Municipalities urged to consider crime prevention principles when designing outdoor parks and facili
By Mike Jiggens
MUNICIPALITIES looking to construct new parks or outdoor recreational
spaces are best advised to adopt the principle of Crime Prevention
Through Environmental Design (CPTED) during the planning process to
avoid unexpected costs and to ensure such efforts adhere to the highest
possible standards of safety for everyone.
That was the message to the Sports Turf Association on Sept. 22 from Const. Carla Draper, media relations officer from the Halton Regional Police Service, during the association’s 24th annual field day in Oakville, Ont.
At one time, the potential for crime to occur in a newly-designed park was often overlooked during its planning stages. Often, well-intentioned landscaping features could inadvertently play into the hands of non-law-abiding youth who might use the features to their advantage in concealing drug use, alcohol consumption, or acts of violence and vandalism.
“I think nowadays it is on their (municipal planners’) minds,” she said.
Serving the Town of Oakville, Draper said she is consulted by municipal officials whenever new outdoor facilities are planned to ensure they are safe for the public to use and that the potential for criminal activity in the area can be prevented.
The intent during the planning stages is to let people feel safe when they are using a new park to walk or jog, walk their dogs or let their children play there. Draper said that when she’s called in during the planning process, common sense has to prevail.
“When the public are around it, what are they actually looking at?”
The demographics of what is there needs to be considered, she said, including homes, apartments, schools, churches and other recreational facilities.
“Then it has to be designed in a way that assists it to be a safe place.”
Its landscaping, including the planting of trees and shrubs, is a vital consideration, Draper said.
Neighbouring residents may not like to see a new basketball court constructed close to their property, prompting the facility’s designers to block its sight by planting evergreen trees as a buffer.
“But we as police, from a crime prevention point of view, and the Town of Oakville, which I work closely with, will look at those trees, and the first thing we’re going to do is start chopping off limbs from the bottom up because we want to see what’s going on on that basketball court or tennis court,” she said. “For us, natural surveillance is key. We want to know what’s going on.”
If a problem youth issue is occurring, the police rely on the eyes and ears of the neighbourhood to keep police informed of any wrongdoing.
“We get phone calls all the time that youth are arriving at the park at 10 o’clock at night and they have a case of beer and they’re up to no good,” Draper said, adding if the public didn’t inform police of such activity, other problems could occur later on which may be alcohol or drug-induced, such as vandalism, graffiti, fights or stumbling home intoxicated and getting into an accident.
“We as police really rely on the public with natural surveillance.”
Landscaping done with crime prevention in mind is a significant asset for the police, Draper said.
If a municipality has had issues in their parks, open spaces and other properties which may include acts of vandalism or youth congregating for the purpose of drinking, using drugs or being offensive, the police will be called to conduct a site check.
“I’ll walk around and look for evidence—broken glass, cigarette butts, joints or any anti-social behaviours the youth may have—and then work together and brainstorm. That is vital to our community in how we can make our place the safest place possible.”
Draper is often asked if she would recommend lighting to be implemented in parks to enhance safety after dark. Although there are several pros and cons associated with lighting, much depends on the specific circumstances, she said. Lighting may be beneficial to those walking their dogs after dark, allowing them to better see where they are going, and makes it more difficult for youth to hide if they wish to get involved in illegal activities, but lighting could also prove to be a nuisance for neighbouring residents who don’t wish to have bright lights shining into their windows late at night.
“But we have to look at the bigger picture, and that’s always going to be safety. I may recommend lighting in certain areas.”
Yet Draper recently incorporated CPTED as it relates to lighting into a suggestion to convert an underused tennis court in Oakville into a basketball court. During her research into the facility, which included two other tennis courts, she learned there were only two situations reported over the past five years that involved any anti-social behaviour at the site.
She conducted a walk-around at the site, discovering no evidence to suggest any youth trouble in the area. The fact that 37 homes in the immediate area had portable basketball nets in their driveways confirmed it was adviseable to convert one of the tennis courts for basketball play.
“I suggested not to have lighting,” she said, noting there is specific signage at the site which prohibits youth from using the premises after dusk, in accordance with a local bylaw.
By agreeing to light the court, Draper said it would send a false message to youth who might think it is OKâ€ˆto play during evening hours, thereby contravening the bylaw.
It was also recommended the surrounding dense shrubbery be cut back significantly to promote natural surveillance, even though it had served as an ideal sound barrier.
Draper said she has also been asked about the effectiveness of installing video surveillance cameras. Cost is an important issue to consider, she said, but also signage must be erected to legally inform people they are being recorded, and someone must be assigned to regularly monitor the recordings.
“Once you put a camera up, it gives people a false sense of security.”
As an example, Draper said a female jogger might wish to jog after dark, feeling safer about doing so if cameras are mounted in the area. But if they are not monitored and there is no immediate response to a wrongdoing, a camera’s intended purpose is defeated. Additionally, cameras are often unable to pick up a clear facial image of an offender, especially after dark, requiring greater expense for added lighting and better mounting. Youth who commit acts of vandalism, knowing there are cameras in the area, will usually look away from a camera or conceal their faces with hoods or hats.
“Cameras are always an iffy thing,” Draper said.
CPTED principles were not used in Burlington, where Draper lives, during the design and construction of the city’s new downtown arts centre. She said expensive marble benches at the site, which were intended to accentuate the building, have become a sought-after skateboarding apparatus for youth.
Draper said signage stating “no trespassing” is important for keeping youth out of parks after dusk.
“Help us help you and make our job easier by putting that signage up.”
Draper told her audience of sports turf managers and other municipal officials that it is important they protect their own residential properties against break-ins by installing motion-sensor lighting and alarm systems. Careful landscaping considerations, such as ensuring tall hedges or dense tree cover doesn’t inhibit natural surveillance, will also go a long way toward safeguarding a home against criminal activity.
Draper was joined on stage by Const. Mike Burton of the Oakville criminal investigation bureau, who spoke about crimes involving graffiti. He said only two per cent of graffiti cases are gang-related, but it’s something the police take seriously.
The expense of removing graffiti is astronomical, costing upwards of $60,000 to remove the unwanted “artwork” from a single train car.