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Practice Profile

Improved Street Lighting

Evidence Ratings for Outcomes:

Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Property offenses
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Violent offenses

Practice Description

Practice Goals/Practice Components
Interventions that focus on improving street lighting aim to prevent crime by modifying an environment and reducing opportunities for offenders to commit crimes.  These interventions may occur in public or private settings, such as residential neighborhoods, parking lots, shopping malls, campuses, hospitals, or various other facilities. Installation and street light components vary by setting. For example, in a neighborhood or residential setting, improved street lighting may include trimming bushes so that lights are more visible, or replacing old or broken lamps with new light fixtures to achieve the street light’s intended purpose. Through modifying and improving environmental measures in various settings, the overall goal of these interventions is crime prevention (Clark 2008; Welsh and Farrington 2008).

Program Theory
Improving street lighting to prevent crime is grounded in two main perspectives: 1) situational crime prevention, and 2) strengthening informal social control and community cohesion.  Taken together, situational crime prevention and informal social controls hold that crime is influenced by environmental conditions in interaction with resident and offender characteristics. Therefore, by improving street lighting, the offender is believed to perceive greater risks of apprehension, while residents are believed to invest more in their community and thus work to prevent crime in their community.

Situational crime prevention focuses on reducing the opportunities for crime, while also increasing an offender’s perceived risk of apprehension. It is believed that modifying the nighttime visibility within urban areas should reduce opportunities for crime by increasing the perceived risk of detection (Jacobs 1961; Welsh and Farrington 2008).

Informal social controls and community cohesion also play a key role in these interventions. According to Sampson (1997), a low degree of “collective efficacy,” also referred to as social control, in a neighborhood typically results in high crime rates. Therefore, installing or improving street lighting in an area, a sign of positive investment, might signal to residents that efforts are being made to improve their community. This improvement might lead to community pride and cohesion for residents. As a result, residents may have a personal investment in the area, causing an increased interest in watching over their community (Welsh and Farrington 2008). 

Meta-Analysis Outcomes

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Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Multiple crime/offense types
Welsh and Farrington (2008) found that improved street lighting interventions had a significant, small impact on crime. Aggregating the results of 13 studies, the authors found an overall effect size of 1.27, meaning that crimes decreased by 21 percent in treatment areas compared with comparison areas.
Promising - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Property offenses
Aggregating the results of 11 studies, Welsh and Farrington (2008) found that improved street lighting interventions had a significant, small impact on reducing property offenses (effect size=1.20).
No Effects - One Meta-Analysis Crime & Delinquency - Violent offenses
However, when examining the results of 9 studies, Welsh and Farrington (2008) found improved street lighting interventions did not have a significant impact on violent crime.
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Meta-Analysis Methodology

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Meta-Analysis Snapshot
 Literature Coverage DatesNumber of StudiesNumber of Study Participants
Meta-Analysis 11974 - 1999130

Meta-Analysis 1

Welsh and Farrington (2008) reviewed studies on improved street lighting, which were completed in 2006 and earlier. The researchers searched electronic bibliographic databases, literature reviews on the effectiveness of improved street lighting in preventing crime, bibliographies of street lighting studies, and contacted leading researchers. Both published and unpublished reports were included in the search, which was not limited to the English language and was international in scope.

All studies included had to have a reasonably comparable control area, and a design that reported before-and-after measures of crime in the experimental and control areas. The included studies had to have improved street lighting as the main intervention, which was typically identified by the study authors. Additionally, to be eligible for inclusion studies had to include at least one outcome measure of crime. Finally, to be included in the meta-analysis, studies had to show that there were at least 20 crimes reported in an area prior to the intervention so that a sufficient number of crimes were available to detect changes in crime rates.

The search yielded 13 evaluations that were included in the meta-analysis. Eight studies took place in the United States, of which four took place in residential neighborhoods, three in residential and commercial areas, and one in a city center. Five studies took place in England, of which two took place in a local authority housing estate, one in a parking garage, one in a residential neighborhood, and one in a city center market. 

The relative effect size (which can be interpreted as an incident rate ratio) was used to measure effect size. A random effects model was used to examine the impact of improved street lighting on overall crime, property crime, and violent crime.
 

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Cost

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There is no cost information available for this practice.
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Evidence-Base (Meta-Analyses Reviewed)

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Meta-Analysis 1
Welsh, Brandon C., and David P. Farrington. 2008. Effects of Improved Street Lighting on Crime. The Campbell Collaboration. 
http://www.campbellcollaboration.org/news_/improved_street_lighting_reduce_crime.php
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Additional References

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These sources were used in the development of the practice profile:

Clark, Ronald V. 2008. Improving Street Lighting to Reduce Crime in Residential Areas. Problem-Oriented Guides for Police, Response Guides Series, No. 8. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Justice, Office of Community Oriented Policing Services, Center for Problem-Oriented Policing. 
http://cops.usdoj.gov/Publications/e1208-StreetLighting.pdf

Jacobs, J. 1961. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. New York, NY: Random House. 

Sampson, RJ, SW Raudenbush, and F. Earls. 1997. “Neighborhoods and violent crime: A Multilevel Study of Collective Efficacy.” Science 277: 218-224.
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Related Programs

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated programs that are related to this practice:

Street Lighting in Dudley (England) Effective - One study
This is a program to reduce the prevalence and incidence of crime by improving street lighting in residential areas. The program is rated Effective. In the experimental area, prevalence of crime decreased by 23 percent, compared to a 3 percent decrease in the control area. The incidence of crime decreased by 41 percent in the treatment area. There was a small reduction in fear of crime in the treatment area and no evidence of displacement.
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Practice Snapshot

Settings: High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots, Other Community Setting

Practice Type: Community and Problem Oriented Policing, Community Awareness/Mobilization, Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design/Design Against Crime, General deterrence, Situational Crime Prevention

Unit of Analysis: Places