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Program Profile: Street Lighting in New York City Public Housing

Evidence Rating: Promising - One study Promising - One study

Date: This profile was posted on December 17, 2018

Program Summary

This is a temporary outdoor street-lighting program designed to reduce nighttime crime in public housing developments experiencing elevated crime rates. The program is rated Promising. Installing additional light towers in treated developments resulted in statistically significant reductions in complaints of index crimes, felony crimes, assaults, homicides, and weapons crimes at night, compared with control developments. There were no statistically significant differences in misdemeanor crimes.

This program’s rating is based on evidence that includes at least one high-quality randomized controlled trial.

Program Description

Program Goals/Target Population
Street Lighting in New York City (NYC) Public Housing is a temporary outdoor street-lighting program implemented by the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ). The program is designed to reduce nighttime crime in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) public housing developments by adding more light towers. The program targets public housing developments, in all five NYC boroughs, which are experiencing elevated crime rates. The average NYCHA housing development is 720,000 square feet.

Program Components
Several NYC agencies partner with NYCHA to implement the program. First, the New York City Police Department (NYPD) identifies which developments are priorities for receiving additional lights, based in part on their elevated crime rates and perceived need for additional lighting.

Second, MOCJ coordinates a series of meetings with the Crime Lab New York (CLNY) and the NYCHA tenant association presidents to receive input on which locations in their developments they believe would most benefit from additional lighting.

Third, all public housing residents are informed of the total number of light towers set aside for their development and are asked to indicate where they want the lights to be placed. Based on all of these recommendations, CLNY produces a single, composite heat map for each development, identifying where residents, in aggregate, want lights to be placed.

Fourth, MOCJ coordinates meetings with local law enforcement executives. NYPD officers are given the residents’ heat maps to help inform final decisions about where light towers are to be placed. From all of these meetings, a final heat map is created for each development, and light towers are deployed to outdoor public spaces in NYCHA housing developments and illuminated during all nighttime hours.

Evaluation Outcomes

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Study 1
Nighttime Index Crimes
Chalfin and colleagues (2017) found that adding one additional light tower to public housing developments in the treatment group reduced complaints of outdoor nighttime index crimes by 48 percent, compared with the control group. This difference was statistically significant.  

Nighttime Felony Crimes
Adding one light tower to developments in the treatment group reduced complaints of outdoor nighttime felony crimes by 37 percent, compared with the control group. This difference was statistically significant.

Nighttime Assaults, Homicides, Weapons Crimes
Adding one light tower to developments in the treatment group reduced complaints of outdoor nighttime assaults, homicides, and weapons crimes by 30 percent, compared with the control group. This difference was statistically significant.

Nighttime Misdemeanor Crimes
There were no statistically significant differences between the treatment and control groups in complaints of outdoor nighttime misdemeanor crimes.
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Evaluation Methodology

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Study 1
Chalfin and colleagues (2017) conducted a randomized controlled trial to assess the effectiveness of Street Lighting in New York City (NYC) Public Housing on complaints of index, felony, and misdemeanor crimes and assaults, homicides, and weapons crimes. Specifically, they tested whether developments that received a greater dosage (number) of lighting experienced larger reductions in crime.

In May 2015, 80 housing developments were identified for inclusion in the study based on elevated crime rates and perceived need. A total of 39 developments were randomized into the treatment group and 38 into the control group through paired random sampling methods. The groups were stratified based on the number of outdoor nighttime crimes in a development in the two years prior to the intervention.

Between February 29 and March 7, 2016, approximately 400 light towers were deployed to outdoor public spaces in New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) housing developments by using a heat map developed from resident and law enforcement recommendations. Among treated developments, the allocated dosage was measured by the number of square feet per light. A minimum of two lights were allocated to each of 39 treated developments, and the 320 remaining lights were randomly assigned, per square feet of uncovered areas, to the treated developments. Thus, allocated dosage was slightly different for each site. To protect against bias, assigned dosage of lighting for each development was used as the measure of lighting. The control group developments received no additional outdoor lighting.

