Police response to DCC’s part-night street lighting proposals

Local councillors in Exeter have just been made aware of this 2011 report from Devon & Cornwall Police on DCC’s plans to reduce street lighting in Exeter.

Street Lighting – Exeter
Police Response to Devon County Council Plans to Reduce Street Lighting in Exeter

Devon County Council is entering the second year of a three to five year programme to introduce part night lighting in residential areas across Devon. Main A and B roads will remain lit and the city centre areas will be subject to more detailed consideration. There are exception criteria for the County Councils part-night lighting policy to which the police will respond.

Extensive research into crime and the effects of lighting on the fear of crime is not possible due to the limited amount of time given to respond to the proposals, however, it has been possible to look at peak times for offending throughout the city area.

All figures are historic and have been gathered when street lights have been switched on as there has not been a time when Exeter has experienced part night lighting. It is therefore not possible to say if offences will increase or decrease after a proposed switch off of street lights.

Devon and Cornwall Area

 It is understood that Exeter will be the first city to undergo part night lighting so there is no evidence from other areas to show that crime increases or decreases when lights are switched off.

The Police have already been involved in the part night lighting policy in Cornwall and have worked with the council to reach an agreement where the police can request the street lights are turned back on in the event of an incident. The following link has further information:

http://www.thisiswesternmorningnews.co.uk/news/Police-powers-control-street-lights/article-1422557-detail/article.html

Observations

The ability of the Police to respond to offences, conduct area searches, identify victims, offenders and crime scenes will be hindered if there is no street lighting to assist.

The use of natural and informal surveillance is a recognised and approved crime reduction principle, relying on members of the public to notice offences and report what they have seen to the authorities. Poor street lighting may in fact limit this natural surveillance resulting in inaccurate identification. Removing street lighting all together will virtually cease all natural surveillance during the hours of darkness where private light sources are not available.

An analysis of research carried out into the effects of lighting on crime are varied with some reporting reductions in crime when lighting is reduced and others the exact opposite. An aspect which is more difficult to analyse is the effect on the fear of crime which can be as damaging to a person’s quality of life as crime itself. A reduction in street lighting may result in more residents using their vehicles as they are too afraid to use unlit streets ultimately resulting in an increase in CO2 emissions.

Home Office Research

Home Office Research Study 251 (August 2002):
“There are two main theories of why improved street lighting may cause a reduction in crime. The first suggests that improved lighting leads to increased surveillance of potential offenders (both by improving visibility and by increasing the number of people on the street) and hence to the deterrence of potential offenders.

The second suggests that improved lighting signals increased community investment in the area and that the area is improving, leading to increased community pride, community cohesiveness and informal social control. The first theory predicts decreases in crime especially during the hours of darkness, while the second theory predicts decreases in crime during both day time and night time.

The report concluded that improved street lighting should be included as one element of a situational crime reduction programme. It is an inclusive intervention benefiting the whole of a neighbourhood and leads to an increase in perceived public safety. Improved street lighting is associated with greater use of public space and neighbourhood streets by law abiding citizens. Especially if well targeted to a high crime area, improved street lighting can be a feasible, inexpensive and effective method of reducing crime.”

Licensed Premises

A breakdown of licensing times shows that the top ten busiest licensed premises in Exeter have licensing times outside of the planned switch off times. These licensing times have been issued by Exeter City Council.

Concern for the safety of pub and club users is paramount especially as many will be leaving the premises intoxicated making them more vulnerable. The peak times for robbery, violence and sexual assault occur during the early hours of the morning.

The following was noted:

  • On Friday and Saturday nights the majority of the licensed premises assessed can remain open until 0230 with over half (6) having a license until after 0300 hours.
  • This would suggest that switching the lights off at 0030 will be too early especially at the weekend when the nightlife in the city centre is generally busier. Although lights will be left on within the city centre there is concern for those people travelling home, especially those who choose to walk.
  • For the duration of the whole week over half the premises studied have licenses until after 0100.

It is proposed that any lighting switch off is not considered prior to 0200 hours in the residential streets closest to the city centre and in particular those areas with higher student numbers.

The switching off of street lamps outside of the city centre will have a detrimental effect on the perceived safety of vulnerable groups of people walking home from a night out. It is feared that Devon County Council’s plans will put increasingly high numbers of people at risk.

Walk Home Routes 

The main crime types of concern are those associated with persons walking home from the licensed premises in the city centre to their homes on the outskirts of the city; namely sexual offences, violence and robbery. Crime data shows that the top wards affected are, City Centre and St Davids, Newtown and St Leonards, Priory, St James and Heavitree.

Crime data outside of the city centre beat code is relatively even making it difficult to extract beat locations with an increased crime problem. It is therefore suggested that all beat locations will have recognised walk-home routes leading to and from the city centre locations and main transport hubs.

These walk home routes should be adopted as part of a transport plan by Devon County Council. In addition to being lit through the hours of darkness they should also be maintained to incorporate a series of crime reduction measures to reduce crime occurring. Consultation with the Police Architectural and Crime Prevention Officers should be sought.

Devon County Council’s transport plan shows a commitment to increasing the use of walking as an alternative mode of transport. It is possible that the increase in fear of crime will prevent persons from walking and car usage will increase. This will be especially relevant during the hours of darkness for commuters, not just the late night economy.

