By: Mark Diaz
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How Lighting Reduces Violent Crime
Crime rates in Texas and throughout the U.S. may fluctuate over time, but the law enforcement community is always seeking new tactics, methods, and strategies for apprehending suspects. Though many new solutions and innovations show promise, one approach to fighting crime involves technology that has been around since the 1750s and the days of Benjamin Franklin: Installing lighting to reduce criminal activity, particularly violent crime. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) addressed this topic in a Police Response Guide entitled Improving Street Lighting to Reduce Crime in Residential Areas, citing evidence that supports the theory. However, there are a number of concerns that are raised as well, including the following:
● Increased lighting encourages area residents to be outdoors, increasing the prevalence of unoccupied homes at risk for burglary.
● There is the potential that heightened visibility of potential victims will create more opportunities for would-be criminals.
● The DOJ admits that any gains against violent crime made by improving street lights can be completely eliminated in times of economic downturn.
The report is interesting in its history of street lighting, contexts in which it has impacted crime rates, and what more can be done through lighting strategies. There can be no doubt that law enforcement will take advantage of every opportunity and tool at their disposal, so it is important to understand the role simple illumination may play in a criminal case. A Texas City criminal defense attorney can advise you on a wide range of legal topics, but it is informative to review a summary on how lighting reduces violent crime.
Defining Violent Crime
Initially, it is important to set parameters of lighting and crime by establishing what constitutes a violent offense. The dictionary definition provides guidance but, for purposes of criminal law, the key is the Uniform Crime Reporting (UCR) Program. The FBI oversees this system, which serves to compile data on crime reported by agencies throughout the US. For purposes of the UCR program, crimes are divided into two parts; Part I generally includes more serious offenses. Four of the eight crimes in this category of so-called “index” offenses are considered violent:
3. Aggravated assault
Part II crimes are less serious offenses, but one crime in this category might also be considered violent when attempting to understand the role of lighting: Misdemeanor or simple assault that does not involve the use of a weapon and there were no injuries to the victim.
Findings of the DOJ on Improving Street Lighting to Reduce Violent Crime
The DOJ report notes at the outset that enhanced visibility is commonly linked to reduced crime rates, ranking second to an increased police presence. Though the data was gathered under very specific conditions, some general themes include:
● Improved exterior lighting acts as a crime deterrent because potential offenders realize they will be seen or recognized.
● Illumination makes law enforcement more visible, also deterring criminal activity.
● Enhanced lighting encourages residents to spend more time outdoors, creating a sort of informal surveillance.
● Improved street lighting also impacts crime during the day, because communities are no longer seen as easy targets.
On the other side of the debate, the DOJ report pointed out that exterior illumination might also increase violent crime. When potential victims can see better, so can offenders. They can easily assess whether a target is alone, what belongings they are carrying, and who might intervene. Plus, spending more time outdoors in the evenings means residences are unoccupied and offenders have more available victims for violent crime. There is also the potential that a newly illuminated area will draw criminal activity at night, while then carrying over to become a meeting point for planning purposes during the day.
Other Technologies That Help Police Make Arrests
Lighting is one of the oldest solutions for deterring criminal activity, but advancements in other areas also help law enforcement conduct investigations and apprehend perpetrators. Some examples include:
● Thermal Imaging: Like lighting, this tool is particularly effective in dark conditions. Cameras employ infrared technology to detect heat emitting from a human being, enabling officers to find and track a suspect.
● Robots: Armed with cameras and operated wirelessly by a trained officer, robots can capture visual and audio surveillance when the situation would be too dangerous for police. Some models are even throwable and can ascend buildings.
● ShotSpotter: This technology can pinpoint the exact location of a gunshot and relay it to police dispatchers, expediting response time.
● Smart Cruisers: Police vehicles have come a long way, now implementing Wi-Fi-enabled laptops and tablets that provide law enforcement with immediate access to essential information.
● Facial Recognition Solutions: Though controversial from a privacy standpoint, this software scans a photograph of a suspect and uploads it to a video surveillance network. Thousands of cameras scan the streets, instantly comparing the faces to the photo. Facial recognition is still considered emerging since mistakes can lead to the false ID of suspects.
Penalties for the Top 5 Violent Crimes in Texas
The DOJ report emphasizes that there is a lack of relevant research that establishes a direct link between lighting and reductions in crime. However, the relevant statutes provide definite, specific information on the punishment a person could face for a conviction on any of the top violent crimes:
Homicide: Texas uses the term murder to define the unlawful killing of another person, but there are different types of homicide. Capital murder is the most serious, and it is punishable by the death penalty. Lesser forms of homicide might be charged as a First Degree Felony, which carries a potential sentence of 5 to 99 years in prison. Manslaughter, causing death through reckless conduct, is a Second Degree Felony. A conviction could lead to 2 to 20 years imprisonment.
Rape: Sexual assault laws in Texas cover numerous prohibited activities, including some involving minors. The key is consent, which could be a central issue in a case involving the use of drugs or a child who is considered incapable of consenting. Most forms of rape are a Second Degree Felony, but the charges could be elevated to a First Degree Felony for aggravated sexual assault if the offender:
● Caused serious injuries to the victim
● Threatened death
● Used or exhibited a deadly weapon
● Employed a “date rape” drug
Simple Assault: There are different classifications of assault under Texas law, but they all generally involve the same elements: Intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causing bodily injury to another person. From there, the different degrees of assault get very detailed, with some variations focusing on the identity of the victim – such as a sports figure, public servant, government official, or member of the same household. More simple assault cases are charged as misdemeanors, up to a Class A Misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
Aggravated Assault: If assault results in “serious” bodily injury or the offender uses a weapon in the commission of the crime, the offense is elevated to aggravated assault. Depending on the circumstances, you could be arrested for a First or Second Degree Felony punishable as described above.
Robbery: Though it is a theft offense at its core, robbery is also a violent crime. A prosecutor must prove that you intentionally caused injuries or threatened to cause bodily harm while stealing the victim’s property. Robbery is a Second Degree Felony, but it is aggravated robbery – a First Degree Felony – if it involves a weapon.
In addition to the criminal penalties, you should be aware that there are other implications for a violent crime conviction. Most of these offenses are felonies, and even some of the misdemeanors do not qualify for expunction. As such, the conviction will appear on a background check and you may need to disclose it for certain purposes. The collateral consequences that stem from having a criminal record include:
● Difficulties finding employment
● Revocation or suspension of any professional licenses you hold
● Challenges with obtaining a mortgage, auto loan, student loans, or line of credit
● Immigration issues for undocumented individuals
● Implications for your Second Amendment rights
● Many others.
Talk to a Texas City Criminal Defense Attorney About Strategy
If you were arrested for a violent crime, it is essential to retain experienced legal counsel as early in the criminal process as possible. You can see that the punishment is severe if you are convicted of any violent offense, and there are additional collateral consequences that you did not expect. It is a mistake to put your rights and future at risk by trying to represent yourself. A criminal defense lawyer in Texas City will guide you throughout the criminal process, from arraignment and determining bond to pretrial tasks and the trial date.
For more information on violent crimes in Texas, please contact Mark Diaz, Criminal Defense Attorney. Our office serves Galveston County and Greater Houston, and fighting for the rights of accused individuals is our core practice area. We offer a free consultation, so you can call (409) 515-6170 to schedule your appointment. Our team can offer additional details and explain the relevant legal concepts after reviewing the details of your case.