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Better Nighttime Lighting Cuts Crime, NYC Study Says

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New York City public housing residents got more streetlights in 2016 in the form of portable, diesel-powered flood lights that blast 600,000 lumens into the sky. A bright indoor lamp might emit 1,600 lumens.

The mobile light towers were part of a six-month, $5 million experiment initiated by Mayor Bill de Blasio in partnership with the housing authority, the police department and researchers at the Crime Lab at the University of Chicago. Placed at 40 public-housing developments across the city, the lights led to as much as a 59 percent nighttime drop in serious crime, says a new National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) paper, reports the Washington Post.


The drop is about the scale researchers would expect from a 10 percent increase in police staffing. It suggests that improved living conditions may be a more effective way to reduce crime than spending on increased police presence.

The researchers placed an average of seven mobile light towers in each development, affecting 40,000 residents. Even when they considered a larger two-block radius around each development, in case criminals shifted their activity to avoid the lights, they found a reduction of at least 36 percent.

Aaron Chalfin, an economist at the University of Pennsylvania who co-led the study with Crime Lab New York, said he hoped to apply randomized experiments, the gold standard in medicine, to efforts to control crime.

Based on the results, the city has already installed new, permanent LED streetlights at public housing developments in East Harlem and downtown Brooklyn, says Renita Francois of the Mayor’s Action Plan for Neighborhood Safety. They plan to install 42 more, costing $54 million.

Read the full study here.

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