Walking –

Over 18% of people walk to work in Exeter which is considerably higher than the national average of just over 10%. Over 50% of children walk to school. It is important to ensure that the numbers are not only maintained but also increased atthe expense of car passengers and in this respect pedestrian safety on the highwayand encouragement through school and employer travel plans are crucial.

Population and Crime

The following population figures have been gathered from the census information, with crime information collected from the Devon and Cornwall Police My Neighbourhood section on the website as well as the research carried out into crime patterns over the past three years.

The ward of St Thomas and Cowick has the highest population amongst the Exeter sectors (11 900). Underage drinking continues to be a problem within the St Thomas Pleasure Ground and Cowick Barton Playing fields and a Section 30 Dispersal Order is in place to help control this problem. Crime in the area is average.

Heavitree and Polsloe (11600) also have a high population and suffers with above average vehicle crime. Newtown and St Leonards (9700) share an above average vehicle crime problem with Heavitree. This could be due to the style of home in these locations where off road or garage parking is limited with the majority of vehicles being parked on the streets. This leaves them more vulnerable to theft and criminal damage especially if cars are parked on roads used as routes home from the city centre.

Duryard and Pennsylvania (10300) have low levels of crime with a high population. Pennsylvania Road is considered a key route home from the city centre for a large number of students.

Priory with an approximate population of 9400 has a higher risk of burglary. This is the highest of all the wards. The policing area of Wonford is currently subject of a Section 30 Dispersal Order to help reduce incidents of anti social behaviour until 16 January 2011. Problems seem to escalate in the area around Halloween and Bonfire Night and retaining the street lighting during this period would be of great assistance to the police and other organisations in their attempts to reduce anti social behaviour thereby improving the quality of life for local residents.

Crime in Exwick (9000), Alphington (8500), Whipton Barton (7900), Pinhoe (6100), Mincinglake (5700), Countess Wear and Topsham (5 000) is average.

St James ward has a large student population and issues surrounding student behaviour have been raised through the PACT (Partners and Communities Together) meetings by local residents. Late night anti social behaviour is of concern in Well Street, Oxford Road, St James Road, South View Terrace and Powderham Crescent where criminal damage and noise have been reported between the hours of 2200-0500. In addition to this the issue of street drinkers has been raised as a cause for concern and an increase in the fear of crime in York Road, Well Street and Queens Crescent. These areas may be prime candidates to retain current street lighting levels due to reported problems. 

St Loyes and St Davids have similar population levels (4 800). While crime is average in St Loyes there is an above average occurrence of vehicle crime. This issue has been raised as a PACT priority across Broadfields with problems surrounding overnight vehicle crime and burglary. Anti social behaviour, rowdiness and drunken behaviour have been raised as a problem in Woodwater Lane as this is used as a through road overnight.  St Davids experiences above average levels of burglary and anti social behaviour.

Although it is difficult to prove that a reduction in lighting will increase crime as the above problems have all occurred when street lighting has been left on throughout the night, it is perfectly understandable in areas where crime is a problem that the fear of crime is raised.

Marsh Barton and Sowton Industrial Estates

Commercial sections of the city should be made an exception to the part night lighting policy. Many of the businesses have invested time and money into security to protect their assets, relying on adequate lighting to increase surveillance, including capturing offenders on CCTV.

Marsh Barton has over 500 businesses ranging from vehicle showrooms to builders merchants, plant and tool hire to retail outlets. These types of business are desirable for burglars due to the value of the goods.

Acquisitive crime has been raised as a problem on Sowton Industrial Estate through the PACT process. Issues have included overnight thefts of diesel, metal and plant. Targeted operations have been conducted to reduce crime rates

Recommendations

  • Walk home routes from the city centre are identified, promoted and left lit. These should be identified in conjunction with the local policing teams and Exeter University and promoted by Devon County Council.
  • Areas of high crime where police operations and activities are undertaken to reduce crime should remain lit and advice sought from the local policing team. This would include those areas subject to Section 30 Dispersal Orders.
  • Street lighting around the city centre to remain on until 0200 on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.
  • Any areas where fear of crime is highlighted through the PACT process should be left lit.
  • Clearer information is required regarding how the lights are going to be switched off – will they simply go out, leaving people in pools of darkness or will there be a gradual dimming? The creation of pools of light followed by dark shadows is contrary to all crime reduction advice. The evenness of light distribution is as important as the level of illumination (Secured by Design New Homes 2010).
  • Policy to be agreed where the street lights can be turned on in the event of a serious incident.
  • If evidence suggests that crime increases following the implementation of the part night lighting, street lighting is returned.

I have had a comment from Inspector Pezzani with regard to this report:
The simple answer is we do not have sufficient data to make a comprehensive assessment.  It would seem that the current thought is that the darkness increases the fear of crime, but does not seem to have an effect on the actual statistics.  

“Anti-Social Behaviour may well be affected with youngsters less likely to hang around an area with little lighting.  However, this does not prevent people fearing the effects.

“Overall I think the report’s conclusions stand true.  It would seem logical to me to closely monitor the new system, reviewing the effects in a set period factoring in winter/summer variations.  Any changes to criminal behaviour can be assessed and responded to accordingly.

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