The Commission for Dark Skies


Lighting & Crime

When lighting is installed, the question must be asked: "Who will benefit most from these lights? Victims? Witnesses? Criminals?" There is still no proven link between lighting levels and crime rates, due to the complex nature of the subject, and simplistic conclusions cannot hide the fact that crime is a societal problem, not a lighting problem. Recent switch-offs and dimming after midnight by more than half of Britain's local councils show that darkness does not encourage crime – it reduces it. A study in 2015 by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and University College London, in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, reported on their analysis of 14 years of data from 62 councils in England and Wales. The study found no evidence of a link between reduced street lighting, crime and night-time vehicle collisions. In November 2014 a Labour Party survey concluded that lights were being switched off or dimmed in three-quarters of England's council areas. The brightest areas in the country – city centres – show some of the worst crime and disorder. Better, independent research is needed to quantify the effect of light on crime, and higher scientific standards are required – especially as large amounts of money are spent on lighting in the hope of a reduction in crime. The only thing that can be said for certain is that the common assumption that light will always deter criminals is incorrect.

If light is needed for other reasons (e.g. to help people use an area), then shielded lighting should be used, of minimum brightness and minimum duration. Remember that lighting, a comfortable night-time environment and dark skies need not be mutually exclusive. The use of modern full cut-off lights means lit areas are more satisfactory and attractive for all law-abiding people, with the likelihood of an optimum night sky.

Lights are perceived to be able to help good people but hinder bad people, as if the street lights have some sort of artificial intelligence in order to differentiate between the two...

Dr Darren Baskill, CfDS

Scorched aftermath of a burnt-out stolen car - under a streetlight

Scorched aftermath of a burnt-out stolen car - under a streetlight

Lights in secluded areas are just that: nobody can see what the criminal is doing, and he has a courtesy light to illuminate his activities. So consider whether highlighting an area with light will cause more harm than good. Consider a completely dark environment; someone flashing a torch around will create far more suspicion in the minds of witnesses than someone moving in a lit environment.

Martin Morgan-Taylor of the Law Department of de Montfort University, CfDS