This article explores whether public exterior lighting – and in particular LED lighting – is effective or not in tackling crime. There has been much research and investment into tackling crime and making sure neighbourhoods are safe, but the question is, can LED lighting improve the safety of your neighbourhood?
Case no. 1: How an LED lighting display transformed an unsafe seaside promenade into a spectacular attraction in Hastings
Bottle Alley is a 480 metre lower deck promenade that was built in the 1930’s by the Borough engineer Sidney Little, in Hastings on the South coast of England.
It received its name due to the multi-coloured glass bottles embedded in the concrete panels that run the length of the alley. The glass bottle display in the wall received plaudits for bringing a flourish of modernist / deco architecture to the area.
However, by the turn of the 21st century Bottle Alley had earned a bad reputation, the typical occupants being notorious for their anti-social behaviour and street drinking. The people of Hastings were nervous to take the poorly lit, potentially dangerous route.
Reclaiming Bottle Alley – how LED lighting improved safety in Hastings
In 2017, Hastings Borough Council decided to make Bottle Alley an attraction once again, and their tool of choice was an impressive LED lighting and sound display. The Council teamed up with LASER’s LED team to replace the dilapidated lighting system and reclaim Bottle Alley.
LASER supplied specialist colour-changing LED lighting that could be programmed to create different light displays and be synchronised to music to create light and sound extravaganzas. The existing fluorescent fittings were replaced with 500 metres of LED lighting.
On the 25th October 2017, Bottle Alley was launched to the public with a 30-minute light spectacle attended by local councillors, businesses and residents. It was rapturously received and Bottle Alley now regularly hosts 10-minute light shows from Saturday to Thursday, with an extended 30-minute show on Fridays.
LASER’s Energy Director and LED Development Manager, Joseph Stewart, stated that,
I’m proud that we have pulled together as a team to help support Hastings Borough Council deliver this part of their vision for the seafront regeneration.
The Lead Councillor for regeneration and culture for Hastings thanked LASER for their work, and remarked that the project had transformed Bottle Alley:
It is an absolutely magical walk along the beach that can be enjoyed all year round.
The LED lighting project was successful on two fronts: improving the safety of the area and bringing in revenue from increased tourism. The impact of the lighting is such that it’s now being studied by other towns as a cost-effective ‘intervention’ in problem urban areas.
For example, Doncaster Council unveiled a ‘Smartlight’ system, replacing existing street lamps with new LED lamps to help reduce crime and improve public safety.
The Smartlight system uses a computer management system to identify faults automatically, sometimes before the lights actually fail and arrange repairs accordingly. Additional benefits of the Smartlight system would be better quality lighting, a reduced carbon footprint and financial savings.
Case no. 2: LED Street lighting linked to combating crime and improving safety in New York City
The New York City Police Department worked in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice to organise a study. Run by the Crime Lab they designed a six-month randomised controlled trial that involved nearly 80 public housing developments, all with high crime levels.
Half of the developments received new, temporary street lights, whilst half did not. The study found that the developments who had received the new lights would experience significantly lower crime rates than those without the new lights.
Overall, the study found that the increased levels of lighting led to a 7% overall reduction in so called ‘index crime’ (index crime being a subset of serious offences including murder, robbery, aggravated assault and property crimes).
In particular at night there was a staggering 39% reduction in index crimes, demonstrating a drastic correlation.
Cost-benefit graphs showed the lighting upgrades will become cost-effective in six years time. Over 20 years time the additional lighting was seen to reduce the cost of crime and victimisation by $14 million per development.
Case no. 3: There may be no correlation between LED street lights and safety from crime
Research published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, based on 14 years of data from 62 local authorities across England and Wales, found there was no correlation between reduced lighting and increased crime or collisions.
The lead investigators from the reputable UCL actually advised for local authorities to spend less on street lighting, with spending cuts in mind.
Mike Riggs called this argument over street lights and safety “a seemingly endless debate”, pointing to evidence that street light only made members of the public feel safer and in fact enabled criminals to carry out crimes more easily (to see the contents of a parked car for instance).
These are three major case studies which seem to be conflicting….so all in all, there seems to be no clear-cut conclusions as to whether increased LED street brings safety to communities. However, what is your opinion – does improved LED street lighting actually lead to increased safety from crime?
Can Street Lighting reduce the number of Crimes – more studies:
- The effect of reduced street lighting on crime and road traffic injuries at night in England and Wales: a controlled interrupted time series analysis – a study here.
- Street Lights and Crime: A Seemingly Endless Debate – a study by CityLab in 2014.
- Does street lighting reduce crime? Yes. The review showed that improved street lighting had a positive effect in reducing crimes such as burglary and theft. It did not, however, reduce the incidence of violent crimes. Released by College of Policing in 2013.
- Lighting for Streets and the Built Environment – via the Crime Prevention Website.
- Evidence regarding the impact of the street lighting on crime and antisocial behaviour – study in August 2015 by CRG.
- What actually happens to crime ‘when the lights are on,’ as Rick Perry suggests – article via Washington Post.
- The effect of reduced street lighting on road casualties and crime in England and Wales: controlled interrupted time series analysis – a study via BMJ Journals.
- A 2000 evaluation of a Chicago project to “boost lighting levels in alleys across the city as a tool for public safety and fighting crime” found that, in fact, criminal offenses increased in more well-lit areas, relative to controls. Read the study here.
- Preventing Crime: what works, what doesn’t, and what’s promising (a report prepared for the National Institute of Justice, USA) – read it here.
- The influence of street lighting improvements on crime, fear and pedestrian street use, after dark – study via ScienceDirect.
- Streetlights Don’t Actually Prevent Crime – article via Gizmodo.
- 20% increase in crime after street light switch-offs – article via Better Retailing here.
- Switching off street lights at night does not increase car crashes and crime – a study in 2015 via UCL here.
- Improving Street Lighting to Reduce Crime in Residential Areas – study via, Center for Problem-Oriented Policing, here.