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Be A Good Neighbor: Turn On The Lights!

December 7, 2021

During the winter months, darkness falls much earlier than the rest of the year. There are some ways each and every one of us can help making the neighborhood better, and safer. It's simple, turn on the lights. It has long been theorized that turning on the lights may deter crime, especially burglaries. You can help light your property, and help light the neighborhood. It will also help first responders, such as the Fire Department and Police Department, find your address should you need help.

"In partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice, the New York City Police Department and the New York City Housing Authority, Crime Lab designed a randomized controlled trial involving nearly 40 public housing developments, all of which had elevated levels of crime, and half of which received new lights and half did not

The lights study found that the developments that received new lights experienced crime rates that were significantly lower than would have been the case without the new lights. Among other findings, the study concluded that increased levels of lighting led to a 36% reduction in "index crimes" — a subset of serious felony crimes that includes murder, robbery and aggravated assault, as well as certain property crimes — that took place outdoors at night in developments that received new lighting, with an overall 4% percent reduction in index crimes."


In Darkness

  1. Improved lighting deters potential offenders by increasing the risk that they will be seen or recognized when committing crimes.

  2. Police become more visible, thus leading to a decision to desist from crime.

  3. If improved lighting leads to the arrest and imprisonment of repeat offenders they can no longer commit crimes in the area.

  4. New lighting can encourage residents to spend more time on their stoops or in their front yards in the evenings and thus increase informal surveillance.

  5. Improved lighting can encourage more people to walk at night, which would increase informal surveillance.

In Daylight

  1. New lighting shows that city government and the police are determined to control crime. As a result, potential offenders might no longer see the neighborhood as affording easy pickings. In additions, citizens might be motivated to pass on information about offenders.

  2. Better lighting can increase community pride and cohesiveness, leading to a greater willingness to intervene in crime and to report it.

  3. If offenders commit crime in both light and darkness, nighttime arrests and subsequent imprisonment would reduce both daytime and nighttime crime.

Box 2: How Improved Lighting Could INCREASE Crime (adapted from Pease1999) In Darkness

  1. Increased social activity outside the home in the evenings can increase the number of unoccupied homes available for burglary.

  2. Increased visibility of potential victims allows better assessment of their vulnerability and the value of what they carry. Offenders might more easily be able to see if parked cars contain valuable items.

  3. Increased visibility allows better judgment of the proximity of "capable guardians" who might intervene in crime.

  4. Better lighting might facilitate activities like drug dealing and prostitution.

  5. Better lit streets might attract disorderly youths from nearby areas.

  6. Improved lighting of rarely used footpaths might facilitate undesirable behavior.

In Daylight

  1. Disorderly activities focused upon a newly illuminated area can spill over into the use of that place as a daylight meeting point.

Two theories underlie Professor Pease's ideas about the crime prevention effects of improved street lighting.

  1. Street lighting is a situational crime prevention measure that focuses on reducing opportunity and increasing risk through modification of the physical environment.

  2. Street lighting strengthens informal social control and community cohesion through the promotion of social interaction and investment in neighborhood infrastructure.

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