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Does lighting deter crime?

A new study could give policymakers data to support lighting as a crime-prevention measure, but it’s at odds with what lighting experts consider to be best practices for lighting.

Researchers conducted the first randomized experiment that studies the effect of street lighting on public safety — demonstrating that a tactical street lighting intervention in New York City’s public housing developments led to a serious reduction in criminal activity during nighttime hours.

However, the fixtures used gave off 600,000 lumens, while streetlights are often between about 5,000 and 35,000 lumens and the brightest light at Yankee Stadium is 150,000 lumens.

“This is kind of weaponizing light and using it in an experiment,” said a representative of the International Dark-Sky Association.

Even one of the paper’s authors stated that this intensity of light simply pushed crime elsewhere, a displacement of crime, if you will. “More lighting can equal less crime when done in a way that understands context.”

Download a PDF of “Can Deterrence Persist? Long-Term Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Street Lighting,” drawn on three years of data from researchers at the University of Pennsylvania Department of Criminology, University of Maryland Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice, and University of Chicago Health Lab.

Photo by Christina Telep on Unsplash

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