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In most people's minds, there is a simple and direct relationship between lighting and crime: better lighting will deter offenders who benefit from the cover of darkness. Improved lighting means that offenders are more likely to be seen by someone who might intervene, call the police, or recognize the offender. Even if this does not happen, some offenders who fear that it might would be deterred from crime.
However, things are rarely as simple as they first appear. Professor Ken Pease,2 a crime prevention expert, has explained how improved lighting can have a variety of different effects on crime. In particular, not only can it sometimes increase crime, but it can also affect not just nighttime crime, but daylight crime as well. You should familiarize yourself with all the possible effects he discusses, which are summarized in Box 1 and Box 2.
Box 1: How Improved Lighting Could REDUCE Crime (adapted from Pease 1999)
Box 2: How Improved Lighting Could INCREASE Crime (adapted from Pease1999)
Two theories underlie Professor Pease's ideas about the crime prevention effects of improved street lighting.
Described by Welsh and Farrington (2007) in a systematic review of the crime- prevention effects of improved lighting undertaken for the Swedish National Council for Crime Prevention.
Some of the effects identified by Pease are more plausible than others, but his lists can help you in two main ways: (1) they alert you to the fact that improved lighting might not always lead just to reductions in nighttime crime, but can sometimes have other results as well and (2) they alert you to possible arguments that might be used by the supporters and opponents of improved lighting.
Pease's hypotheses concern the different ways in which improved street lighting might affect the neighborhood where it is installed. But what about nearby neighborhoods? Might not criminals simply commit their crimes where the lighting is still poor? This phenomenon, known as spatial or geographical displacement, might seem an obvious result of improved lighting, but again, matters are not so simple, as is shown by the following.
For police officers, the main implication of this research is that although improved street lighting might displace crime into nearby neighborhoods, it is just as likely to reduce crime in these neighborhoods because of a diffusion of benefits.
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