Shining a light on tested ways to help reduce violent crime

Research suggests robbery and sexual offences could be up to three times less likely to occur in public spaces with street lighting than in areas with CCTV.

Thursday, 13th May 2021, 10:15 am
Green and safe parks-Libby Shaw

Researchers from the University of Strathclyde say a study based in Glasgow found that upgrading street lighting is not only cheaper than the average cost of installing CCTV, but that improved lighting is better at preventing violent crime.

This research indicates calls to light up Sheffield’s green spaces will lead to a safer city, and given violent offences account for almost three quarters of the total costs of individual crime, could have a large impact on communities.

Professor Steve Fotios, who heads the Lighting Research Group in the University of Sheffield’s School of Architecture, said previous research has shown a reduction in crime after the installation of lighting.

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Dr Jim Uttley

Many factors need to be considered when looking at the data such as sometimes this positive impact is also seen during the day; the change is seen after lighting is installed but not only when lighting is on.

He explained some of these results might be caused by community pride. “If your local authority comes around and does a lot of work, you might think wow this is a good area because the council is spending money here.

“Then more people might come out of their houses because they have that perception of being in a better area, then there’s more people on the streets and better natural surveillance,” he said.

If the council is to invest in lighting to make people feel safer, the big question to ask is: will it work? The answer from experts is a resounding yes.

Crookes Valley park (half 4 november)

“There’s a really strong emerging body of evidence to show a good relationship between lighting and feelings of safety,” said researcher Dr Jim Uttley, who is part of the Lighting Research Group at the University of Sheffield’s School of Architecture.

“Making sure we’ve got spaces and environments that feel accessible and equitable to all parts of society is essential for any sort of functioning society," he added

While the relationship between actual safety and lighting can be difficult to measure Dr Uttley says it’s the connection between lighting and the feeling of safety that is significant.

“We want to reduce crime rates, obviously that’s a given, but in some ways, the effect that lighting has on people’s perceived safety is almost more important because it’s that perception of safety that is going to influence people’s behaviour.”

Dr Steve Fotios

Helping residents feel safer will mean more people can take advantage of Sheffield’s green spaces and enjoy their time outdoors.

Dr Uttley said: “Women feel less safe generally than men do at night, and the effects of night-time lighting can have a bigger positive effect for women. It’s also the same for older people.”

Nonetheless, he said lighting would improve the feeling of safety for all genders.

Dr Uttley said: “You should design to be inclusive and that definitely applies to lighting. It’s not always the council’s fault because there are lighting standards in place that councils will follow in terms of saying this is how much light should be provided and these are the areas that should have light.

“With these guidelines, often the evidence behind them is not well established, so that’s what we’re doing with our research group, trying to establish that evidence a bit better.”

Dr Uttley said research can help councils install lighting in the right way, to ensure people feel safer while mitigating any potential negative consequences.

He explained: “There’s a limit to the effect lighting can have. Go beyond a certain illuminance, or perception of brightness, it no longer has that beneficial effect. You might be wasting energy and there are some negative effects to night-time lighting too, in terms of ecology. It’s about finding that balance.”

Dr Uttley added that footfall can also be increased if people feel safer. “It’s the perception of safety that is going to influence people’s behaviour,” he said.

He believes improving residents’ feelings of safety through better lighting can help create real change.

Activists calling on the council to improve Sheffield’s lighting say they want to see solutions designed specifically with women in mind.

Our Bodies Our Streets, the campaign group who launched the petition for more lighting in Sheffield’s parks, has announced they do not want to see floodlights installed.

Last month, Evie Hairsine, the group’s founder, updated their online petition: “Thoughtless flood lighting and defensive CCTV is not the solution; in fact these can amplify issues of safety.”

A study from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, found women feel most safe in places with consistent and layered lighting.

Research conducted by engineering company ARUP found the colour of lighting is significant, with young women regarding places with warmer colour temperatures as safer.

An OBOS spokesperson added: “This is a relatively easy change for local councils to implement to help women feel safe in urban spaces.

“And they could actually save money on unnecessary floodlights by replacing them with warmer toned, more energy saving methods where we need them.”