Weeding Your Neighbourhood of Criminals

By Special Guest Blogger Constable Thomas McKay, Peel Regional Police

Your first robin, the Masters, a warm sunny day, I can only be talking of one thing of course--the welcome onset of spring. For most of us, the warm weather means spending more time outdoors and in particular in our gardens. Unfortunately, the same is true of criminals, as they seek out criminal opportunities in your neighbourhoods and around your home.


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Given this seasonal connection, have you ever wondered whether gardening can be used to deter criminal activity and promote neighbourhood safety? Well, the answer to that question is a resounding YES! On a neighbourhood scale, a recent U.S. study has established a positive correlation between the density of a neighbourhood’s tree canopy and the area’s crime rate. That study -- authored by Austin Troy and Jarlath O’Neil-Dunne of the University of Vermont’s Rubenstein School of Environment and Natural Resources and J. Morgan Grove of the USDA Forest Service’s Research Division -- found that “a 10% increase in tree canopy was associated with a roughly 12% decrease in crime”. This was backed up by a couple of earlier studies that found “the greener a building’s surroundings were, the fewer crimes reported”.

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What is the link, you may ask? Well there is a suggestion that because “trees get people outside” and encourage “people to sit or stroll”, people become “more neighbourly” or simply watch out for their community. It is further believed that “troublemakers” pick up on this as they see a block lined with healthy trees as a “tight-knit area where people look out for each other”. So my advice to you is to plant a tree!

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But what if you live in an established neighbourhood and your tree planting days are over? In this case, my advice to you is to think of a criminal in the same way that you would think of any potential unwelcome garden “guest”. You need to take precautions to discourage unwanted attention or activity and keep your property safe.

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In the case of a residential burglar, you should take a fresh look at your property, as if you were the criminal. What opportunities do you see? Are critical views of your windows or doors from neighbouring properties obscured by overgrown landscaping? Are there adult-sized hiding spots between your landscaping and accessible windows? If you answered yes to either of these questions, you should consider re-establishing those critical sightlines by pruning and/or selectively culling aggressive growing plant species in favour of more modest ones --nothing more than three feet in these circumstances fully grown. By doing this, you can go a long way towards keeping your grounds free of one of nature’s most invasive “species”—the residential burglar.

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Next, take a moment to think about the steps you can take by using your garden to encourage desirable activity and behaviour. Just as persons can attract beneficial species by installing bat houses or plant cone flowers to attract butterflies, pollinators or other desirable species, spending the necessary time in your garden to maintain a dramatic splash of colour or otherwise tend to an impressive bed of flowers can capture natural surveillance from neighbours and passersby.

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Natural surveillance discourages criminal activity by promoting witness potential. Such was the case in Suginami, Japan, a burglary plagued district of Tokyo, where flowers were used to counteract break-ins. Known as “Operation Flower”, citizens were encouraged to plant flowers after a neighbourhood watch group found that there were fewer burglaries in buildings on flower-lined streets. The result, local burglaries plunged by an astonishing 80% thanks to people spending time in their gardens while creating a reason to look.

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Photo Credit: www.japantoday.com


Next, take full advantage of your time in the garden, to speak to neighbours, develop a rapport or otherwise take note of suspicious activity on or around their property. Suspicious activity is often subtle, like an aphid on a rose. It may simply be someone that doesn’t belong or something that you know is out of place. The bottom line is that, like your garden, you should always be on the look-out for invasive “species” (which includes unknown persons) and take some action whenever they’re found. In the case of residential burglars – who are active during the daytime—you should pass along your suspicions to Police at your earliest opportunity. This can be done by giving a quick call to Police Communications at 905-453-3311. And don’t forget to call 9-1-1, if you know that a crime is happening.

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Finally, always remember to protect your property by keeping any exterior doors and gates that are not within your line of sight closed and locked while working around the house. By following these simple tips, you will not only reap the benefits of spending many pleasurable hours in your garden, but you will also be improving the safety of your home and neighbourhood. Remember, the next time you or your neighbour stops to admire the fruits of your gardening labour, you might just be preventing a crime!

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