Every problem-oriented policing project is unique, and you should adapt this guide to address the specific problems your park poses. You should answer questions about its design and maintenance, as well as the "who," "what," "when," "where," "why," and "how" regarding its current use.
Understanding the park's physical design and layout as a whole helps to identify its risk and protective factors. For larger parks, there are maps and aerial photos, but it is usually necessary to walk around the area, looking at it from potential users' and abusers' perspectives. It is important to understand people's reactions. There is no good substitute for literally being in the park. "Walking the beat" is how police officers get to know their local community; the same applies to parks.
In doing so, it is necessary to ask a series of "what if I was" questions to explore the park's potential impact on diversity issues such as gender, culture, age, race, etc. As an example, a male police officer may need to consider how a female or older person might perceive the park both during the day and at night. Different users have different opinions about the park and its appropriate use. Identifying these differences is critical to finding and involving natural guardians from the local community. It is important to talk with offenders, victims, users, and local nonusers to determine what the park means to them.
You should audit the park's crime-prevention-through-environmental–design (CPTED)† features to identify those factors that increase the probability of crime and disorder. These can be static (such as the geographic location, or offenders' age and sex) or dynamic (such as the maintenance quality or the offenders' attitudes). The audit can help to identify the factors you can change, as well as those that you should protect. The factors that can promote crime include those below.
† Some useful guides include Edmonton, Canada's Design Guide for a Safer City (1995) and its Safety Audit Guide for Crime Prevention (2000); The City of Nottingham's Design Guide for Community Safety in Residential Areas (1998); and material from the city of Toronto, available from the Project for Public Spaces. Also see Wekerle and Whitzman (1995).
Clear sight lines are important as they let people see, without interference, what lies ahead.
Movement predictors are those lanes, paths, or tracks that follow a predictable pattern. People can easily be trapped on movement predictors if there aren't clearly visible escape routes.
Entrapments are spaces usually concealed from view that offenders can use to hide, trap unwary people, and/or conceal crimes.
Activity generators are features that tend to create (or generate) activity. The activity may be positive or have negative consequences if it is inappropriate or a nuisance to others.
People often decide to go to the more "wild" areas of the park to be alone with nature, seeing only trees and shrubs and hearing only birds chirping. But isolation and reduced visibility also increase the risk of crime.
In Safe Cities: Guidelines for Planning, Design, and Management,, Wekele and Whitzman (1995) argued that planners should site activity areas near park perimeters, to enhance street surveillance. An active edge encourages use and creates a park surveillance perimeter. Instead of creating an active edge, planners often site major park activity nodes in the park's interior, not visible from the outside, and thus with little natural surveillance from the street.
There are more aspects to isolation that you should investigate while walking through the park:
In formulating interventions, police and park staff need detailed information about who is and isn't using the park. The ability to give a number rather than saying "some" or "many" is critical for program design. If possible, you should gather the information in active collaboration with the park management and other interested stakeholders.
You should obtain the information through interviews, focus groups, or surveys. You should also try to include offenders in the interviews.16 Since the park is a public space intended to be accessible to all, identified offenders should always be welcome back if they are going to behave appropriately and be considerate of others. In one park CABE studied, by involving youths in the park's redesign and renovation, they committed less vandalism, they contained (legal) graffiti to designated areas, and less conflict occurred between them and the older users, since each group now had its own distinct activity area.17
In conducting an on-site survey of park users,†† here are some key points to remember:
(1) A survey should take only 10 to 12 minutes, at the most. Pretest the survey to be sure it works within this time frame. At first, the interviewers may take 15 minutes to finish administering the survey, but after several days, they should take only 10 to 12 minutes. If not, then revise the survey.
(2) Begin with demographics.
Interviewers may be tempted to fill in many demographic points, such as age, race, and disability, but for accurate record keeping, they should ask respondents to provide this information. They will need to ask respondents where they live.
(3) Each survey should contain only a few questions related to a key theme.
Typical safety questions include the following:
(4) Do exit rather than entrance surveys.
As they leave, people may be willing to reflect on what they did, and you can ascertain both what they were planning when they came to the park, and then their feedback about what they actually did. Ask them where they went, and have them point out the locations on a precoded map.
(5) Ask everyone what they did at least three times to determine the full array of their activities.
When interviewees tell you what they did, ask, "What else did you do?" Be sure to probe, especially so you hear about so-called passive uses. To "I played ball," ask, "What else did you do?" and you might hear, "Well, I took a walk."
(6) Look at local versus regional use.
People who live near a park use it the most. They are used to the park, and have a sense of which areas are safe and how to handle themselves. So when they hear that a bad incident happened in the park, they tend to think of it as unusual rather than routine, and they keep going there. People who live farther away aren't as familiar with the park, and vote with their feet by not going there after its safety is put into question.
(7) Consider asking people how they find out about park activities. From fliers? From posters? From the media?
The responses will help you gear your communication strategies to the appropriate audience(s).
†† See guides such as Conducting Community Surveys: A Practical Guide for Law Enforcement Agencies (Weisel 1999), or Surveying Communities: A Resource for Community Justice Planners (Paik 1995) for suggestions.
About 35 percent of the interviewees in a 1995 New York City Central Park survey had such deep, positive feelings about the park that they said they were willing to volunteer for it, and gave the interviewer their name, address, and phone number.18 Such motivated people will become the core of the community involvement necessary for long-term park safety.
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