Department (1995). [Full text]

[12] Blakely and Snyder (1997).

[13] Gardiner (1978); Fowler, McCalla, and Mangione (1979)[Full text]; Fowler and Mangione (1982). [Full text]

[14] Poyner (1983).

[15] Donnelly and Kimble (1997); Newman (1996)[Full text]; Dayton Office of Management and Budget (1994).

[16] Vernon and Lasley (1992). [Full text]

[17] Lasley (1998). [Full text]

[18] Zavoski et al. (1999).[Full text]

[19] Matthews (1997, 1993). [Full text][Full text]

[20] Matthews (1993). [Full text]

[21] Lowman (1992).

[22] Wagner (1997).

[23] Johnson and Loxley (2001).

[24] Bowers, Johnson, and Hirschfield (in press).

[25] Atlas and LeBlanc (1994).

References

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Related POP Projects

Important!

The quality and focus of these submissions vary considerably. With the exception of those submissions selected as winners or finalists, these documents are unedited and are reproduced in the condition in which they were submitted. They may nevertheless contain useful information or may report innovative projects.

Allapatah Produce Market Power Play (Resubmission) [Goldstein Award Finalist], Miami Police Department (FL, US), 2002

Belmont Neighborhood Violence Reduction Project [Goldstein Award Finalist], Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department (NC, US), 2005

Burglary Reduction Programme, Merseyside Police Department (Merseyside, UK), 2006

Coon Creek Canoe Race [Goldstein Award Finalist], La Crosse Police Department (WI, US), 1994

Harbor Plaza Project [Goldstein Award Winner], Santa Ana Police Department (CA, US), 1993

Let's Dance: A Community's Collaborative Response to an All Ages Nightclub [Goldstein Award Finalist], Halton Regional Police Service (ON, CA), 2002

Marden Quarry Project, Northumbria Police (Northumbria, UK), 2004

Merritt Park Neighborhood, Delray Beach Police Department (FL, US), 1997

Mission Lake Plaza [Goldstein Award Finalist], Lauderhill Police Department (FL, US), 1996

Nowhere to Run, Nowhere to Hide: Neighborhood Burglary Reduction [Goldstein Award Finalist], Staffordshire Police Department (Staffordshire, UK), 2005

Operation Thursden Valley, Lancashire Constabulary (Lancashire, UK), 2006

Operation Victoria, Cleveland Police Department (Middlesbrough, UK), 2004

Reclaiming the Street of Shame: A Problem Oriented Solution to Vancouver's' Entertainment District, Vancouver Police Department (BC, CA), 2009

Safe as Houses – Domestic Burglary Project [Goldstein Award Finalist], London Borough of Enfield (London, UK), 2011

South Grand and Rotary Park Project, Mesa Police Department (AZ, US), 1999

The River Street Bollards [Goldstein Award Finalist], Savannah Police Department (GA, US), 1995