PORTLAND – Sherry Carter woke up Monday morning, looked out her window at the Residence Inn and spotted crime prevention at work.

The grassy areas near the Portland waterfront’s east end were attracting a host of dog-walkers.

People using public space is one of the best ways to create an environment that discourages crime, said Carter, an urban planner specializing in crime prevention.

“It’s a lot about deterrence and minimizing the undesirable behavior and maximizing opportunities for human interaction,” she said. “The kind of work we do isn’t even that noticeable. It doesn’t scream safety, but your behavior is modified.”

Carter and her husband, Stanley Carter, a retired police captain, run a consulting firm that specializes in teaching crime prevention through environmental design. The couple ran a training program in Portland this week for local engineers, architects, businesspeople, planners and police.

A revision to the city’s development ordinance, finalized last summer, now requires any major public or private project to incorporate the principles of crime prevention through environmental design.

Molly Casto, a senior planner at City Hall, said that historically, police involvement in the planning process occurred by happenstance, and the security impacts of design might be overlooked.

Businesses told the city they would like to see more emphasis on security in the planning process, which led to revisions in the ordinance, she said.

The ordinance now requires developments to incorporate several principles to deter crime.

These include natural surveillance that promotes the visibility of public spaces — store windows overlooking public spaces, for example. Access control to promote authorized and appropriate access to a site, and designs that promote a sense of ownership and responsibility for a site and its surroundings are other examples.

The principles are based on the notion that criminals don’t like visibility. They don’t like a lot of human activity. They prefer shadows and places with little activity and no clear ownership or responsibility.

Stanley Carter said a modest investment in designs to deter crime reduces victim impact, cuts the need for increased policing and lowers criminal-justice and prison costs.

“It’s out there 24-7,” he said of crime-deterrent design. “You don’t have to pay a payroll. You don’t have to pay insurance.”

Getting police and planners to communicate and learn about one another’s work is a key component of incorporating security into development plans, he said.

The two-day training Monday and Tuesday included viewing plans for a redevelopment on Alder Street that resulted in Bayside Bowl and Pearl Place, an Avesta housing development. Participants then visited the sites to see how the two-dimensional designs played out in the real world in terms of how safe people are and how safe they feel.

City planners recently incorporated many crime prevention designs in the Bayside Trail, reducing areas where someone could stay out of sight, installing lighting and vegetation that promotes visibility and making the trail large enough to allow emergency vehicles.

Portland police Sgt. Robert Martin, who attended the training, said that contrasts with the East End trail, where barricades effectively keep out cruisers.

“If they hadn’t put that there, officers would have driven down there 20 times a day,” Martin said. 

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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