The study used New York Police Department (NYPD) complaint data from March 2011 to August 2016. Coordinates were plotted, using a statistical software package, to calculate the distance between complaint location and the footprint of the closest development.  Complaints that occurred in the treatment and control developments and in the surrounding communities were included in this study. In the main displacement analysis, complaints that were within 750 feet of a development, which did not occur on the development grounds, were also included. The data for each complaint included the type of offense, date, time, and type of place where the incident occurred. Complaints for sex offenses and rapes were not included in this study.

The study focused on four main outcomes: 1) index crime complaints; 2) felony crime complaints; 3) assault, homicide, and weapons crime complaints; and 4) misdemeanor crime complaints. Index crime complaints were defined using an offense type variable and included murder and non-negligent manslaughter, negligent or unclassified homicide, robbery, felony assault, burglary, and grand larceny of a motor vehicle. Felony and misdemeanor complaints were defined using the law code category variable in the NYPD data file. Assault, homicide, and weapons complaints were defined using an offense type variable and included murder and non-negligent manslaughter, negligent or unclassified homicide, assault and related offenses, felony assault, and complaints for dangerous weapons. The assault, homicide, and weapons crime complaints were used as a measure of interpersonal violence.

For each complaint type, four primary crime locations were examined: 1) outdoor nighttime crimes, 2) indoor nighttime crimes, 3) outdoor daytime crimes, and 4) indoor daytime crimes. Outdoor and indoor crimes were defined using a location description variable. Outdoor crimes included complaints that occurred in front of, opposite, or in the rear of a building, while indoor crimes included complaints that were designated as occurring inside a building.

Regression analyses were conducted for this study. Data was examined by year, month, and day. Only post-implementation data, from March 2016 to August 2016, was included in the analysis, but data from 2011 to 2015 was used for control variables in the regression analysis. Development-level characteristic data was drawn from NYCHA to control for population rates, development size (height, density, and square footage), males between the ages of 15 and 24, precinct, housing units per population, number of entrances per building, average household size, and whether the housing development had an elevator or was a walkup. The study authors used NYPD data to control for differences in law enforcement presence. They did not conduct subgroup analyses.
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Cost

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Chalfin and colleagues (2017) conducted a cost-benefit analysis for the Street Lighting in New York City Public Housing program. When examining the benefits of the lighting upgrades, they estimated that the economic value of crime reductions in public housing developments, due to the addition of temporary street-lighting towers, was $700,000 per development per year. They anticipated that over a 20-year span, additional lighting would reduce victimization by approximately $14 million per development. They also estimated that the upfront cost of a development-wide lighting upgrade would be between $3 and $4 million for a development of approximately 720,00 square feet. In addition, they estimated that the cost of providing electricity for additional lights would be roughly $15,000 per development annually. Finally, they estimated that the costs of the lighting upgrades over a 20-year period, with an annual interest rate of 4 percent, would be an average of $200,000 per development per year. Given these annual costs, over two decades, they anticipated that the ratio of benefits to costs of additional lighting would be approximately 3.5:1; thus, for every $1 invested in lighting, there would be a reduced crime benefit of $3.50.
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Evidence-Base (Studies Reviewed)

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

Study 1
Chalfin, Aaron, Benjamin Hansen, Lucie Parker, and Jason Lerner. 2017. The Impact of Street Lighting on Crime in New York City Public Housing. Chicago: Ill.: University of Chicago Crime Lab New York.
https://urbanlabs.uchicago.edu/attachments/store/50eab357f0ee925539c8e72d1f0d6380d7ac0670bec31b63473c1dd7c5e2/Lights+report_10.20.17.pdf
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Related Practices

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Following are CrimeSolutions.gov-rated practices that are related to this program:

Improved Street Lighting
A crime prevention strategy that aims to improve the lighting on streets to reduce crime through modifying and improving environmental measures. The practice is rated Promising for reducing crime and property offenses, but rated No Effects for violent offenses.

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
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Program Snapshot

Geography: Urban

Setting (Delivery): Other Community Setting, High Crime Neighborhoods/Hot Spots

Program Type: Community Crime Prevention , Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design/Design Against Crime, Situational Crime Prevention

Current Program Status: Active