Suginami City in Tokyo had a reputation as a burglary hotspot, with over 1700 burglaries in 2002. In 2003, the city introduced cameras and patrols by retired policemen, and the number of burglaries dropped to about 1,000. However, in 2006 the number went back up to 1,200, so the city officials decided to look into the causes, and surveyed 100 households that had been burgled in 2005. Of those, they found that only two had flowers in the front garden or near the entrance hall.
This suggested that flowers might help reduce burglaries, so the city stepped up its flower planting scheme, assigning a budget of 6,000,000 yen (about $60,000) to buy seeds and seedlings, and distribute them to local citizens groups that would do the planting. There are now about 900 people in about 100 groups, who have planted flowers in about 3,000 places.
In 2007 there were 385 burglaries, 387 in 2008, and 118 up to the end of April this year, which is lower than both of the previous years at this point.
In other words, flowers were more effective at cutting burglaries than CCTV and security patrols.
The primary reason is not difficult to see, as a comment from the Tokyo Police department makes clear. Putting the flowers in back streets gives people a reason to walk down those streets, while the process of looking after them creates closer relationships between people in the area. Both of these factors increase the number of witnesses for burglaries, and thus reduce their number, as most burglars are trying not to get caught. There may also be secondary reasons, in that a better environment may give people more of a sense of a stake in the society around them, and thus discourage casual theft. Note that it doesn’t get the number of burglaries down to zero.
Apparently local governments from several prefectures are looking at the plan to see whether it can be applied to their area. As a crime prevention scheme with refreshingly few civil liberties implications, it looks like something worth supporting.
Source: Yomiuri Shinbun, June 8th