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Talk of urban planning and design sounds a little strange coming from a police officer. But Pamela Grimes is convinced that environmental design has so much influence on human behavior that it can affect the actions of criminals and law-abiding people alike.

Psychological, social and cultural cues from an environment affect how people behave and how safe they perceive an area to be, says Grimes, an officer with Salt Lake City's crime prevention unit."A cared-for environment says, `People care about this property and abnormal behavior won't be tolerated,' " she said.

Grimes is one of many people taking part in workshops included in the daylong 1992 Salt Lake City Neighborhood Conference March 28. Workshops will be held from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. at the City-County Building, 451 State.

Grimes has been working with the city parks and public works departments, and architects handling city projects, to incorporate security measures into the designs of new and existing parks, housing, public buildings and other developments.

"We need to think about the environments we're creating and what kind of behavior that will elicit from people," said Grimes, who completed a 40-hour course in the subject at the National Crime Prevention Institute at the University of Louisville.

Certain ways of making areas safer can be quite subtle, she said.

For example, a white wall invites graffiti, but a wall with colored paint shows someone cared enough to paint it that hue and therefore shows concern about the property, she said.

"If people know somebody else feels ownership about something, they're less likely to abuse it," she said.

Another example: putting sod around a new development seems like a good idea, but a lawn encourages people to behave casually, and it's possible transients might sleep on it. Another ground cover, such as English ivy, isn't conducive to sleeping and would still look attractive.

Other things that help are trimming shrubbery and trees so people can see what's going on in public spaces, placing lighting appropriately, making benches comfortable for sitting but not sleeping and enlisting the public to watch over an area. If there's anything amiss, they can call police.

"If you have a park used by normal users, you probably won't see abnormal users there because they don't feel comfortable," Grimes said, noting that this also works in reverse.

"You want to provide natural surveillance, access control - it doesn't have to be a seven-foot fence, it can be a little row of flowers - and a sense of territoriality," Grimes said.

She said designing public places to reduce inappropriate behavior is not elitist.

"We leave it up to the individual to decide what is normal and abnormal. We know it when we see it. We're not talking about a class of people," Grimes said.

"If you design a park and want children to play there and senior citizens to sit there, then a gang of teens rough-housing would be abnormal users," Grimes said. Another park with soccer fields for lively teens would be the place where they're the normal users.

If all this seems far-fetched, Grimes points to England, where life-size cardboard cut-outs of police in shops have been shown to reduce shoplifting dramatically.


(Additional information)

Neighborhood series

This article is the first in the series of three highlighting topics that will be discussed at the 1992 Salt Lake City Neighborhood Conference, Saturday, March 28, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Next, find out what to do if a neighbor boards up his or her home. In the third article, find out who to call to solve a neighborhood problem. To register for the conference call 535-7925.