Center for Problem-Oriented Policing

Your Checklist of Tasks

There is no published step-by-step guide on how to improve street lighting to reduce crime, 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 questions below will help you do this.

The amount of work you will need to do to personally to ensure the project's completion will depend crucially on whether the local government supplies a project coordinator: you should do your best to persuade the responsible officials that a project coordinator is vital. Impress upon them the need for government oversight and accountability. You can then work with whoever is appointed, knowing that the responsibility does not rest entirely on your shoulders.

Analyzing the Problem

  • Have you clearly defined the neighborhood boundaries?
  • Have you collected reliable data about the types of crime and disorder that are the focus of concern?
  • Do you know the proportion of crimes committed by day and by night?
  • Do you know whether these crimes are committed by local residents or outsiders?   
  • If outsiders, do you know whether they go to the neighborhood specifically to commit crimes, or whether they do so when visiting or passing through?
  • Can you document that the lighting in the neighborhood is seriously deficient?
  • Have you estimated how much crime improved lighting will prevent?
  • Have you clear expectations about how improved lighting can reduce crime? For example, by enabling witnesses to see offenders and report incidents to the police? Or by raising the fear in the minds of offenders that this will happen?
  • Have you explored alternatives to improved lighting, e.g., video surveillance, neighborhood watch, crackdowns, crime prevention advice?
  • Can you explain why these alternatives cannot adequately substitute for improved lighting?

Formulating a Plan

  • How many new lights are needed?
  • How many existing lights must be upgraded?
  • What type of lights will be installed?
  • Where will the lights be located?
  • If video cameras are in use in the neighborhood, will the improved lighting affect the quality of their operation?
  • Might improved lighting in some places encourage undesirable behavior? For example, might lighting a rarely used footpath increase opportunities for victimization?
  • Will the lighting selected produce adequate levels of vertical illumination so that people can clearly see the faces of others?
  • How much will the new lighting cost?
  • Have you obtained the agreement of any residents who will be required to pay for the improvements?
  • How long will it take to install the new lighting once agreement has been reached?
  • Who will install the new lighting?
  • Is there a detailed plan showing which trees and bushes need to be trimmed?
  • Who is responsible for trimming the shrubbery?

Getting Support

  • Do you have support from police district commanders, the chief, and other key city officials, such as the lighting engineer?
  • Do you have a clear mandate from residents and elected representatives?
  • Are residents content with the appearance and location of the new lights?
  • Have you dealt adequately with individual concerns about light trespass?
  • Can you answer any worries about light pollution?
  • Have you allayed resident concerns about neighborhood stigmatization?
  • Have you dealt with the worries of nearby communities about displaced crime?
  • Have you briefed the local media about the need for improved lighting?
  • Have you dealt satisfactorily with public opposition?

Implementing the Plan

  • Has a municipal project coordinator been appointed?
  • Have you constructed a detailed timeline showing when each element of the improved lighting program will be started and completed?
  • Does this plan include both approvals and actions?
  • Are all parties informed about and in agreement with this timetable?

Assessing Effectiveness

  • Are you prepared—do you have the necessary data—to be able to compare neighborhood crime or disorder after the lighting has been improved?
  • Will the before and after time periods be directly comparable? For example, will you be able to control for time of year?
  • Will you be able to compare the proportions of crime committed by day and by night?
  • Will you be able to compare before and after crime trends in your neighborhood with those in nearby neighborhoods?
  • Will you examine possible displacement and diffusion?
  • Will you try to estimate the cost-effectiveness of the improved street lighting? 

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

Conclusions

It is clear that reductions in crime can be achieved by improvements in street lighting and that these reductions will be most worthwhile in high crime neighborhoods. It is also clear that improved lighting can reduce crime both in the day and at night. This suggests that improvements to lighting not only act as situational deterrent to crime, but can also improve local community cohesion and pride, which in turn increases the willingness of residents to intervene in crime or cooperate with the police. Improved lighting will also send a message to potential offenders that the neighborhood no longer offers easy opportunities for crime.

Unfortunately, the available research does not answer every question a police officer will confront in a project designed to improve lighting. There is still a considerable need for the exercise of professional judgment at all stages of such a project, but submissions for the Goldstein and Tilley awards include many success stories where police have worked together with communities and local officials to improve lighting.11 Altogether, it can be concluded that when used judiciously "improved street lighting has few negative effects and clear benefits for law-abiding citizens."12