We have some scary crime rate statistics – Malaysia’s capital city recorded a 57% annual increase in snatch thefts and unarmed robbery cases in 2017. Our expert says lighting can help combat crime, when incorporated properly.
Kuala Lumpur’s police chief, Datuk Mazlan Lazim recently reported that a total of 1,010 cases have been recorded in 2017, compared to 640 cases for the same period last year. He mentioned that the authorities are working towards executing various initiatives in response to the burgeoning crime, including strategic partnerships and creating a special task force.
While we laud our local boys in blue’s efforts, preventing crime cannot be a job solely for the police. Instead, crime prevention is also the responsibility of other stakeholders, particularly town planners, architects, business owners and developers. And they can use Crime prevention through environmental design (CPTED) to do it, says Shamir Rajadurai, Crime Safety Specialist.
CPTED is the act of specifically altering the physical design of residential, public spaces and community areas to include safety features that deter criminal activity. These ‘manipulated’ features not only reduce the opportunity for the occurrence of crime but also reduce the public’s fear of crime.
Lighting provides for natural surveillance
One such design change is natural surveillance, which is achieved through design and maintenance that increases the visibility of potential criminals to public users in a certain space. Good lighting is a major contributor to robust natural surveillance. When used properly, light provides the following benefits:
- Improves visibility – Allows for easy identification of suspicious activity or perpetrators, thus deterring criminals. This will allow users to be able to escape /see where they are running in case of any incidents and also allow the community to call the police if they notice any suspicious characters.
- Encourages increased street usage, thus intensifying natural surveillance – This kills 2 birds with one stone as good lighting reduces perceived risks of crime among pedestrians by creating a sense of security and confidence in using the space while the increased foot traffic discourages criminals from making their move.
- Psychological deterrent – An area that is well-lit gives the impression that is well-taken care off and is being closely monitored at all times. Hence, the area will appear daunting to potential offenders.
- Improves community’s confidence – A well-lit area during night-time provides for a good public perception. A bright space is always safer than a dark one. Also, the community will perceive that the local authorities are vested in improving/maintaining resident’s well-being and the area’s livability/walkability.
DO YOU KNOW?
The Netherlands has one of the most comprehensive approaches to embedding CPTED within the development planning process; the Dutch Government introduced the Police Label Secure Housing scheme in 2004. All new-built homes in the country have to comply with specific security regulations for doors and windows and planning permission could only be obtained if the development application met the legal requirements for in-built security. The risk of dwellings being burgled has dropped significantly – by 95% in new estates and 80% in existing environments. 
Lighting can be a double-edged sword
Increased lighting is beneficial as but too much lighting can actually have the opposite effect as it creates a glare. This can not only be blinding, it also makes it more difficult for our eyes to adjust to low-light conditions. Hence, it is important to consider the brightness with which a path is illuminated. Lighting should be bright enough to provide direction but not too bright that it creates difficulty to look into darker areas, hence gifting criminals a space to lurk and wait to pounce on their victims. It is also wholly important to not overdo it as excessive or redundant lighting will only ‘spotlight’ passengers waiting alone at night.
Here’s how you can do it right
1) Lighting mounted on buildings can help enhance the visual of an area at night but it is important to place it away from private space windows so that it does not give a visual of the private space, for example, a bedroom.
2) Lighting is not desirable in an isolated area or for a path leading to some obscure places. Lighting such areas may provide a false sense of confidence for people during night time use, the paths or spaces not intended for night time use could be fenced off and remained unlit to avoid giving a false sense of security or impression of being used.
3) Street lighting should be designed with landscaping in mind to ensure that does not get blocked out by trees or objects that create shadows. Lightings should be away or below trees, as shown below:
Tip for Developers: Use LED lights instead of the standard orange lights for street lamps, as the latter results in the creation of dark spots.
Lighting and by large, natural surveillance is just a part of CTPED. Incorporating other principles of CPTED such as Physical security and Movement control at the initial stage of project planning and building design is a sound investment. The returns brought forth by CPTED in the long run far outweighs its implementation costs. Apart from delivering long-term social and economic benefits to the community and at a macro level the country; its early execution reduces additional costs of corrective work down the road. This non-productive use of time and resources could be allocated for other value-adding projects for the betterment of the community.
 Jongejan, A & Woldendorp, T (2013). A Successful CPTED Approach: The Dutch ‘Police Label Secure Housing’.
 Colquhoun, I. (2004). Design out crime: Creating safe and sustainable communities.(pp189) Routledge.