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Crime Prevention within Metro Systems

Article for The European Journal on Criminal Policy and Research, vol. 4.4,
by Drs. Manuel J.J. López, Result Crime Management, december 1996


The development of knowledge on crime prevention construction and management of metros can be seen as a process that elapsed in a non-linear fashion. Therefore, these can be divided into different distinguishable phases. In the early days of metro construction (1863 till the early 1960's), no consideration whatsoever was given towards a preventive design, planning, or management of the metro systems. Crime rates were relatively low and crime prevention knowledge was virtually non-existent. The only form of crime control at the time was repression and this was working fine both in the societies as a whole and within the first constructed metro systems. This situation changed, however, in the 1960's when the crime climate in the Western societies began to deteriorate. Crime rates boosted and conventional repressive techniques proved to be no longer adequate. The then existing metro companies tried hard to combat crime with the tactics of 'target hardening'; iron fences, steel doors, and dog patrols were utilized in the hope that they could deter crime. Although these techniques had some effects, they also had serious deteriorating repercussions on the looks and atmosphere of the metro systems, and consequently, the feelings of insecurity and well-being of the passengers and metro personnel. The mid 1970's can be seen as the dawning of a new era. By then, scientific knowledge on crime prevention techniques had developed to such a level that it was fit to be put into practical use. Little by little, metro companies started to benefit from the newly emerged knowledge and began to devote attention to a more preventive approach to crime. Target hardening techniques were abandoned more and more and the preventive focus was directed more towards the improvement of visibility, social control, and environmental friendliness. The breakthrough to this latest phase was made in 1976 when the Washington D.C. Metro opened its doors. The construction of this system revolutionized metro design as it had given top priority to crime prevention and, therefore, incorporated the latest knowledge in that field.

Although there has certainly been an international accumulation of practical and theoretical knowledge on crime prevention strategies which are successful within metro systems, this does not mean that this available knowledge has also been utilized to the full. Not every new metro system was constructed in a safer way than its predecessors. Existing systems often had to deal with the handicap of old but influential bureaucratic organisations and original system constructions in their ability to radically reorganise their crime prevention policy and actions. There have been a number of crime prevention studies on specific aspects of the metro. However, overall studies on the scope and nature of subway crime and the possibilities and effectiveness of crime prevention actions are rare. Crime prevention plans of metro companies are more often based on the intuition and personal opinions of managers than on in-depth research. The few studies that have been done are based on local information and rarely surpass the borders of the country or even the local system. And saddest of all: crime prevention knowledge is sufficiently available within the international community of metro companies, but scattered among the different systems. This is especially true for knowledge on the various crime prevention strategies. Some metro companies are real masters in the utilization of one crime prevention technique (e.g. the facilitation of policing) but have little to no knowledge of other techniques (e.g. stimulation of involvement). They think that they are doing their utmost in combatting crime within their system, but what they don't know is that their approach is one-sided and ignoring the fact that crime prevention can only be really effective when it is made up by a set of mutually reinforcing strategies.

Right now, we are at the doorstep of yet another phase in the history of metro crime control: the integration of crime prevention into the general goal for Total Quality Management and a higher level of passenger service. In this new era, crime control will no longer be seen as a goal in itself but more and more as a cost-effective means to establish a friendlier atmosphere, better company image, and higher revenue. Crime prevention measures will become less focused on crime prevention alone. They will become more integrated into the planning and design of the system, the day-to-day management routine of the organisation, and less obvious to the unweary passenger. This approach will not only prove to be friendlier; it will also be more effective in terms of crime prevention and beneficial to other company goals such as accident and fire prevention, image enhancement, cost reduction, and revenue increase.

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