Tuesday, March 11, 2003

Housing agency hopes design will curtail crime

By Cindy Schroeder
The Cincinnati Enquirer

COVINGTON - Maysville, Ky. added sturdy perimeter fencing, trimmed trees, and changed traffic patterns to deter criminal activity in its public housing.

In Paris, Ky., public housing officials relocated the main entrance to one of their high crime housing developments, added see-through fencing and changed traffic patterns to deter drug dealers from setting up shop in a centrally located cul-de-sac.

Now the Housing Authority of Covington hopes to learn from the same Miami, Fla. consultant who advised those communities and dozens of others on how to deter criminal activity through environmental design.

At a day-long workshop Monday, Randall Atlas, vice president of Atlas Safety & Security Design Inc., showed participants how they can combine architectural concepts and criminology to drive criminals from a particular area. The registered architect estimates he's done more than 200 workshops and seminars on "crime prevention through environmental design" for cities, neighborhoods and public housing projects throughout the United States.

Through means such as natural surveillance, limiting access, and defining the legitimate users of a particular territory, Atlas encouraged housing authority officials, police and residents to explore ways they could reduce crime in Covington's public housing.

Too often, Atlas said, officials try to deter criminal activity without defining what problems they're trying to solve. Instead, they rely on recommendations from high-priced security firms that don't necessarily have the community's best interests in mind.

"This has opened up a whole new host of opportunities for us," said Bill Simon, director of the Housing Authority of Covington. Simon added he'll ask housing authority residents and Covington officials for their input on the concepts developed Monday to deter crime in Covington's 918 public housing units.

The needs also differ, depending on the housing development.

For example, the 163-unit Jacob Price housing development on Covington's east side is plagued by gangs and drug activity, while the Golden Tower high-rise at 50 E. 11th St. has to deal with alcoholics, transients and prostitutes who loiter in a grassy area bordering Madison Avenue.

To deter drug and gang activity at Jacob Price, a committee at Monday's workshop suggested reducing the "cut throughs" for vehicles and foot traffic from seven to three, creating a one-way access from Greenup Street to Drive D and moving a police substation from 11th Street to Greenup and Robbins Streets, where much of the criminal activity is concentrated.

While critics may contend that moving the police substation simply moves the criminal activity elsewhere, research has shown that displacement can be a powerful crime prevention tool, Atlas said.

By changing everything from a drug dealer's location to when he operates, his customers will eventually give up and go elsewhere to buy their drugs, Atlas said.

"Where I come from in south Florida, we have these big brown recluse spiders," Atlas said. "When you see a spider's web and you knock it down, the spider will come back and rebuild the web. However, by the second or third time you've knocked down the spider's web, the spider will either move or die of the stress."

At Golden Tower, participants in Monday's workshop suggested fencing in a grassy area bordering Madison Avenue and providing better lighting to deter criminal activity there. Other suggestions included replacing bushes in front of the main entrance to the high-rise with lower ones and adding an electronic monitoring system to signal security when residents propped open doors for visitors.

Suggestions for Latonia Terrace and City Heights also called for changes in everything from traffic patterns to fencing, as well as the creation of new community play areas visible by more Latonia Terrace residents and a teen center for City Heights youths.

"This is about creating new possibilities," Atlas said. "Each one of these properties has potential. You don't have to raze them."

E-mail cschroeder@enquirer.com

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