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Light unveils higher crime

Light increases crime -- at least that is what one grade eight student has discovered.

Grant Mansiere began thinking about the correlation between light and crime, following the violent death of hockey mom Julie Paskall in Surrey earlier this year. Media reports had indicated that more lights in the area may have prevented the violent robbery from happening, but Mansiere believed the relationship between light and crime was much more complex.

“Light really helps the criminal, they can spot their target,” says the Summerland student. “If they are a graffiti artist, their area will be well lit to broadcast their art, and when they are done their dirty deeds they will have well lit escape route right out of the crime scene.”

But, this conclusion didn’t come to him like the flick of a switch. Instead it took hours of work before and after school as he compiled information to build his science fair project on the correlation of light and crime.

Mansiere began making his connections between light from street lights and different types of crime, after he asked for over 2,000 lines of data from both the Summerland and Penticton RCMP, which he used to find crime rates per street in each city.

“Then I had an idea of where the crime is, but now I needed to know where my light is,” he explains. “I superimposed blue marble images on to maps -- blue marble is NASA imagery from space -- and I superimposed sky glow maps onto Penticton and Summerland maps so I have an idea where the sky glow is.”

However these readings weren’t exact and Mansiere had to collect his own data readings by using the Orion constellation visibility key, which his mother explains meant late nights staring at the stars.

“It is hard to imagine someone in grade 8 taking the project on and spending this many hours on it and not just saying, 'that is too much, I give up, I feel tired I want to go ride my bike.' But he just kept coming back to it and coming back to it,” says Sharon Mansiere.

Yet, the real vindication for this teen came when his study not only placed first at the local science fair, but when he went all the way to Ontario for Nationals and brought home the gold along with a $4,000 scholarship and a medley of other awards.

The science fair was the objective for the project, but Mansiere also wanted to present his findings in a real world setting and was welcomed to do so by the Penticton RCMP.

Sgt. Rick Delebuur was one of the officers who attended Mansiere’s presentation and says he was very impressed with the amount of work put into the project, however he did have some issues with the findings.

“Our experiences is where the light is, is usually where there is a concentration of people, a concentration of businesses, which is also a concentration of sources for targets for criminals as well, “ Delebuur explains. “If you take a rural area you are not going to have as much light, but you are also not the biggest target, or have as many people there to have crime.”

Mansiere stands firm behind his project, claiming he found two examples of large cities where experiments were conducted involving crime and light reduction or light addition.

“The city of Calgary," he uses as an example. "(In) 17 districts they cut the wattage in half in all 17 districts and 15 showed reduced crime with reduced wattage.”

He goes on to look at the other end of the spectrum with an experiment in Chicago, where the city added lights to all of their back alleys.

“They found increased crime in every single one. So no matter which way you look at it, it comes down to the same point of where there is light, there is crime.”

His study also looked at light pollution and the need for better lighting practices.

“I realize as people we need light, it makes us feel safer, but let’s use it wisely,” he says. “So I talk about different bulbs and different light fixtures (and) positioning of lights.”

The best lighting to use, suggests Mansiere, is a LED full cut off light fixture that can direct light on the ground and will produce no sky glow which in his study found to increase the crime rates.

After many months of working on his project, this teen is ready for a break, but not a long one, as he says he will hopefully be preparing for the international science fair in New York later this year.

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