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Landscape Illumination Aids Crime Prevention
by Dr. Oneida Cramer
Holiday decorations that light up the landscape provide homeowners with some residual crime prevention. By attracting the attention of people passing in the street, holiday lighting increases the risk for would-be offenders to be seen in the act of committing a crime. In essence, the home becomes more visible because people like to look at the decorations, and high visibility is thought to reduce the potential for crime.
Such reasoning is a part of Crime Prevention Through Experimental Design (CPTED), a free program provided on request by the Dallas Police Department. CPTED is the theory that if you build a structure that implements certain crime prevention safety designs, you can actually minimize crime before it happens verses having to change the structure, hire police, or hire security once a crime has already taken place, according to Crime Prevention Specialist, D. Goodman (214-671-0499). The rationale is to build an environment that increases the perception of safety for the user and risk for a would-be offender.
?The lighting that you put in is important,? Goodman said. ?But it?s also if you use natural surveillance. By natural surveillance, I mean someone driving down the street, people walking, heavy traffic areas where people might see it.? Well-lit areas up the risk to the suspect, the so-called abnormal user, and minimize the risk of being burglarized or assaulted.
?By the same token, our aesthetic lights do the same thing as the Christmas lights because it?s very important to have the presence of people living there (in the home),? said John Watson of John Watson Landscape Illumination. ?We have all kinds of security lights. We have, what I refer to as our aesthetic lights (mercury vapor lamps). We have a pure aesthetics that is controllable by switches. Then we have security aesthetic lights?pure aesthetics that are?automatic.? In 50 years of business, Watson has found that such a regime of lighting, for the most part, acts to foil the potential burglar who sees basically ?pretty lights? every night. Each home receives a program of lighting tailored to the landscaping, street, and special needs of the homeowner. For high profile individuals, Watson Landscaping designs massive security systems using instantaneous Quartz lights.
?For instance, the Governor?s mansion, we did that,? Watson said. ?During the Clements era, when thy were trying to get money to redo the governor?s mansion, my wife and I decided to donate the lighting for the grounds and part of it was this 10,000 watts of security lights.?
Most homes require security lighting of less intensity. Floodlights with control switches in the bedroom can light up instantaneously and supplement the all-night mercury vapor lamps, which are gas-discharged lamps that take 3-minutes to warm up, according to Watson. Highly recommended are motion detector lamps, which are triggered, for instance, when a person goes around to the garage and tries to get in the garage or the door in the back of the house. Besides deterring an intruder, motion detector lights assist the homeowner when coming and going at night. So, use motion detector lamps in lieu of lights that you would turn on while you?re away. Such a practice is not recommended because that lighting announces that you?re not at home.
An analysis of one week?s recent area burglaries revealed that out of 22 total burglaries, 13 could have occurred during the night hours. All the locations were vacant at the time of the incidents, and four break-ins were on new construction or remodeling projects, which resulted in the loss of built-in home products. So, there is need for security.
Suppose you?re out of town over the holidays or you?ve moved out while the home is being remodeled, you should try to maintain some consistency in nighttime lighting on the inside as well as outside, if possible. Put timing devices on lamps upstairs and downstairs and regulate the lights at variable intervals giving the illusion that someone is at home.
?If you have an opaque drapery and you have a light the comes on at dusk and goes off at 10 o?clock when you are going to bed even though you are not at home, that light is not going to penetrate opaque draperies,? Watson said. ?But it will show a presence of light in a bedroom with a sheer covering. So, you want to pull the sheer covering.? Do not keep wide-open curtains because any surveillance will pick up on the lack of movement inside the home.
On new construction, work with the architect or builder to get security lighting up and going quickly, even months before moving into the home, if possible. Lights should be installed over every door and opening and the lights should be on an electric eye that comes on at dusk and goes off in the morning. One of the most critical times to have the lighting is during the final phases of interior design and when moving in the furniture and furnishings.
?Lighting is just one factor in improving the security, whether it?s a home under construction or whether it?s a home that?s already there,? said Goodman. In a test comparing lighting with surveillance cameras?the results showed a lower incidence of crime due to good lighting verses surveillance cameras that aren?t monitored.
?So if you install lighting in places that nobody is going to see anyway, there is no risk to the suspect,? Goodman said. ?What you?re doing is providing an opportunity for the suspect to come and not have to bring a flashlight. The general theory?if you can imagine an isolated building out in the country?who is going to see what you?re doing anyway? You?re better off doing no lighting, keeping the lighting where they can?t turn them on when they get inside the building because that increases the risk for them having to turn on flashlights, which are more noticeable. And it (darkness) also creates a harder job for them to burglarize or break into the building.?
Unfortunately, one of our loveliest holiday-lighted customs increases the risk of burglary.
?Lighting, where you can see actually where your Christmas tree is at, all you?re doing is telling them (would-be offenders) where your presents are,? said Goodman. ?There have been numerous people who have had their glass broken into around the window and the Christmas toys taken.?
Dr. Oneida Cramer
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