Preventing Crime, or Countering Terrorism?

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    What happens, then, when these two requirements conflict?

    Without getting into the semantics of the categorisation of terrorism as a subset of crime (which, of course it is), there is a clear differential between designing out crime, and the requirements of defending public space from terrorist activity. In this context, I refer merely to the understanding of planning and design of public spaces with regards to the prevention of crime and counter terrorism. This argument does not look at the formidable role of policing, intelligence and domestic security models and theories on the critical understanding of counter terrorism as a way to prevent the crime occurring.

    In most examples, planning and design requirements for security within public space complement the need for both crime prevention and counter terrorism. We strive to plan and design space to be open and accessible, demonstrating clean lines of sight, providing landscaping demarcation that differentiates public and private areas, etc. All of these principles contribute to well-planned spaces that achieve both tenants of security. Most technical and physical security measures also help to reduce the opportunity for crime, as well as provide a level of risk mitigation for terrorism; security bollards, CCTV surveillance technology and access control measures each serve multiple functions of securing our public spaces.

    But, in some examples, there is a clear conflict. The below are just some examples of how mitigating one issue doesn’t necessarily mitigate the other, and can in fact have a negative impact:

    1. Parking Challenges

      We move parking facilities away from public and crowded space to mitigate terrorist related vehicle attacks. This disassociation and reduction in levels of natural surveillance, and a feeling of ‘isolation’ for people moving between buildings and their cars, may cause an increase in criminal activity including vandalism, break-ins and assault.

    2. People and Vehicle Movement

      We provision pedestrian and vehicle routes together, to prevent isolation for pedestrians within urban spaces. This fulfils the requirement for crime prevention, however it could increase the risk of a vehicle borne terrorist attack against members of the public.

    3. Clearly Defining Space

      It could be argued that clear delineation and definition of space not only increases the risk of crime (if you can clearly see private space, you know what is most important, right?) but this could also highlight vulnerable areas of public space in a terror attack. This notion may seem extreme and contradictory to long held notions of the theory of defensible space, but it is worth considering. If an attacker does not know where the most secure areas are, how can they attack them? I am by no means saying that secure areas should not warrant an increased security overlay, but this self-perpetuating argument is worth considering when looking at the relationship between preventing crime .v. countering terrorism.

    4. CT Measure – Increasing Crime?

      Implementation of security walls, bollards and barriers – these measures do mitigate some terrorist related activity, however do they also increase the risk of unmonitored and isolated space, increasing the likelihood of criminal activity such as vandalism, graffiti or anti-social behaviour? The provision of unsightly, retrospective counter terror design measures in urban spaces can negatively impact the design of public space, thus potentially contributing to an unsafe environment for crime. When an area does not appear ‘welcoming’, this can decrease legitimate activity and heighten the risk of criminal activity. The discrepancy between the two is very much an unintended outcome, however a study conducted in post 9/11 New York has highlighted this dichotomy for urban planning and design.

    Ultimately, a well-informed security risk assessment of public space at the outset of a project can determine the requirements for both crime prevention and countering terrorism.

    In theory, this works. In practice however, with an increase in single shooter activity, knife attacks, and more recently the spike in acid attacks perpetrated by both criminals and terrorists alike, our public spaces must provide a balance between the two elements of design in order to succeed. It is the risk owners decision on the trajectory of a design project, and a security risk assessment will undoubtedly assist in the decision making process, however, as consultants and security designers, we must be cognizant of the balance between the two facets of design, to ensure crime prevention and counter terror advice represents both, equally.

    If you would like to read more on this topic you can download our Protecting Crowded Space White Paper:

    In addition, read our case study covering the importance of engaging a security consulting in the early stages of design, in which we outline issues we have encountered when engaged too late in a project which ultimately cost the projectowners time and money:

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