Crime and architectural design in Brisbane

Criminology Research Council grant ; (1/78)

In 1978 a research program was developed to examine the incidence and spatial characteristics of burglary and vandalism in four commercial centres located in south-west Brisbane. Because of problems relating to statistical divisions and access to Queensland police files, information was sought directly from premises owners about the incidence of break and entry offences and cases of vandalism by means of a questionnaire and a physical survey of the area under investigation. Questionnaire data covered a five-year period (1974 to 1978), and analysed with the assistance of the University of Queensland PDP-10 computer. Crime incidence was also plotted on a detailed map of each centre.

In summary, the findings of this pilot study were as follows:

  1. that the incidence of break and entry offences was on the increase;
  2. that rear windows and doors were most frequently the point of illegal entry;
  3. that medical premises, including pharmacies, were found to have been burgled almost four times as frequently as all other types of business category;
  4. that low levels of night time surveillance resulted in greater vulnerability;
  5. that victim buildings were found to have low levels of passive security (poor construction and locks, absences of security grilles etc.);
  6. that security alarms, while not reducing the risk of attack nevertheless resulted in reduced value of property stolen;
  7. that there were at least four types of vandalistic activity involved:
    1. removal of, or damage to items left out overnight;
    2. the breaking of glass or sheeting;
    3. graffiti;
    4. damage to signs or lettering;
  8. that most incidents occurred at night or on weekends;
  9. that damage was not expensive to repair;
  10. that only a quarter of the vandalistic acts were reported to the police;
  11. that vandals had no preference for a particular business type;
  12. that vandalised buildings were found to be more prominent in the environment of the commercial centre; had facades with extensive areas of glass fenestration, and were located close to entertainment premises which remained open after dark.

Recommendations arising from the study were as follows:

  1. a change in the Brisbane City Council zoning policies so as to encourage residential development within commercial centres in order to improve natural surveillance;
  2. maintenance of streetscape and individual buildings in good physical condition;
  3. installation of deadlocks on all exterior doors;
  4. installation of security grilles on all windows, particularly on side and rear windows;
  5. improvement in internal shop surveillance by removing as many obstructions as possible to visibility of the shop interior from the street and footpath;
  6. interior and exterior lights to be left on all night;
  7. installation of alarms.

In the follow-up study two additional commercial centres in different sectors of Brisbane with different socio-economic ratings were examined. The characteristics of the crimes established and correlations between shop-breaking frequency and urban and architectural attributes were explored in an attempt to identify security and surveillance variables that best discriminated between premises with high and low crime rates. This study confirmed the crime pattern conclusions of the pilot study. It also revealed that there were no substantial differences that could be attributed to socio-economic factors or location with respect to city sectors although the physical nature and location of each centre did have some influence on the type of crime perpetrated within the centre.

In the third and final study, with the co-operation of the Queensland Police Department, the characteristics of break and entry offences against shops using police file data were examined. Fifty pairs of shops with break and entry histories were compared with similar shops which had escaped attack. Findings showed that shops not attacked tended to be:

  1. better illuminated at night;
  2. located in more active after-hours neighbourhoods;
  3. better able to resist forced entry through higher quality construction;
  4. more likely to have installed alarm systems and employed security services;
  5. characterised by higher standards of architectural design, landscaping and general maintenance.

These three research studies have resulted in two publications in journals, as well as papers presented at conferences in Adelaide, Toowoomba and Townsville. Interest in the work done in Brisbane has been expressed by the British Home Office and a number of publications and research reports have been exchanged with various research institutions in Great Britain and Australia.