Did you know that a thorny bush can be a crime-fighting tool? So can brighter light bulbs and a taller hedge. Even a simple fence can thwart would-be burglars. Just ask Officer Julie Williams. As a member of the Largo Police Department's Problem Oriented Policing team, Williams has always been on the lookout to safeguard citizens. When she learned of a program targeting safety through environmental changes, she signed up. Now Williams has completed the state's Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design practitioner program and carries a new weapon aimed at deterring criminals without firing a shot. She is one of fewer than 100 Florida law enforcement officials who have completed the training, and earned a letter of commendation from Attorney General Bill McCollum.
1. What is Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design (CPTED)?
According to the National Crime Prevention Institute, CPTED is based on the premise that the proper design and effective use of the environment can reduce crime. Examples range from providing adequate nighttime lighting to constructing easy access sidewalks to building large windows with open blinds.
2. How did you become interested in CPTED?
"Community service and crime prevention is the Problem Oriented Policing Team's purpose," Williams said. "When I first became a member, I networked with officers in other agencies who knew about CPTED and had experienced nothing but positive results. I knew the training would make me more aware of safety issues."
3. Are CPTED methods effective?
Williams said she's seen them work. She and a team member described a mobile home park that had become crime-ridden. Officers made numerous intruder and prostitute arrests, but only after using the CPTED approach did residents see crime rates drop. The team suggested inexpensive changes, such as changing the lighting from 50- to 150-watt bulbs and erecting new signs. They also worked with residents and the city to build a rear gate and decrease the number of entrances to the park. With only two gates, officers could offer better surveillance.
4. How has completing the CPTED program made you a better officer?
"I'm a safer officer by leaps and bounds," Williams said. "I sell the program to the patrol officers and everyone I can. I look at things offensively and defensively, checking landscapes for safety issues and suggesting residents trim hedges, so they can see what's happening outside or that they place thorny plants outside windows to deter criminals."
5. Are you working on any new projects?
"We're working with Floral Gardens, a neighborhood off 36th Street Southeast and East Bay," Williams said. "We've re-initiated a neighborhood watch program. The area is evolving, so the neighborhood's gearing up with design changes like installing a no outlet sign and another needed stop sign."