Lighting Considered A Security Deterrent By Some

Sep 12, 2008 2:46 PM

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Opinions are mixed when it comes to leaving on driveway lights at night to discourage car thieves and burglars. It has been said that lighting up valuables creates opportunity by attracting the wrong kind of attention. It is also said that because most driveway lights are simple floodlights or "farm lights," they create a glaring light that neighbors dislike and block by closing their blinds and drapes. This eliminates neighbor-watchfulness as a deterrent.

An alternative is installing motion-detector lights on porches and driveways, but these are obvious to any experienced thief and not really a deterrent.

Patric Johnstone, a longtime blinding-streetlight critic and author of a 61-page report for then-Mayor Bill LaFortune of Tulsa, Okla., in 2002 on municipal street-lighting, challenges "the flawed premise that street-lighting prevents crime a theory debunked by the Department of Justice in studies finding no real correlation between street-lighting and crime."

Johnstone posted articles about streetlights on TulsaNow's Web site stating that their glare can blind witnesses to potential criminal activity. A telling story is that of Minneapolis in a Dec. 24, 2006, Minneapolis Star Tribune story on its "blinded by the streetlights" experience.

Minneapolis has installed thousands of ornamental acorn- and lantern-style streetlamps since 1991, "to improve neighborhoods and reduce crime, but the new lights are overly bright and poorly designed, making it difficult for police officers to see through their glare," the story says. The lighting was so bad that suspects were often not seen by officers. Laboratory tests of the lights showed that they were "thousands of times brighter than their surroundings, meaning they cast a disabling glare." City planners were told of this in 1999 but continued installing them about 8,500 over 10 percent of the city.

These types of streetlights cast light in every direction up, down and mostly out into everyone's eyes. It's the same as facing the headlights of oncoming traffic, except streetlights shine relentlessly. Detail disappears as eyes struggle to adjust to their brightness. Contributing to the problem is the low height of the lights and their faux-antique fixtures being ill-suited for modern bulbs. Dimmer bulbs didn't deliver enough light.

Reports collected by TulsaWorld from lighting consultants said the glare was a problem for police, motorists and pedestrians and especially older people. A focus group said the glare made the streets less safe and comfortable, even though the Minneapolis Department of Public Works considered the streetlights' purpose to be "increasing the city's safety and comfort." Minneapolis property owners paid for the lights through tax assessments. Each light cost the city about $6,000.

In Tulsa, Johnstone protested Vision 2025 funding for "acorn" streetlights, saying their design places only 30 percent of their light output on the ground at angles useful to human vision and the other 70 percent into the eyes of observers as glare.

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