Mapping and Spatial Design for Community Crime Prevention

Mapping and Spatial Design for Community Crime Prevention – Be inspired

In a nutshell

Community-based participatory mapping has been used by the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and partners to identify and analyse crime “hotspots”. The practice forms part of a number of strategies employed by communities to contain crime through environmental and spatial design. Using drawing, photography, mapping and discussions, the approach helps to evaluate places where crimes occur and plan responses for spaces identified as unsafe. 

What we do

South Africa’s particular spatial and socio-economic characteristics, as well as the country’s history of forced segregation, have resulted in a distinct relationship between crime and the physical environment. This places a complex set of demands on crime prevention initiatives that involve the planning and design of the environment. Situational and social crime prevention require commitment and an understanding of the complex dynamics that operate within society. It is also necessary to acknowledge that different types of crime have different causes and occur in different circumstances. 

In 2002, the National Crime Prevention Centre of the Department of Safety and Security initiated the production of the Making South Africa Safe manual to assist local authorities in designing their own crime prevention plans. As part of putting this manual and the strategies outlined into practice, the CSIR developed a community-based workshopping process to address spatial problems contributing to crime. By mapping and analysing problems and planning community-driven responses, the workshops sought to address crime concerns in the community. 

The workshop brings community residents, police, municipal officials, and politicians together to identify crime trouble spots, then strategise responses. It focuses on gaining a spatial understanding of the local area (neighbourhood) under discussion and of the role that physical location can play in enhancing or reducing opportunities for crime. Conceptual diagrams, drawings and maps are used throughout the process. 

How we do it

The conceptual base of the model is grounded in the understanding that people know best the places where they live. It is also based on the principles outlined in Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED), as outlined in the CSIR publication Designing Safer Places – A Manual for Crime Prevention through Planning and Design, which focuses on spatial aspects of crime prevention. The mapping process not only provides a perspective of local spatial dynamics through the eyes of the users, but can also help improve relations between local residents and traditional policing structures.

The mapping involves the following key steps:

Introducing crime prevention concepts
Workshop participants are introduced to the concept of crime prevention and, more particularly, crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED). Many of the resident community participants have never heard of crime prevention, therefore this introductory step outlines the three factors necessary for a crime to occur – a victim, an offender and a location.

Individual maps
Each participant draws a map of where they live and where they feel unsafe. By drawing these maps individually, participants have the opportunity to make a contribution and to express themselves. It also directs their thinking towards the physical environment within which they live and starts the process of thinking spatially.

Group maps
Splitting up into small groups, the participants then transpose their individual maps onto prepared large-scale maps of the neighbourhood, where the common hotspots are then identified. 

Site visits and photography
Participants then visit selected crime hotspots to photograph the problem area and discuss the particular problems related to each place, sharing different experiences based on age, gender etc. During the site visit to each place, the problems are articulated by the individual(s) who identified the place. The photos, when displayed later on during the workshop, offer a new perspective of hotspots and promote a different and more creative problem-solving session for that particular area.

The photos are reviewed and photo maps are created. Information about a particular problem spot is organised according to the crimes that occur there, the victims, the offenders and the characteristics of the place. Its spatial relationship to the surrounding environment is also considered. For example, how it acts as a link (or a barrier) between the houses and their surroundings; or the type of activity that it encourages, for instance illegal drinking in residential streets.

The problem places are prioritised according to certain criteria, such as the types of crime that occur there, whether these crimes constitute priority crimes, whether other role-players, such as the local authority, are required to alleviate the problem.

Developing responses
The three or four most critical problem areas are then selected and possible responses developed. These responses range from deciding to involve the community in cutting grass and cleaning up a dangerous open field to lobbying with the municipality to provide streetlights or demanding the closing of an illegal liquor outlet. The development of a possible intervention is a joint exercise for the whole group. It is important for everybody to realise that the solution is often more complex than just identifying someone (usually the police) to blame for not doing their job.

What we have achieved

The sessions lead the group to discover the power of knowledge sharing as they realise, once reflecting on the mapping by the various groups, that the same crime spots are identified. This empowers community members as it creates a sense of unified vigilance. Police officers and community members feel in control of the potential crime that could take place. Crime is no longer perceived to be illogical and unpredictable in communities that they all share and know well. The crime spots where criminal situations could occur are positively identified and targeted to be dealt with.

When crime is an everyday occurrence, people may fail to see the distinction between those crimes that can be prevented by a change in spatial dynamics and those crimes that they cannot prevent. An example that came up in one workshop was the case of a narrow alleyway linking a school and a tuck shop that, when unsupervised, was a hub for rapes and muggings. Once supervision was re-established, the crimes stopped.

Better information for police
The value of this community knowledge was illustrated in the Northern Cape province, where the crime mapping completed by the police identified fewer than 10 key locations. The subsequent community mapping revealed an additional 20 locations that police officers were either unaware of or had not given any importance to. Similarly, the information regarding the types of crime that took place and who the victims were was new to the police. This kind of information thus becomes a valuable resource for the police. 

What we have learned

Redefining power relations
Police officers often engage with community members in a one-sided way, leading the discussions and directing the conversation. Officers or government officials could, therefore, be inclined to direct the workshops in a didactic way. This requires the facilitator to be prepared for this possibility and to plan ways to tactfully ensure active and collaborative participation for all. It is important from the beginning to set this tone.

Negotiating community politics
Power relations within the community can be similarly threatened. As such, interactions are dependent on personalities. Community policing fora (CPFs) are the recognised communication and liaison structures between communities and the police. Without being confrontational, facilitators need to be able to sensitively manage those participants who aim to disrupt workshops, while encouraging open interaction and exchange amongst participants. Intervention by the facilitators may not be necessary as the workshops develop their own dynamic. Disruptive individuals’ influence tends to wane as they either become drawn into the activities by the energy of the other participants, or their constant complaints and negative comments are side-lined as the other members develop their maps and share their ideas.

Community and stakeholder participation
The success of the mapping process relies on active participation of all stakeholders: community, police, municipal representatives, etc. Community members may not be interested in attending, or may keep quiet as they do not understand how the process will ultimately benefit them. The police or government may also be reluctant to attend, as they feel they may be criticised by the public. This requires that the workshop process and objectives be clearly explained in the invitations and that a skilled facilitator be called in to ensure equal participation.

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