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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

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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

  • temporary street closures during demonstrations, festivals, and sporting events;
  • street closures as part of a traffic-calming scheme, or to reduce cruising (which falls under traffic calming);
  • securing apartment complexes (whether public or private) with fences and gates;
  • securing facilities such as parking lots or shopping malls by entrance closures or fence installation;
  • crime-inhibiting street layouts in new residential neighborhoods (this is best considered at the planning and design stage of new developments, not in response to current crime problems); and
  • so-called "gated communities," small residential developments for middle-class or wealthy residents; in this country, these enclaves are usually designed as such from the beginning, not subsequently created out of previously public streets.‡

‡ 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).

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