Shining lights on criminals


It’s doubtful New York City is taking its cues from a community the size of Hattiesburg, but if it were the case, officials in America’s largest city could have saved a few million bucks in the process.

Sure, it shouldn’t have taken $5 million and the use of gigantic, portable diesel-powered outdoor floodlights to prove it, but the evidence is in: Extra light at nighttime can reduce serious crimes.

The Washington Post reports that a six-month experiment in New York City placed the portable floodlights at 40 randomly chosen public housing developments. There were an average of seven floodlights at each location.

Most of the crimes being tracked were felony assaults and robberies. Others included homicides, vehicle theft and burglary.

The extra lights reduced nighttime crime by up to 59 percent. To put that another way, crime got cut by more than half.

Fortunately, Hattiesburg doesn’t have nearly the crime statistics of the Big Apple, but Mayor Toby Barker’s ongoing efforts to brighten up Hattiesburg’s neighborhoods through the reasonable expensive of additional streetlights will ultimately have the same results.

Crimimals simply prefer to break the law in the dark, where their efforts can more easily be concealed.

Of course, one obvious question would be whether criminals simply moved a few blocks away from the floodlights.

When researchers looked at police reports in a two-block radius around public housing, they found that serious crimes had gone down by at least 36 percent.

The Post said the decrease in crime is about what researchers would expect if a city increased its police presence by 10 percent. It’s obvious that improving the lights is a lot less expensive than hiring more patrol officers.

It must have been an annoying six months for public-housing residents who had to endure the all-night floodlights, which were about 400 times as bright as a strong indoor light. But street light outages have been the third most frequent complaint phoned into the city, so the problem was obvious.

New York City has already acted on the results of the six-month test.

It has installed those bright new LED streetlights at some public housing developments and plans to put them in at other locations, including most that had the portable floodlights for six months.

This will cost $54 million.

Small-town Mississippi is about as different as possible from New York City, but the lesson of this report is obvious: An investment in bright LED lights that use less energy will create an immediate expense, but they also have the potential to discourage crime.

This is a strategy cities of all sizes should review and not just here in Hattiesburg.